As musical footnotes go, Julien Barbagallo has a rich tapestry. His mind-bending drum work for the likes of Aquaserge and Tame Impala have earned him a reputation of pure skill and excellence.
Now Julien is striding into the spotlight with a different song to sing and a different instrument to play. ‘Grand Chien’ is Barbagallo’s most recent solo album, a futuristic version of Chanson Pop textured with rich harmonies, sweeping melody and a lysergic way of thinking. Displaying the importance of pride in native language and innovation, Julien is stepping from behind the drum kit with a clear story to tell.
It seems every member of Tame Impala has a side project, dedicated to expressing themselves outside of the band and Julien Barbagallo is no different. Attracted to the drums from a young age, Barbagallo was inspired by the British indie group such as Oasis.
Barbagallo's second solo album Grand Chien features a collection of poetic songs offering an indie folk take on the psychedelic sounds synonymous with Tame Impala.
We caught up with Julien to discuss his early obsession with Phil Collins, thoughts on the legacy of Serge Gainsbourg and what the future has in store for him.
Q: What was the first instance and inspiration which made you want to step into the music world?
When I was a little boy I used to hit all the tin boxes in the house with knives and forks but I had no idea what drums were, it was like a magical reflex! My parents took me to the local music school a bit later. Then I was obsessed with Phil Collins and Genesis. I used to listen to their albums over and over, fascinated by the richness of the music. That’s really the kind of drumming I aimed for. I bought a Phil Collins score book. I remember 'In the air tonight', there was two whole pages of nothing, just waiting for that iconic drum fill.
As a teenager I turned into a huge Oasis fan. I collected bootleg CDs, magazine articles, VHS... I tried to see them play a couple of times back then but they cancelled every time. They were at the peak of their crazy brotherly fights. I bought a fake Les Paul, like Noel, and started writing songs in English.
Q: You seem to have a keen interest in the UK’s musical heritage, Super Furry Animals and Teenage Fancbeing notable mentions. What is it about their approach and sound which entices you and how has this reflected in the way you write music?
Teenage Fanclub has always been a reference for me in terms of writing powerful, simple songs. Just like Neil Young. Only a few chords, simple ones, but they take you very far emotionally with their guitar tones and their vocal harmonies. While it may seem simple in appearance, once you try to imitate those kind of composers you realize pretty quickly that it’s not that easy. Super Furry Animals has also very efficient compositions but also the right amount of madness in their production. These two bands have amazing melodies in common. When I was younger I didn’t understand the lyrics, melodies were all I was interested in and, in that sense, TFC and SFA are absolute champions. I felt so many emotions even before translating the lyrics in the booklet.
Q: French music seems to have a tradition of adventure - diving into all genres from Gainsbourg’s explorations into Dub to Tele Music’s explorations into just about everything. You seem to have the same ideal. How have you incorporated this tradition of exploration into what you do?
Gainsbourg explored a lot of different styles because he thought that music has no frontier and also that French could fit any type of music, it’s just a matter of confidence. That’s why his lyrics are fascinating, he had to go very far into language exploration in order to make French sound good whether it was jazz, reggae or swinging London pop in the background.
I’m not sure I’m capable of exploring that many different styles but I know he’s a big influence when it comes to making French sound good with anglo saxon vibes in the music. All the anglo saxon artists I listened to when I was younger helped me to write music without holding back anything, they helped me feel legitimate even in non-French genres.
Q: Tame Impala is undoubtedly an important part of your life with Kevin Parker applying his remixing wizardry to your most recent single ‘Longue La Nuit’. How did you meet him originally and the people involved and how has the experience been working with them?
I met Kevin in a bar in Paris in 2011. Innerspeaker was out and I thought it was a great album. We started chatting and soon after we started an ephemeral band called Relation Longue Distance . Kevin was looping bass, keys and vocals. I played drums. A few months later he asked me to play drums for the next Tame tour, as Lonerism was about to be released. I said yes of course, it was the kind of drumming I loved to play, groovy and kind of wild at the same time. I flew to Perth in July 2012 for the first rehearsals and met the rest of the team there. It was really easy to integrate into the live band. They are very easy going characters. Since then I had the chance to take part in the amazing flourishing of the project, it’s been over 4 years of incredible adventures and experiences all around the globe. It really turned my childhood dreams into reality.
Q: Your most recent album ‘Grand Chien’ is a great slice of melody-immersed pop with a forward-thinking attitude. The first record, ‘Amor de Lohn’ was released on La Souterraine, this collective reached our shores at this year’s Liverpool Psych Fest. How pivotal do you think La Souterraine is to the emergence of new French music and how has it helped you further your musical career?
I think La Souterraine (the underground) helped a whole part of French music become visible, listenable, by restlessly searching for new composers, new bands, all around the country and putting out several compilations a year. Their aim is to have no prejudice and to have frenetic energy in the way they bring underground music to the general population. It creates a really strong momentum. Now they are over flooded with demands from bands, they don’t even have to search anymore! It’s pivotal in the emergence of new French music in that they are fiercely passionate about reigniting the pride of the French language in songwriting and not succumbing to the global pressure to sing in English.
In my case, they really encouraged me when I started singing in French and they helped me with distribution and PR when I finished recording 'Amor de Lonh'. Little by little they turned into some kind of managers for me and they accompanied me all the way until now through their label Almost Music.
Q: You choose to sing in your native tongue, something which should be heralded and encouraged. Some people tend to think it makes music less accessible not to sing in English. Do you agree with this? What influences you lyrically?
Those people, at least here in France, can’t be more wrong. Just have a look at all those French bands who sing in English and perform only in France. Most of the people in the room have no idea what they’re talking about, but everyone in the room is French!! How does this make music more accessible? It’s absurd! I really think French singing artists can make it outside France, it’s just a matter of changing our habits, getting over our complexes that English is the only way. The problem comes from us, not the audience around the world.
I’m really into the way artists like Bertrand Belin or Mathieu Boogaerts use the French language. It’s very modern, literary but also groovy. They inspired me when I decided to switch to French. Also writers like Guillevic or Pascal Quignard. I love their simplicity, their timeless style.
Q: Aquaserge is another group that you have been greatly involved in who have recently brought out the eccentrically brilliant space-jazz album ‘Laisse Ca Etre’. How do you find the time to balance between all the projects you are involved in and still have some left over to concentrate on your own music?
Recently I had less and less time for Aquaserge. They had to find another drummer for the tour but I was lucky to be part of the 'Laisse ça être' recording sessions. We’ve been best friends and band mates for almost 15 years. We’ll always find a way to play music together, there is just phases. Like in the song 'si loin si proche' on the last album (so close, so far), our relationship is like a big rubber band that never breaks.
When it comes to my own material, I write and record anytime, anywhere, at home, on tour, in buses or hotel rooms. I take any opportunity to move forward.
Q: What else can we look forward to see from you this year?
I’ll play a bunch of shows between now and August, in Canada, France, Belgium, England, Netherlands. I’ve got a record out for Record Store Day with remixes (Kevin Parker's will be on it) and covers, I’m really excited about it. I also started writing my next album, hopefully I’ll start recording next spring. This time I will do it in a proper studio and stop using my MacBook inbuilt microphone!
'Grand Chien' is out now digitally worldwide through Sony Arista France.
Here's are Barbagallo's 2017 dates in full so far:
11/3 Salle Louis-Philippe-Poisson, Trois Rivières, Canada
12/3 Le Cercle, Quebec, Canada
23/3 Le Moulin, Marseille, France
25/3 La Sirène, La Rochelle, France
8/4 Espace Cuturel André Malraux, France
12/4 La Coopérative De mai, Clermont-Ferrand, France
20/4 Printemps de Bourges, Bourges, France
23/4 MOFO Festival, Saint-Ouen, France
15/5 Les Nuits Botaniques, Brussels, Belgium
18/5 Le Reflektor, Liège, Belgium
20/5 Les 3 Éléphants, Laval, France
3/6 Festival Yeah!, Lourmarin, France