Julia Holter is not your average singer-songwriter. She layers orchestral and electronic instruments over her ethereal, mesmerizing vocals to create something wholly unique. Her music could be described as avant-garde, but don’t let that intimidate you. It’s captivating and has an air of mystery, which as it turns out, was just what the composer intended.
Holter has been touring and making music for almost a decade, but her most recent work, Aviary, is perhaps her most masterful yet. We caught up with her before her first-ever appearance in Dallas this Thursday at Deep Ellum Art Co. to learn more about it.
Some people have labeled your music as “Baroque pop,” which is a genre you don’t often hear of. How would you describe that genre? Or how would you describe your music to someone listening for the first time?
I think someone else is going to have to explain that (Baroque pop). I could guess what it means, but I let other people decide what the genre should be. I don’t really know how to say what I do, which I think is true for a lot of artists. Romantic music or romantic melodic music is something I say to people, or like sci-fi fantasy music. It’s hard for artists to describe what they do, but that is the easiest way for me to feel good about how I describe my music to someone.
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You’ve talked before about how medieval music has been pretty influential for you, and it definitely comes across in Aviary. What do you think it is about music from that time period that’s so captivating?
I’ve always been interested in it. As opposed to Western classical music that’s very goal-oriented, I feel like medieval music has this kind of, not circular-ness, but it just feels like it could keep going and going and doesn’t have a strong hierarchical feeling. Medieval art always grabs me as well, and the involvement of the monks. It feels mysterious. It’s often religious, spiritual music. I’m drawn to sacred music, because there’s an element of mystery that’s allowed for when it’s music for a divine purpose. It can be very mysterious because it’s all for the purpose of something else, and it somehow actually allows for weirder music.
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What were your other inspirations for this new record?
I think art tends to lead to other art, and that’s the purpose of art in a way. So for me, it could be films or books or music obviously — a lot of times it’s music — that inspire me to make work. For my new record, Aviary, the inspirations were Blade Runner the film, and the score by Vangelis. That world inspired me visually and musically. Something about that film and the story was inspiring ... Alice Coltrane’s Universal Consciousness was also very inspiring for me. Of course, a lot of Aviary is also so personal. What’s funny about Blade Runner is that movie was made in the '80s but it’s supposed to be about now, so now watching that movie is very strange. It’s like retro-future, and then I was listening to medieval music and trying to sort of combine these things. It’s kind of time traveling.
What was the writing process like for you?
I wrote it (Aviary) over the course of two years. There’s a couple songs that are like 10 years old, but most of the songs are new. I started after I’d been touring for a while for my last record in 2016. By the end of it I was pretty tired and just feeling kind of blank. My mind was a little bit blank. All I could do was sit down and improvise and not think about concepts or any stories or anything. It was just sound. I quickly went deep into some of these improvisations. I would single out moments that were special and then build them into a song. There is one song that’s just straight improv that I layered stuff on top of called “Another Dream.” That’s the purest improv on the record, but they all kind of started in this way. Of me kind of playing on this synthesizer that my partner, Tashi, had just gotten. It’s a simple one but really fun.
What advice do you have for aspiring musicians today?
The best thing I can say is just do what you want. The music industry is a big, confusing place right now, and people should really take this opportunity to do whatever they want. I think listeners are more sophisticated than ever, and they can take a lot of weirdness. So just go for whatever. That’s what I say.