After years spent performing and recording with other artists and groups, Canadian-born, New York City-based Julia Kent found her own voice with her solo debut, Delay, an exploration of the private emotional worlds that exist within the disjunctions and disorientations of travel, hailed for its “lovely, melancholy” compositions, full of “aching romanticism…rich melodicism, and detailed arrangements.”
She toured to support it throughout Europe and North America, and subsequently released an EP, Last Day in July.
In Green and Grey, her following solo record, she continued to use looped and layered cello, electronics, and field recordings to explore the intersections between the human world and the natural world, the melding of the technological and the organic, the patterns and repetitions that exist in nature and are mirrored in human creations, and the complexity and fragility of our relationships with one another and with the world that surrounds us.
She moved to the Leaf Label to release Character in 2013 and Asperities in 2015.
Her most recent record, Temporal, came out in January 2019. Made up mostly of music originally created to accompany dance and theatre, it is a meditation on the passing of time and the fragility of existence.
In addition to her solo albums, Julia Kent has composed a number of original film scores, as well as music for theatre and dance performances.
She has toured throughout Europe and North America, including appearances at Primavera Sound in Barcelona, the Donau festival in Austria, Meltdown in London, the Unsound festival in New York City, Reeperbahn in Hamburg, CTM in Berlin, and Mutek in Montreal.
Interview was conducted in May 2019:
I'm so glad, that I'm talking to one of the most talented intuitive musicians.
I listen to your music for a long time now in I would start this conversation from the beginning; with your instrument: cello.
When and why did you choose this particular instrument?
Thank you so much...that's very kind of you!
I began playing cello around the age of six.
I'm not sure whether I chose it by myself, or whether there was a little parental influence, but it definitely has become such an important part of my life.
What was it like in your studies days... Did you go on a consevatory and, what's the secret of the inner voice of this precious instrument?
How deep did you develope your relationship with the instrument? <
I studied at Indiana University, Bloomington, which has a big music school.
I'm very happy to have had that foundation, but I really felt that the world of classical music was not for me.
After I moved to New York, I started playing nonclassical and improvised music and discovered that I could be more creative with the instrument.
It took me a long time to develop my own musical voice, though, and figure out what I wanted to express.
You spent years performing and recording with other gropus and artists.
I must admit, that I first heard of you after your collaboration with Antony and the Johnsons; I'm a huge admirer of her music for years (Anohni nowadays).
Can you tell me something more about the time you spent with these musicians?
Being a part of Anohni's group and playing with the amazing musicians she assembled was a very special experience for me.
I learned so much from it, about music and about life.
And then there is also Rasputina; a very unique, cabaret style, excentric music with 3 cellos and a specific, vibratnt female voice.
What memories do you have regarding Rasputina? What was your role in a bend?
Playing in Rasputina also was very special.
We did a lot of touring, all over America, and had some memorable encounters and experiences.
As you say, it's definitely a unique group!
When I started playing with Rasputina there was very little information out there about how to use cello in an amplified context, so we educated ourselves a lot about that, and about recording, and the business of music.
Your have played with other musicians a lot...
I have at home CD by Barbara Morgenstern bm, where you also play cello...
How did you choose these collaborations?
Barbara is an incredible songwriter and musician and a beautiful person, and I was thrilled to have the chance to play on her record.
I don't necessarily choose the collaborations that I'm involved in--more often it's a case of people getting in touch with me.
I've been lucky, in any case, to have the chance to work with so many amazing artists.
And then you decided to go „solo“ and from the start you captured with your way of telling us „your story“... and cello is your faithfull „partner in crime“ .
How different path is this, Julia, when you are all alone in this musical exploration?
After having worked with others for so many years, it was wonderful to find my own musical path.
I enjoy the autonomy that playing solo brings, and the opportunity to bring my personal expression in front of audiences.
As you say, it's a chance for me to tell my story, without words.
And it's provided the chance to do other kinds of collaborations: for instance, creating music to accompany dance and theatre, and writing film scores.
From your first solo album Delay, with strong song structure and yet very lovely, melancholey compositions to second album Green and Grey, where you continued to use looped and layerd cello, electronics...
Can you tell me something more about your way of composing a cello based compositions?
Because I often start with looping when I write music, my composition process is very much a process.
The repetitive nature of looping obviously to a certain extent dictates form and structure.
But there is always the possibility of chance: an accident that is repeated that then becomes integral to the composition.
Then you moved to the Leaf Label to release Character in 2013, Asperities in 2015 and Temporal in January 2019.
What can you tell me about the Leaf Label?
Are you satisfied with their support and what exactly does it means nowadays a record „support“?
I've had a good relationship with Leaf in terms of communication, and I've certainly been happy to be part of their roster.
But of course the business of selling records is changing radically, so I'm not sure what the future holds.
I don't know that anyone is sure, perhaps!
Obviously, streaming has changed the way music is consumed, for better and for worse, and has created different barriers to entry than the traditional record-label model.
Much of the music on Temporal was originally written to accompany theatre and dance productions... things you do in additon to your solo albums.
What was your approach in making an album such as Temporal?
I had created several of the pieces on "Temporal" to accompany theatre and dance and felt as though they would work together as a record, as they seemed to evoke a similar emotional world.
And then I wrote some other pieces to accompany them.
The music evolved quite a lot over the course of making the record, as it tends to do!
Cello is your voice, your inner, secret love, but there are still some tricks you add in you composition process; looping is certainly one of them.
Can you tell me, please, what tools do you use for looping?
For looping I use an amazing software called Sooperlooper, which is provides a lot of flexibility.
I use it within Ableton Live for live-looping the cello, and then create the electronic sounds that I use with Ableton.
And how did you initially get into looping? And how did you manage when you are on the stage?
I got into looping because it was really the only way I could recreate the music I make, without involving other musicians.
And of course now it's inherent to my compositional process.
Onstage, I feel as though I have almost a sort of choreography, to coordinate playing the cello and creating the loops and other sounds.
It takes some concentration.
You are often barefoot while performing, and you aree such o fragile and yet strong stage persona.
Why barefoot and how does it feel to be on your own?
I'm always barefoot while playing, because I'm doing a lot of things with my MIDI pedal that require a certain amount of sensitivity and touch.
And I'm so used to it, that wearing shoes onstage feels alienating.
I feel much more grounded with bare feet.
Though of course it can get cold! In general, for me, being alone onstage is simultaneously more demanding and more freeing than being onstage with others.
Every compositions on the album has its story, its vibe.
For instace Last Our Story was originally developed to accompany a theatre piece called Il Tempo Scolpito, which is, as you said, a references of Tarkovsky's autobiography.
The main idea, captured in a title, an exploration of the your emotional worlds, thoughts and musical masterpiece.
How do you approach to the working process?
The process differs depending on the piece: sometimes I start with a loop or a fragment on the cello;
sometimes with an electronic rhythm or texture.
Or sometimes just with an idea or an atmosphere that I want to express.
You travel a lot, all over the world., do you have some favourita places, venues...? Italy maybe?
I'm in Italy right now, having just done a small string of shows, and I have to say that it is a lovely place to travel and play.
And the audiences are usually very welcoming.
But every place is interesting ton see! Travel is an education.
How do you tend to split your time between your solo music and other project?
It's great to have a balance between them, but I don't really have too much control over the timing of other projects that come in.
Sometimes everything arrives at once!
How do you take care of yourself?
Oh, I'm not sure that I do! It's hard for me to maintain good habits while traveling...
I admire those who can do that. But, at home, I try to have some sort of a healthy schedule.
What do you read nowadays? Who are your all time movie directors? What inspires you most? Image... word... sound... music...?
I'm really inspired by so many things: even landscapes and urban environments.
I read a lot, mostly fiction, and of course listen to a lot of music.
But I feel as though I'm more inspired by the abstract. In terms of film, I have so many favourite directors, of the past and the present.
It's almost the ultimate art form, in the way it can combine words and images and ideas.
And the last questions: will you be touring in support of the album? Any chance to see you Slovenia, Ljubljana?
I'm doing a bit of touring throughout this year and the next, in between other projects.
And I would love to play in Slovenia! I hear Ljubljana is amazing!