The power of music to reach within to unlock our own emotions and to connect people through shared emotion motivates Julia’s musical explorations with the aim of realising our potential for mutual understanding on a human level through an immersive experience.
Julia Biel’s new releases present textured jazz vocals combined with classic singer-songwriter influences – this upcoming release builds on Julia’s latest full album release ‘Black and White, Vol.1’ to give listeners a fully live experience of the solo piano and voice format.
ConnectsMusic’s Emily Saunders caught up with Julia Biel, about her exciting new music release ”Live from the church”.
It’s great to catch up with you regarding your new music releases which I find strikingly honest, open, and evocative. How would you describe your relationship with music and your voice?
What comes through my music and my voice is constantly surprising to me.I think we’re all deep wells of history and influences that go beyond our own lives and connect to things we’re barely even aware of consciously. When I’m playing and/or singing it’s an outer-body feeling because I truly don’t know who or what is controlling what happens. I have felt my way into music so it’s something I’ve gravitated towardsand not something I’ve been taught to do. People often say I sound totally different speaking than I sound singing and that’s always been fascinating to me. It’s something that’s been said to me since I was very young. I think about that and take it to mean that music lets me connect with more of myself and to go deeper into the roots of being than I can achieve through speaking alone.
What do you feel is particularly special about the relationship between the voice and the piano?
I think any singer accompanying themselves on any instrument has the opportunity to create a whole sound out of the two simultaneous modes of expression and it’s that sympathy that’s then possible to capture between the voice and the accompaniment which makes for something special. Whether I’m playing piano or guitar that possibility of placement timing-wise to complement what the voice is doing is present. For me the piano is a go-to sound because of its resonance which I find so inviting. I love the vast range of possibilities the harmonics of the piano offer and how straightforward it is to suggest a fuller production because of the accessibility of all the notes and the dynamic range it is capable of.
Who are your greatest musical influences and how do you feel their music influences your work?
Anyone who has succeeded in being fully themselves in their music and been unafraid to break the mould is inspiring to me no matter the sound or genre almost. It takes courage, tenacity and a deep self-knowledge. Those are the things I try to guide myself by to reach my own destinations in music.
What was your musical experience of lockdown and the huge pause in the whole music industry? How did things affect your work and creativity?
At the very start of the first lockdown I had been due to perform a long-awaited London show with my band so I felt the instantly imposed isolation very keenly from the outset. It felt like the complete opposite of what I had been working towards. Despite never having done it before, I decided I would livestream a show from my Facebook page on the planned night of the show instead and just did it on my very battered old iPhone. It felt so good to still be able to connect people to each other through music in the face of everything and everyone trying to keep us apart and keep people’s spirits up for a little window of time each week. Added to that, it was keeping me sane to emulate the feeling of doing a show regularly rather than get lost in the intense anxiety I was feeling otherwise. I called the show ’Hang-Time-At-Home’ and I continued to show up weekly and publicly on my Facebook page for quite a few weeks all the while improving the technology I was using so that felt positive as well. Usually I perform live for a specific set of people in a specific place but when you live-stream you bring all your regional audiences together in a kind of cross-border show of defiance, there’s something quite anarchic and strong about it that I really like. After a few months I moved the weekly live-stream into a private community of subscribers and just before the summer I moved the livestream to a monthly schedule to allow more headspace for finishing new songs. In the end that London show went ahead in October 2020 by which time it had become 2 shows instead of 1 and it was very emotional to see everybody venturing out to see us. Aside from that, the pause in the industry side of things actually meant for me that there’s been more time for collaboration, experimenting with new approaches to making music and space to see where it’s all going to go. All in all, it feels like the present matters more than the future and the past now and that is coming through in my music in a positive way.
Does music take on an almost spiritual role for you?
Yes I do think music is spiritual so you have to be careful what you allow in because you can harm your spirit as well as uplift it.
Your latest full band album release, the self-titled ‘Julia Biel’ was heralded by the Evening Standard as “Biel’s third solo album confirms her knack for penning smart, intimate songs and delivering them in a voice both crystalline and dreamy… a total delight.” How do these new and recent solo releases build on your musical output?
I think reaching the possibility of creating a full sound solo has been an important milestone for me musically and personally. Interestingly, despite it being the simplest and most classic of line-ups people have still struggled to ‘categorise’ what it is. One woman’s voice, her songs and the piano and somehow I’m still breaking the mould. That’s been eye-opening for me and has opened up new vistas in a way I hadn’t anticipated. The concept for me was to be as free in the moment as possible with the songs I have written using just my voice and the piano and I am happy to have arrived at a place where it’s been possible to achieve that. It’s a pretty vulnerable thing to do but I’ve always felt there’s a strength in expressing vulnerability, that’s one of the things jazz has taught me.
On this new release I wanted to take that to the next level and do a fully live EP to completely and fully capture a moment in time. I called friends Emre Ramazanoglu (who mixed and mastered my latest album release ‘Black and White, Vol.1) to come and take care of all the sonic elements (STEAM DOWN, THEON CROSS, ILL CONSIDERED and loads more..) and the incredible video artist Lisa Wormsley and their speed and brilliance made putting ‘Live From The Church’ together just joyful and easy.
You recorded live in Brighton’s welcoming Unitarian Church – what was special for you in playing at a venue like this?
I was searching for somewhere relaxed but beautiful looking with a great sonic and a grand piano and various lines of enquiry led me to the Unitarian Church in Brighton. I happened to be down in that part of the country at the time when I got the tip off so I headed down there to try the piano and chat to the venue manager and everything fell into place very easily. In London we have so much on offer but it can be a harsh place where basically money talks the loudest. In Brighton (and I get the same feeling in other artistic hubs outside the capital), there’s a stronger sense of a community pulling together to enable each other in a way that understands we are all here just trying to fulfil our purpose in life. It was beautiful to feel this kind of support from everyone I encountered at the Unitarian Church.
Where and how can people get to hear your release?
This is a Bandcamp only release, available as either audio only or with additional lifelong access to watch/download the full video release on 4k via my Members’ site.
Now that live musical interaction is beginning to come back into play for our music industry, do you envisage expanding your work back into a bigger format, or creating more works in the intimate setting in which you created your recent releases?
The solo piano/voice format wasn’t something that happened as a result of the pandemic, I had recorded ‘Black and White, Vol.1’ in 2019 and released it in February 2020 just before the pandemic hit worldwide. It’s a solo album but that doesn’t mean any of my larger band line-ups stopped existing. The solo format was just a vibe I wanted to put out there as a means of distilling what I do to its most fundamental essentials and letting people in on that. There’s always the band line-ups and always me on my own working up songs so everything co-exists. When I perform live, as a solo artist I have the flexibility to be able to adapt to the context in terms of line-up so it can be anything up to a 5-piece or just me on stage on my own. The more jazz venues tend to prefer the interplay between musicians and so prefer the larger line-ups whilst in more mainstream/singer-songwriter settings a solo performance is more welcome. I enjoy it all.
Can you give us a glimpse at any exciting plans for 2022?
There’s always new songs and new releases in development! I don’t know what will end up coming out first so it’s too soon to say anything for definite.
‘LIVE FROM THE CHURCH’ (Audio-Visual EP)
Release date: 29/10/2021
Label: Rokit Records
Releasing exclusively via Bandcamp https://juliabiel.bandcamp.com/album/live-from-the-church