It’s rare for a debut to earn such a broad and unambiguous sweep of critical praise – particularly one as esoteric as Tragedy, whose labyrinthine song architectures and arcane sonorities were bound together with a narrative lifted from Euripides’ Greek epic Hippolytus.
This year’s Ekstasis is crisper, brighter, poppier – songs like ‘Marienbad’ and ‘In The Same Room’ seem almost chart-friendly compared to some of Tragedy’s more delphic passages – but without losing its structural suppleness, its tendency to veer off into lengthy explorations of virgin territory. Put simply, the LA musician has amply met the stratospherically high expectations placed on her, without making the mistake of fulfilling them to the letter (as evidenced by her recent FACT mix, which seemed to ruffle a few feathers).
Holter’s bid for global renown is coming on apace in 2012 – last week saw the debut performance of her new three-piece band at Le Poisson Rouge in New York (which you can watch here), with a tour of the UK and Europe to follow in the next couple of months.
FACT’s Angus Finlayson met Julia during a recent visit to London, to discuss the various preconceptions and misconceptions surrounding her music, of which there appear to be many…
“Running out of ideas is just not a concern I have.”
Julia Holter: “Yeah, two guys I know from the music world. Corey does a lot of solo percussion stuff, and Chris, I worked with for a while, he’s a great cellist. I just started working with them like a month ago, we threw together some versions of my songs.”
The arrangements of your songs on record are very complex. How did you go about re-arranging them for a band?
JH: “Well, it’s sparser. We’re not using anything besides what we’re playing. It’s really cool…I’ve come up with some ideas for the arrangements but for the most part I just play the songs back to them and they come up with ideas. There’s a lot of things that I tried to do on the recordings that they can do better, and that’s been really exciting. Then there’s a lot of other stuff that’s missing from it, but I think that’s just part of it. Mainly, actually, what’s missing is the vocal harmonies, so I’d love to have another singer with me.”
Is it difficult, you having put all this detail in the recorded songs, to then have to strip them back for a live setting?
JH: “I don’t think it’s difficult except that we had so little time, it was completely terrifying. Because this New York show [at Le Poisson Rouge] did get kind of built up…somehow interest accumulated, and I didn’t expect that. It was our first show and I was just like, ‘Oh God, everyone’s going to judge me based on this show’. So we really worked our asses off for like four weeks.
“People sense some sort of formal thought that goes into my work. To me it just sounds like pop music.”
“For the most part, I want to re-arrange my songs specifically for a live setting, because it’s just different. You can’t pretend it’s not – at least in my case. I think there’s some music, dancier music maybe, where you can convincingly bring in backing tracks, try to recreate the song or whatever. But for me you’re basically creating a new experience, you can’t deny that. And it would be fake to try to recreate the album, because it was already made in such a funny way anyway.”
JH: “I was writing both of the records at the same time. So with Tragedy I was having fun with this story I was building it off of – and then Ekstasis was kind of freeing, I didn’t have a particular story, I was just building these individual songs. So it was nice to have two different projects, I could have fun with two different approaches.”
With the two albums out in quick succession, have you totally cleared your backlog of songs now?
JH: “No – I finished Ekstasis like a year ago, and Tragedy a year and a half ago, so I’ve been writing a lot since. I’ve written enough music for one and a half records already, maybe two.”
Do you ever worry about running out of ideas?
JH: “No…no. I mean it could happen, I’m not saying it won’t. It’s just not a concern I have.”
So has what you’re doing now changed a lot from these two records?
JH: “I think what’ll be different is I’m going to work with other people to play it, it won’t just be me recording myself. But my conception of my own music is kind of weird. Even the music off my EP in 2006, that no one’s really heard, I still think of that in the same way as Ekstasis and Tragedy. Regardless of the context, whether it’s part of a concept or an independent song – I’m always kind of writing for the words, writing for the purpose of each song, and not thinking about how it’s different. I don’t think of my work as progressing. I mean I do think I’ve gotten better at certain things, but it’s hard for me to identify what those are.”