MUSIC | Julia Kwamya on creating dream-like disco and eclectic inspiration
The first time I saw GERMANS, she was opening for another band that was just as obscure.
The Radio Dept. have accrued a cult following among indie fans (and probably anyone who has seen Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette at least once). As we waited for the band to take the stage, their opening act was absolutely enthralling. Truly, I had never seen a rookie singer sway onstage quite like GERMANS. Julia Kwamya's particular brand of dream pop, alongside the indie and disco influences she brings to the table, made her more than a match for The Radio Dept.'s presence.
Shining with sheer confidence, listen to her and you're teleported to worlds tinged with 80s synths, with bossanova, and with just a dash of classic diva all wrapped up in a down-to-earth package that's simultaneously otherworldly. With a new track due out in September, keep your eyes peeled for the next big Brooklyn musician.
We sat down with Kwamya to talk about opening for The Radio Dept., her unique approach to music, and her force of an artist's name.
Courtesy of GERMANS
So I want to ask you how you got involved with The Radio Dept.
I was connected with them through their booking agents. But Johan [Duncanson] had been introduced to a couple of my tracks through his friend Johan [Fredrikkson], and they asked their booking agents to find me; they found me, and that was it. It's very simple story. I didn't know them before. I didn't really even know their music before, but coincidentally we all just got along in this pretty amazing organic way.
I guess indirectly they also introduced me to you, because I went for them and then suddenly I come in and there was this young Nina Simone on stage belting out ethereal tunes.
That was the greatest part about the tour! The fact that a lot of the fans that I met were so receptive to my music and what I'm actually doing. Our styles are similar but a little bit different. I didn't really know what to expect.
I guess this is a question that everyone else also asks but who are your influences?
I would say... Oh,.God, I mean I listen to everything. I grew up listening to the DavidBowie and Tears for Fears and all that stuff. I'm also obsessed with Kylie you know. So that style of 80s pop, I love. At the same time, I listen to a lot of disco, like old 70s tracks that you don't even know the name or the artist but you just know you love the song and it just makes you feel good. My mom listened to a lot of that. I'm also half Ghanaian and half Ugandan, and so we listen to a lot of Highlife music growing up. I'm blanking on names, but there's a lot of soul and bossa nova and samba... I know they're on different scales in a way, but I just love that kind of music. It's energetic, even if it's melancholic.
I could definitely hear the bossanova in your delivery.
I listen to a lot of it! But I'm obsessed with samba. It just makes you want to dance, and I love that. I think probably one of my most entertaining moments in life was when I went to Brazil and I just ended up walking around with these two Uruguayan boys. At the time I was living in Argentina, so I was a better speaker of Spanish than I was Portuguese, but we were traipsing around and we end up walking through the sand dunes and I just hear music, and it was pulsing. I could just hear and feel the bass, and we get closer and closer to what we hear and we see this little shack in the middle of nowhere. We went up the stairs and there was this huge samba party just filled with locals having this ridiculous party. Everyone's having a great time and that's what stuck with me in a certain way. Despite whatever they're going through they're just able to just put it to the side on the dance floor.
When I started making music as Germans four years ago, I guess it really started out of frustration because I am an actor, and nothing was happening for me in a certain way. I wasn't going to auditions that I wanted, I wasn't I wasn't making anything and I felt stifled by this relationship that I was in at that time, so I decided "okay, I'm going to do something," and I started writing my tracks. I'd gone to SXSW to help a friend with an event, and while I was there another friend asked me to play a show with them, and I said okay. I was totally unprepared but had to make it work. After that first show, I decided that music, regardless of anything or anyone or what it would become, was something I'd like to do.
And why the name GERMANS?
I think I've said so many different things in so many different interviews. Originally I just wrote it out; you know when you're like trying to figure things out and you're brainstorming and your ideas don't make any sense and then you see something? It just popped out to me. I liked how big and bold it was in a certain way, and I thought that would be a really good moniker for me because I think at the time I still really a bit too shy of myself. I really wanted to make it about the music and not so much about what I look like, where I was from, and all that stuff because I was still kind of bashful about all that. I figured if I made good music then it won't matter anyway; invariably, people are still going to look up that information about you.
Courtesy of GERMANS
It's interesting you keep mentioning shyness, because one of the things that really stood out to me was how confident you were on stage.
That was four years ago now. GERMANS as a project has really given me that sense of confidence and ability. I also spent a year just playing around New York because I knew I had a certain level of stage fright and I thought "how can I be a performer and have all this stage fright and anxiety and tension?" I just had to force myself to perform. And then I got this tour, where you're playing 20 different shows and the first show was in Copenhagen, and there are 500 people staring at you waiting for you to do something, and that is all you could want as a performer. We were on the road for two months, and it was our duty and our job to entertain people; for a lot of those people, the music is it. For me it's emotional, but I don't want to be on stage just crying the whole time; that's not very interesting. So you know I just wanted to bring more of myself, and even after those 28 days I still feel like there's more that I want to get to know and bring to the stage, so I just have to keep doing it.
What's next for GERMANS? Working on anything new?
The really great thing about the tour was that there are a lot of tracks that I performed that have not been released yet. The whole impetus is to have a record by the end of this year. I'm just putting the finishing touches on it, recording and re-recording the vocals which you probably heard at The Radio Dept show. It's like 85 percent done. It's another thing that takes time, and you just have to keep practicing, building, growing, and connecting.
Would you abandon GERMANS if acting took off?
People ask me all the time what I care about more; I wouldn't have done GERMANS if I weren't for my acting class. There are certain ideas that I just wouldn't hear. I need to be more creative and, after this tour, I see that they both go hand in hand. Every god damn actor on TV is also a singer, so it just works to my advantage. So yeah, they go together.