Bands often move in different directions, with the varied individuals that make up the whole free to tread their own paths, to seek out their own ambitions. Psych juggernauts Tame Impala are no different, with the band currently veering off into a myriad of different side projects, collaborations, and guest spots. In a way, it’s illuminating.
Frontman Kevin Parker has worked with Lady Gaga, while French-born drummer Julien Barbagallo has decided to focus on his own, rather more low-key, recordings.
Shy, under-stated, but wholly beguiling, Barbagallo’s work has allowed him to step out of Tame Impala’s silhouette by embracing a few shadows of his own. “I started learning music when I was maybe nine years old, and when I was a teenager I started writing songs on my own,” he says. “But I started writing songs in English because I was listening to a lot of British and American music. The only difference now is that I started writing in French, maybe three years ago. Systematically I completely stopped writing in English.”
The change over was subtle, at first, before becoming more pronounced – each language has its own set of flavours and rhythms, pushing the songwriter in new directions. “I try to use the French the way I use the English, but it’s harder because of course the language is different so it requires a bit more effort to make the French fit into a pop melody, or a pop song. So it’s pretty interesting, but it’s quite demanding in terms of writing.”
A debut album followed in 2014, placed online in characteristically humble fashion by the songwriter. Picked up by a French label, the record then gained a cult following, with many new fans completely unaware of the songwriter’s connection to Tame Impala.
“Well, basically, I had those songs pretty much already written and recorded, in French,” he says. “I did everything myself in a little room in Sydney where I was living at the time.”
As the weeks and months passed Julien began to find like-minds, people to share his own remarkably personal songwriting with. Both singing and playing the drums, there’s a sweet innocence to the Barbagallo live show, one that nods towards 60s French ye ye, indie pop, and lucid psychedelia. “It’s pretty new,” he admits. “We started playing together maybe October last year. So before that I wasn’t really playing shows actually. I was just recording music on my own, so I didn’t really need other musicians.”
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New album ‘Grand Chien’ - a nickname, it seems – is forthcoming, following sessions everywhere from professional studios to the back of the Tame Impala tour bus. Laid down in fits and spurts, it actually works remarkably well as a cohesive document – a warm, fun, and occasionally funny piece of guitar pop.
“I admire songwriters that are capable of being very efficient in very few chords and very simple songs. That’s what I aim for,” he explains. “Like Neil Young or bands like Teenage Fanclub. They are all very simple in the constructions of the songs. It’s very simple, but it goes deep in emotions.”
“Of course the start of the writing process is always inspired by things that I experience myself, but usually I try to take that to another level, to a more universal level,” Julien continues. “I’m trying not to sing about myself too much. I’m trying to sing about emotions or things that other people can experience. Some ideas are a bit more magical and maybe more abstract but I think that’s what I’m trying to do.”
In his own charming, haphazard way, Barbagallo may just have unleashed a little magic of his own.
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'Grand Chien' will gain a full UK release later this year.