ABOVE: OMBRE. PHOTO COURTESY OF JONATHAN DUECK.
More than a collaboration between two musicians, Believe You Me, the debut record from OMBRE, is about the beginning of a new friendship. Before meeting on the Internet two years ago, Julianna Barwick and Roberto Carlos Lange worked mostly alone. Lange is probably best known for his carefully arranged synth-pop as Helado Negro, while Barwick makes music under her own name by layering her voice to sculpt starkly empyrean soundscapes. As OMBRE, each musician brings their own persona to project, intertwining vocals, analog synths, and tropical melodies into one seamless blend of experimental pop.
In addition to writing and recording an album together, Lange and Barwick have also just finished the first visual accompaniment to the project. Filmed entirely during this summer’s Fourth of July, the video for “Cara Falsa,” which you can stream above, shows fireworks exploding in the distance in time with the soft throb of their music. The track is equal parts Lange and Barwick, with electronic loops and disembodied vocals echoing off each other.
Here, we talk about OMBRE’s inception, the duo’s writing process, and Lange’s upcoming return to Ecuador after many years.
NATHAN REESE: How did OMBRE come together to begin with?
JULIANNA BARWICK: The very first thing that happened was Roberto sent me a MySpace message. That was in 2009. He was like “This Is Dope”—that was the message: “Your Music Is Dope.” [laughs] Then he asked me to play at the Knitting Factory at the end of his Helado Negro tour.
ROBERTO CARLOS LANGE: I mean, her music was just good. I’m always listening to a bunch of people, I don’t know—usually names I don’t read [very often]. It’s just kind of an affliction, I guess, to stay away from the shit that’s usually being blasted at you. I don’t even know how I got to Julianna. It was one of those cross-linking things.
REESE: And then you toured together, and decided to collaborate?
LANGE: What happened was, after that one show, I was putting together a spring tour. Right around the same time, Asthmatic Kitty was courting Julianna—they had seen her at South by Southwest. Then it was a really fast development. I was on the phone with the label manager Michael Kaufmann, and he was like “Why don’t you collaborate and make an album together?” And I was like “Well, that sounds like a good idea!” And so the tour became a getting-to-know-each-other thing. I happened to fly in a percussionist, my friend Mario Schambon. Nobody knew him—I didn’t know Julianna. And there was a fourth person, Jonathan Dueck, a visual artist who did projections.
BARWICK: We were in a van for 10 or 11 days—
LANGE:—it was some Road Rules shit. We didn’t know each other, but everyone just really warmed to each other. It was nice.
REESE: What was the process of writing the album together like?
LANGE: It was drawn out. The second we got off tour, we took like a month off. Then we just jammed for two years.
BARWICK: Was it two? It was almost two. That’s crazy.
LANGE: It was about two in March of this year.
BARWICK: I did a bunch of touring and stuff, but Roberto was even busier than I was, going out of town and doing all kinds of things. Most of the time it was just me going over to Roberto’s house and we would just make stuff. A lot of it was based off Roberto’s instrumental stuff, and we would jam on that. Synth-y, jammy stuff, and we would go from there.
REESE: Roberto’s lyrics are all in Spanish—do you speak Spanish?
BARWICK: I speak a little Spanish. I took three years in high school and two in college. It’s been a while, but I can speak a little.
REESE: So you can understand what Roberto’s singing about?
BARWICK: Not all the time, no. But I’ve had him tell me what he’s saying.
LANGE: She authorized the lyrics. [laughs]
REESE: What was your experience like writing with another artist?
BARWICK: I had done that record with Ikue [Mori], which was purely spontaneous and collaborative. But this was the first time we worked together to make a record, and it wasn’t just spontaneous and improv. We’re tweaking stuff, we’re writing stuff – it was the first time I had really written lyrics to anything.
LANGE: We edited a lot. I’d say the first year we got together, we just jammed and recorded ideas. I’d come up with loops, then Julianna would come over and record over them. I think we threw away five to nine things. We whittled shit down. So it really was like this meticulous weaving process, where we were just quilting whatever ideas we wanted together. And I think it was cool that it was over two years—It definitely put perspective on what we were doing. Since we didn’t know each other that well, I think the record is about her and I getting to know each other. It’s about this friendship developing out of music. Any time you are involved in a creative process there are awkward moments, and there are moments that are just awesome. When we were working on the song “Tormentas” it was just euphoria.
REESE: How did the name of the project come about?
BARWICK: We went back and forth so many times. I just kept seeing that word online. And then I looked it up, and I loved that it was a color gradient. But also Spanish for this card game. And also “man.” And the whole project has a Latin flavor to it. It resonated with both of us.
REESE: Have you ever tried to play the card game? From what I read, it’s a version of bridge from the 1600s.
LANGE: We’re doing it at our release party actually. [laughs] 17th Century bridge. We’ll have to dress up like that too, and we’ll have minstrels covering the whole album.
REESE: OMBRE is often presented as “Helado Negro” collaborating with Julianna Barwick. Would you say this album is similar to an Helado Negro album?
LANGE: Yeah, I would say it is. I mean, I sing in Spanish. I think a lot of the music for Helado Negro has an intimate vibe. And I think Julianna’s music can be interpreted as intimate as well—it can be very personal. The record felt personal in that respect.
REESE: How do you imagine listeners will experience the record?
BARWICK: I keep thinking of summer gatherings where people are eating and drinking together. But also I think it can be a headphone-y record. I imagined lying under a tree on a blanket on a breezy summer day.
LANGE: I never really think about when it’s appropriate to listen to a record…
BARWICK: I did, I was really pushing for a summer release. I don’t think it sounds like a January record.
REESE: So what’s next for you guys, either as OMBRE or apart?
BARWICK: I’m putting out a 7″ with Suicide Squeeze and wrapping up a record I just made in Iceland. A little bit of touring this year too.
LANGE: I’ve been working on the new [Helado Negro] record since I stopped the other one. I’m going to Ecuador in two weeks for four shows, which is cool. I haven’t been back since I was eighteen.
REESE: What’s the music scene like in Ecuador?
LANGE: The person bringing me down is Ecuadorian. They don’t have an industry down there. Everyone just kind of gets the music. It’s bad, I guess, because no one will ever make a living off of it, but it’s becoming a place where there’s no influence. They’ve been looking at the United States, or Europe, or Japan, but now everyone is looking at each other. They’re like, “oh shit, we have a lot more to fall back on, and we have a lot more to offer.” Everyone’s sort of into each other. It’s cool to be a part of what’s happening right now in Latin America. It’s flourishing at an amazing speed.
REESE: Are there any Ecuadorian artists you’d recommend for people should check out?
LANGE: Man, you know, I got on this weird trip where I wanted to find contemporary composers that were doing avant-garde weird shit in South America. I found this Ecuadorian composer who doing this electro-acoustic shit. And I listened to it, and it was amazing. He’s older, I think he’s in his eighties; he studied under [Karlheinz] Stockhausen. He’s awesome. [His name is] Mesías Maiguashca. He really inspired me. It’s like here, you always want something that’s different, something that isn’t what your parents play. It’s the same thing there.
FOR MORE ABOUT OMBRE, YOU CAN VISIT THEIR WEBSITE.