Experiments in Pop: An Interview With Julia Holter 

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It’s not supposed to be a wild jungle?

The original idea for that song was a wild garden, with all these dramatic flowers. I would just evoke these flowers on synthesizers. All I could think of was colors, like they would be bold and crazy. Then, for some reason, I totally switched to this other idea: topiary gardens. Someone said, “You know what’s a great film evoking the idea of topiary gardens? Last Year at Marienbad.” I watched it, and it totally changed the vibe. The film is really austere but beautiful, the way it flows and the timelessness of it. But it’s full of messy organ music. Which is very different than what I came up with.

Something like “In the Same Room” seems much more pop and upfront than your previous work. Is that something that you consciously wanted, or something that just developed naturally?

With “In the Same Room” I think I was listening to a lot of like Monteverdi or something? I just wanted to make really pretty harmonies.

Prettiness was your main goal?

No, but it’s nice because the theme of the song is so austere. There are two people in a room, and one person remembers, but the other person doesn’t. “We’ve been in this room together, don’t you remember you were here?” “I don’t remember but I really want to.” It’s a very common theme.

That certainly also applies to Last Year at Marienbad.

It does. I’m so into that. I was trying to make an attractive harmony, but it would be much less interesting if the theme was also like, “We’re so happy today, because we’re so in love!” The juxtapostion of the sweetness with the, uh, bittersweetness? Or something?

Yeah, or something, I don’t know what it is.

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Do you usually start with a vocal part?

Sometimes I start with like an idea that I sing. For instance, in “Goddess Eyes,” there’s a repeating phrase: “I can see you but my eyes are not allowed to cry.” That’s from a Euripides play. I really like that theme, and also the phrase itself. And so I just repeated it.

When you are taking something from a text, whether it’s Euripides, or on the new record there’s some Virginia Woolf and some Frank O’Hara. Is that you recording a piece of music and then looking for something to fit it?

In those cases it was. With Tragedy, I was really inspired by the actual text to turn it into something. The new record is more of just a collection of songs that I’ve written, whereas Tragedy is on one theme, with different parts that are all working together. I mean, Ekstasis does have an overall feel, but there’s not some story behind them.

Listening to both, Ekstasis seemed a bit fuller? There aren’t as many open, ambient passages.

I think of the Ekstasis songs as contained, they have an opportunity to grow within themselves much more. In Tragedy they are a little more dependent on one another.

Thinking about the mix you made with field recordings for FACT magazine, and the bit of found sound worked into the Ekstasis songs…I think I heard some street noise or something?

Yeah, probably. Not much, a moment of chit-chat.

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