Poetry and choreography enhance Julia Floberg's cello compositions

Julia Floberg

Julia Floberg Kate Wilson

When Julia Floberg was five, she asked her mother, an amateur pianist, if she could play an instrument like her four older siblings. Her mother suggested the cello.

Twenty-two years later, Floberg is still attached to that instrument at the hip and has crafted enough original songs and spoken word recordings to fill her 18-track debut LP, Aporia. Written during her mid-20s, when the Minneapolis native lived in Boston, the album captures the uncertainty Floberg felt about entering adulthood with vocal laments and elegiac instrumentation. Throughout the album-length narrative, she questions faith, love, and friendship while simultaneously searching for meaning.

We spoke to Floberg ahead of the album’s release show at Icehouse this Sunday, during which four dancers will perform choreography set to her music.

City Pages: Sorrow is a through line in your music. Where does that come from?

Julia Floberg: I like to read poetry. My dad gave me a book of John Keats three or four years ago. There is a poet who is filled with melancholy. It’s not necessarily because his life is filled with a lot of conflict but because there’s a certain style that underpins the fact that he knows everything around him is so temporary. And also this desire to escape this mortal body. The sense of sorrow is not necessarily that is caused by an incident or an event. It’s this idea that everything that you love and everything that you know is so temporary. And yet even though we know all this, why are our lives filled with so much pain and so much disorientation? Why is it so hard for us to hold on to what’s important?

CP: Do you feel like artists, creatives, and musicians are more in touch with that than other people?

JF: I don’t care if you work a 9-to-5 job or if you have eight kids or no kids, if you’re 90 or 10 years old, I think it’s a question that everybody has. I think the advantage of being an artist is having the medium through which to articulate it.

CP: How did you decide to incorporate spoken word into your album?

JF: I was inspired by a group of artists called Bella Yaga. That’s led by a singer-songwriter named Anna [Johnson]. I saw one of their productions. They do a lot of folk music but it also incorporates storytelling and visual imagery. I went to see one of their productions and I was so inspired that I ended up writing all of that spoken word material in the course of maybe ten days and wove it all together into an album. Sometimes you just need that spark.

CP: You’ll have dancers performing choreography at your album release show. What is that like to see movement set to your music?

JF: It’s always been exciting for me to see how someone else might interpret the words I’ve written and the music I’ve created. Sometimes it’s hard because sometimes I’m thinking, “That wasn’t exactly what I was going for.” But they always show me that you have to look at the big picture because the four of them have created a consistent style throughout the piece. So even though there might be moments that might seem jarring, they all play into that narrative. Not only does the album create a narrative, but the dance that they’ve choreographed also creates a narrative. It’s beautiful to see how those two line up and also to be part of a collaboration where I’m no longer the sole creator.

CP: You write many of your songs on the guitar and the mandolin but then arrange them on the cello. Why?

JF: I’ve been playing the cello for so long that there’s a lot of history tied up with the instrument and a lot of training. Sometimes training gets in the way of the creative process. I will occasionally write on the cello, but it’s easier for me to write on an instrument that I feel I can take more creative liberties with because I haven’t spent hours and hours and hours practicing every single note on the instrument the way I have on the cello.

CP: You also play in the Delphia Cello Quartet and the jazz trio the Razzberets. What creative needs do those projects fulfill for you?

JF: The Delphia Cello Quartet started because I was hoping to create a string ensemble that was an all-female ensemble. I knew two female cellists already who not only were classically trained but who also had more creative inclinations towards writing and playing. We found a fourth member and we decided to start playing arrangements of some of our favorite pop artists and some good ol’ tunes as well. We got together in March of last year. We put out a couple videos. We play together about once a month.

The jazz trio started because I was going to this open mic at Moto-i on Tuesday nights when I first moved back to Minneapolis as a way to get to know singer-songwriters in the Minneapolis music scene. I met a guitarist there and he knew this bass player. That started by going to the bass player’s house and we would just have free-form playing. It was total chaos. Gradually, we started to identify actual songs we wanted to learn. We started playing a lot of Prince music, jazz standards, Janelle Monáe. We also play about once a month. That group is growing and changing. I’m excited to see where that goes.

Julia Floberg
With: Delphia Cello Quartet + 4 Dancers
Where: Icehouse
When: 6 p.m. Sun. Jan. 28
Tickets: $8/$10; more info here