Experiments in Pop: An Interview With Julia Holter

03/06/2012 11:00 AM |

But finding bits of sound to bring in to the work, like you’d find bits of pre-existing text to incorporate, do you see both techniques as part of the same thing?

Yes, I do. I think of it as collaboration with this other thing, whether it’s a text or a recording. It helps me form the piece itself, in my head at least, before I’m really going to go about it. A piece of text can be a seed that grows into something. Like with “Goddess Eyes” where you build a song out of one idea and it grows into something that way. It helps with the form of it, the same way a recording will help form something.

For instance, I had a CD-R release on Engraved Glass about a year and a half ago. I had a recording of me in Paris. I just recorded myself at the bar. I recorded for about 20 minutes, and I liked that. I worked to insert things into it, like birds going through the bar, and water flowing. Then I sang inside the bar. Though I didn’t, really.

So you’re editing an experience you had?

Exactly. I’m really into that. Creating experiences that weren’t there. I think that sometimes field recordings can act as a setting for things that didn’t happen. And that’s a way of forming it.

Performing live, you’ve played mainly solo to this point?
Mostly. I’ve never played with the two guys I’m going to play with [at Le Poisson Rouge]. So it’s our first show ever. For Ekstasis, I had to have players, I think. I could have just tried to do it in a totally different way from the record, which is what I’ve always done.

If you had your dream set up on stage, in terms of instruments, and people, what would that look like?

The one thing I really want right now is a vocalist to do harmonies with me. I’ve sung pop background vocals with Nite Jewel and I’ve done weird, microtonal stuff. I used to be in an Early Music ensemble. Not doing it virtuosically, but with a lot of love! I love that stuff.

Live looping has become a lot more prominent recently, do you do that at all?

I’ve been looping for years, with vocals. I just hate looping now. I do have a loop pedal that, when I need to loop just a certain sound. I don’t like to use prerecorded tracks. It’s not like I’m against it, but I just feel more comfortable recording live. Sometimes the loops are interesting, but sometimes they are really boring too. It’s so hit and miss. If you do heavy looping with vocals, the feedback possibilities just stress me out. I love the idea of just having interesting, maybe even awkward or surprising, things happen on stage between people, musicians. Having awkward technical issues is awful.

Your music is primarily being described as a cross-pollination between pop elements and avant-garde/experimental elements. Is that how you think about it?


Maybe it’s just the biographical note that you did have formal study in music, but it’s definitely become a thread in how people talk about your work. Do you find that unfair or inaccurate?

No, I think it’s fine to interpret it that way. I just don’t ever think of myself as “going on a mission” to do anything in either realm of pop music or experimental music. Trying to bridge the gap. That’s just so oppressive, that idea to me. But I understand people need to put things in categories. I’m always changing what I’m doing. Basically I just love certain things, and it’s just hard for me to pinpoint when that becomes pop music. I love pop music.