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Julia Bardo: Manchester-via-Italy songwriter finding her creative home in the North

The meaning of home can be much more complex than being a single physical space. It can be a memory, a person, a place, a feeling. One thing is for sure, though: for better or worse, home is tied to our own sense of identity, and on Julia Bardo’s debut album ‘Bauhaus, L’Appartamento’ the singer/songwriter wrestles with her own sense of self.

Bardo’s story starts in northern Italy, where she grew up facing the common conundrum of living in a rural village: the idyllic scenes of nature surrounding you on all sides juxtapose with the mundanity of having relatively little to do. Against a backdrop where people and places all started to look the same, however, was a household of music, with Bardo’s mother performing in bands while Italian music and jazz regularly filled the air.

Bardo knew she wanted to move to the UK after visiting London for the first time with her aunt. Yet it was in Manchester where she was reminded of some home comforts. “I see the North as somewhere I can relate to [in terms of] where I’m from,” Bardo tells NME. “Everything is smaller [than London] but there’s a lot going on. There’s so much history, and the music scene is amazing”. Moving away presented some new challenges, though: “My first accommodation was an Airbnb, and then I had to find a job. I was a cleaner at TGI Fridays, which was awful, then I went to work at the Albert Hall as a bartender.”

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Despite coming from a musical family, Bardo – who has sung since she was a child – didn’t pick up an instrument herself until she was 23. Eventually making the decision to hone her guitar skills by studying music at BIMM Manchester, it was here where she became part of the original line-up of Working Men’s Club. A key part of the band as they broke through in early 2019 with such singles as ‘Bad Blood’, Bardo learned a lot from her time in the Yorkshire band.

“When I met them I discovered so much music that I didn’t really know about,” she reflects. “Being in Working Men’s Club was good because I love not being the centre of attention”. That’s not to say that Bardo regrets following her gut in embarking on her own solo career, though. “Playing music, you have the whole weight of everything being on your shoulders, and it can be overwhelming sometimes. There are pros and cons, but I’m happy to be where I am.”

‘Bauhaus, L’Appartamento’ is a complex portrayal of just how chaotic our lives can be: the conflicted feelings, the challenges we face and our ever-changing states of mind. This is compounded by a sound that is equally conflicted, from strings that sound like nervously excited flutters to piano keys that flicker by under the guise of bitter disbelief.

Loneliness has affected Bardo throughout her life, and moving to England has only exacerbated these feelings. She is further away from her family, and the meaning of home is very much in a transitional phase. As she bluntly puts it herself: “Obviously a lot of people are happy and that’s good. I’m just not one of them”.

Bardo’s single ‘It’s Okay (To Not Be Okay)’ utilises a phrase that has become commonplace as a means of supporting those who are experiencing mental health difficulties. Yet within the single it becomes a mantra of self-love: “It’s OK to not be OK, yeah, it’s OK / But tell me, why should I care?” Bardo sings with equal measures of anguish and acknowledgment amid swaying guitar riffs.

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While there are conflicting feelings throughout the track, recognising that you need support is a huge step. “You feel like you are left in this black box and you’re like, ‘This is my life now’,” Bardo explains. “Therapists tell you to ‘be kind to yourself’, and I thought, ‘OK’. But saying it and actually doing it is so difficult. On this song I’m saying, ‘If you’re not feeling well and nobody’s there for you, it’s fine. You hear? You’ve got yourself’.”

Julia Bardo
Julia Bardo (Picture: Press)

Among these lyrics, which feel like torn-out diary pages, we get a backdrop of guitar that continues to be tantalisingly descriptive throughout ‘Bauhaus L’Appartamento’. The strings on ‘The One’ come across like the anxious tapping of feet across an apartment space as a frustrated Bardo curses the sky. ‘In Your Eyes’, meanwhile, searches for connection with a hand outstretched.

Bardo’s journey to date may have been uneasy, but the route she’s taken to become a solo artist has all been worth it. “I write about what I know and I know about my feelings,” she says. “This is who I am, I’m not going to write about flowers and butterflies. It’s absolutely more than fine to talk about bad feelings.”

After everything Bardo has experienced, what has she learned? “To listen to myself,” she replies. “You can do anything at any age, you can always better yourself.” It may have taken some time, but Julia Bardo is at last starting to find home within herself.

Julia Bardo’s ‘Bauhaus, L’Appartamento’ will be released on September 10.

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