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An Interview With Loud City Songstress Julia Holter

12 August 2013

Julia Holter is on the verge of releasing her third album, Loud City Song , which NPR is currently streaming via First Listen here and is about to embark on another tour. Her music is unique in an age where listeners are feeling increasingly like they’ve seen and heard it all. There’s a femininity and an honesty to it and, though it’s somewhat experimental, it is at the same time quite pleasant to listen to and inspiring in its creativity. This interviewer and photographer sat down with Julia Holter at Pitchfork Music Festival after her lovely set to discuss her inspirations, favorite sounds, and newest release.

Big T: I read that you were inspired by Frank O’Hara and I was wondering what poems of his you were inspired by or about any other poems or prose that inspire you.

JULIA HOLTER: The Lunch Poems were inspirational for me in terms of describing a city. The way that he describes the city in a very personal way but also in a way that is intimate and romantic. I really love that private and public combination.

Big T: I love some of the sounds you manage to create and incorporate into your songs. I was wondering if you had any sounds in the world that are your favorite in particular and if you prefer field recordings or recordings by actual musical instruments to capture favorite sounds?

JULIA HOLTER: I’m interested in both (field recordings and recordings of actual instruments) depending on the song. Sometimes I also like the ambiguity and having subtle noise in the music though not necessarily noise music. I like the sound of acoustic instruments at times that are not necessarily electronic just because I like there to be that small amount of noise that you can get from an acoustic recording that is so much more complicated than synths. I’m also drawn to field recordings and there’s something in me that likes the complicated tambors of field recordings.

(As far as favorite sounds) I really like the sound of this new toothbrush I bought. I bought this fancy toothbrush that makes me want to brush my teeth. It has this harmonious hum to it. I like the sound of rain, the sound that I think most humans like. I think that humans have things that just sound really nice to them.

Big T: Is there a place in the world where you feel you’ve experienced the best kinds of sounds, such as while you’ve been out touring in different places or traveling otherwise?

JULIA HOLTER: There was one cool thing once when I was in Amsterdam a long time ago. I was in this outdoor area in this house that had a porch and a shared courtyard. It was raining and you could hear children playing and it was the most beautiful sound ever.

Big T: I read that you grew up in a very musical family and I was wondering if there was any time in your life when you had to go completely without music?

JULIA HOLTER: Well, my dad played guitar but neither of my parents played music as professionals. I don’t think it was more musical than a lot of other families. My dad actually plays more guitar now. I’ve had points in my life when I’ve felt really horrible about my music. It was more when I first started making music and I felt really stressed out about it and I focused on writing instead of music-just writing poetry. I’m not sure if it was very good but it was definitely a break from writing music because I was over-saturated with my own negativity.

Big T: I feel like the songs you create have a perfect harmony between being super melodic and quite challenging with a strong female sense to them and sometimes an experimental sense as well, which I love. I’m just wondering if you’re particularly conscious of all of this when you create the songs or if they are just accurate representations of what you’re feeling in that moment?

JULIA HOLTER: Maybe I think about that balance but I don’t know…like’s hard to know. I don’t base so much just on my feelings all the time. I base songs with some kind of sentiment that I’m going to express or a situation that helps trigger emotions to express and what that makes me want to play on the piano. It’s usually pretty intuitive but it’s hard to know at one point when my brain is doing what. I change things depending on the song sometimes..there are certain things you have to do quickly like getting ideas out. You have to catch in real time what your brain is trying to get out and it’s hard to know how much of that is your thoughts and how much is actually something you are consciously figuring out.

Big T: I noticed on your new album Loud City Song, especially “Maxim’s II”, which you played for the audience at Pitchfork Music Festival (It was really neat to also see you with a saxophonist, cellist, drummer, and violinist on stage), that there is an element of free jazz and I was wondering what some of your favorite jazz albums are?

JULIA HOLTER: I’m not a big jazz buff but there’s a few things I’ve listened to-one of my favorites from when I was a kid that changes or does something to you because you’re impressionable at a certain age and it was Miles Davis Live-Evil which is this album where everything is electric and extreme. It’s really funky, jazzy, and combination of non genre music that’s really beautiful. Sometimes it has a beat with a groove and then at other times it drifts off with a trumpet that has this crazy delay on it. It was really mind blowing to me when I was 15 to hear that. I also was listening to Nefertiti recently. I did study a little jazz piano and there was a time in my life when I listened to more jazz like this one Eric Dolphy record also Alice Coltrane, who is definitely crazy outside of jazz genre too-she goes to other realms. A lot of Sun Ra is really inspiring to me also.

You can check out Julia Holter’s newest album Auguest 19th in stores when Loud City Song is released on Domino Records