Artist Interviews

Q&A: Julia Holter

By | Published on Tuesday 13 August 2013

Julia Holter

One of CMU’s 2012 Artists Of The Year, Julia Holter returns next week with her first new album since signing to Domino Records last year. Entitled ‘Loud City Song’, the record is her first to be recorded in a proper studio, and with a group of live musicians – she having previously worked out of her bedroom.

Like her debut, the new album takes its inspiration from literature. Though while ‘Tragedy’ was influenced by Euripides’ Greek play ‘Hippolytus’, new LP ‘Loud City Song’ comes closer to the present day, taking its lead from French writer Colette’s 1944 novella ‘Gigi’.

Holter will be in the UK to perform at the Green Man and Beacons festivals, as well as playing a one-off show at Cecil Sharp House in London on 20 Aug. She will then return for a full tour of the UK and Ireland in November.

Ahead of those shows, and the release of ‘Loud City Song’ (which you can stream in full here), CMU’s Andy Malt caught up with Holter to find out more about the creation of the new album.

AM: As with ‘Tragedy’, ‘Loud City Song’ takes inspiration from a specific piece of literature. How does the writing process work once you’ve chosen that theme? Do you limit yourself to certain boundaries, or is it more of a starting point to work from?
JH: I only choose limits that simultaneously liberate me, if that makes any sense. I find sometimes that choosing a theme helps free me up to try a lot of different sonic ideas, because I have a central conceptual foundation.

AM: You seem to use your voice as an instrument in itself, beyond simply providing melody. It’s so integral to the overall sound of your songs, I’m interested to know if you ever use the vocals as your starting point when writing?
JH: Yeah sometimes. Each song is different. Usually when I use vocals as a starting point I am also playing at the piano, so it’s vocals and piano at the same time.

AM: Do those vocal lines come easily, or does it take time to craft them exactly as you want them?
JH: I think I usually end up using vocal lines that I come up with spontaneously, by recording them as I go. But I also do write some vocal lines at the piano, it depends. like for ‘World’ and ‘City Appearing’, I wrote those at the piano. But ‘This Is A True Heart’ and ‘In The Green Wild’ I recorded first”.

AM: When did you start working on this record?
JH: I had recorded the Barbara Lewis cover ‘Hello Stranger’ before I released ‘Tragedy’. Everything was written for this record in the past two years. I recorded the demos in that time. And then about nine months ago we started recording the record.

AM: Did you have a vision for the record that you stuck to, or was it more like a second stage of writing in the studio?
JH: Yeah I had a vision that I stuck to pretty much. But as I recorded the demos, the songs would morph a lot.

AM: In what way?
JH: From demo to recorded final versions, not a lot changed in terms of vision, it was just the production was a thousand times more interesting and colourful because we were working with real players and real producer and engineer.

AM: Was there anything from the original demos that didn’t work once you began recording with the musicians?
JH: No actually! Everything worked well, haha. It was surprisingly easy in that way.

AM: How much input did they have in the process?
JH: I notated arrangements for them and also left room in spots for them to improvise.

AM: Previously your songs have changed somewhat when you performed with live musicians. Do the songs on the new album have a more fixed sound, due to being recorded by live musicians? Was this a consideration while you were recording?
JH: Actually yeah they do, but no I didn’t worry about future live performance while we were recording. I see recording and performing as separate and I never wanted to limit myself while I was recording by thinking, “Oh but we shouldn’t do that because we won’t be able to do that live”. If something doesn’t work live, it just opens up the possibility for doing something else equally as good instead!

AM: How has signing to Domino made a difference to you? You worked with various different labels on the releases of ‘Tragedy’ and ‘Ekstasis’, and this seems to have brought everything under one roof, so to speak.
JH: Well the main difference has been that I have support to be a full time musician and that’s wonderful. I love every label I’ve worked with, I’ve never actually had a bad experience!

AM: Did the label provide any input or guidance during the recording of ‘Loud City Song’, or were they quite hands off?
JH: Hands off, but also very supportive when I needed support. A really good situation, I love Domino.

AM: Do you have more projects planned already, any more stories you’d like to tackle?
JH: Yes more projects are planned. New stuff. I can’t really talk about stuff I’m working on while I’m working on it though, so enough said!