Julia Holter – “A sense of mystery is very important to me, in all my things”
Los-Angeles composer, songwriter and singer Julia Holter’s new album was inspired by a 1950s Hollywood musical – and no one was more surpised than she was
Julia Holter’s work is like something you dreamt of once, with snatches of classical composition, speckles of electronic music and quixotic vocals. Her three records, Tragedy (2011), Ekstasis (2012) and this year’s Loud City Song, burst with a sense of epic living and dreaming, with each record a kind of musical exploration of love. Classically trained, Holter left CalArts a confident musician, a multi-instrumentalist with a vision, an unusual, nuanced voice in a noisy, cluttered world.
Much of Loud City Song is about that noise and clutter, and how in this period, less interesting information – advertising and gossip, for example – are presented in louder terms.
“You mean that superficial things are louder than important things? Yeah. I agree that a lot of things are loud these days. I guess people were probably saying the same thing during the industrial revolution.We have to adjust to the noise of our time. I love the city and its noise, but the noise these days isn’t even always audible – it’s just loud in a metaphorical way. There’s advertising everywhere because we are always on our phones and looking at the internet and seeing ads all over the place, even if they are technically silent.”
So it makes sense that Holter looked to the past for inspiration for her latest work; and a different kind of noise: Gigi the musical.
“I grew up watching Gigi,” she explains. “I never would have expected to write something inspired by a musical, but I thought the general situation – an individual feels oppressed by society’s expectations of her – was something easy to transfer into any time or place. The first song I made for the record was originally going to be on Ekstasis. It was what is now Maxim’s II, and was inspired by a scene where Gigi walks into a bar and everyone stares at her and gossips – really theatrical.”
Ultimately, Gigi is about the purity of true love cracking through cynicism, elevating the inherent mystery of true feeling. Holter’s work meditates on this and songs such as Hello Stranger and City Appearing exist in a complete atmosphere of love.
“A sense of mystery is very important to me, in all my things. It’s impossible for me to make something that is completely logical. City Appearing is about the whole city discovering truth and love all at once,and having a huge celebratory orgy! And Hello Stranger is a love song by Barbara Lewis that I used because the vague nostalgia-of-love subject matter resembled the subject matter of the song I Remember It Well from Gigi, where two middle-aged people remember – but don’t remember well – a love affair they shared decades earlier.”
Loud City Song was the first album Holter recorded with an ensemble of musicians. “I love working with people. I can be a real control freak and so collaborating on a piece can be refreshing.You have to let go of your hang-ups with certain things and just try stuff.