Julia Holter: Have You In My Wilderness

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Julia Holter
Julia Holter

The LA-based musician and artist waxes lyrical on her enthralling new album

Julia Holter makes a welcome return to the airwaves this autumn with her radiant brand of experimental pop, which plays out with renewed vigour in her fourth studio album, Have You In My Wilderness. Comprised of delicately abstracted strings, creeping basslines and emotive, lulling melodies, it's the LA-based artist's most compelling and accessible work to date. 

As a classically trained musician with a love of the avant-garde, Holter has written several concept-led albums over the past seven years, drawing inspiration from Greek tragedies and classical literature, as well as celebrity culture. Along the way, she hasn’t been afraid to experiment with dissonant sounds and push the boundaries of pop music in order to take it to entirely new places, creating beautiful, enigmatic songs in the process. It’s worked well for her – the last eight years have seen Holter enjoy a stellar ascent – from making music in her bedroom, to releasing four albums, touring the world, performing symphonies and now writing a film soundtrack. 

Have You In My Wilderness explores past relationships and characters that have gripped Holter’s imagination, written in a lyrical stream of consciousness. Her new songs are intimate and heartfelt, while emphasising the power of her voice. It’s the kind of album to lose yourself in, which as Holter explains, is exactly what she had in mind. “With Loud City Song, it felt like being on a stage singing to an audience, but with the new record I feel like I’m singing to one person. It’s not like every song is about me, but it has a personal quality to it.”

AnOther met with Holter on the eve of her new album release to talk musical courage, experimental concepting and why she feels most content in Los Angeles. 

On leaving classical music behind…
“The classical music world was a weird world for me. I was trying to be a classical composer but it was an ill fit; I wanted to make really wild sounds and try different things. I loved music and playing piano, but I wasn’t very good, so I knew that I couldn’t be a classical pianist. I wanted to write music but I was so self conscious, I didn’t think of myself as a writer for a long time – it’s hard to do that if you don’t like what you’re writing.

“I don’t have that problem as much now, I mostly like what I’m writing and I have a sense of what is going on. I follow some patterns in my head of what a song is, whereas in the past I felt like I was floating around trying to figure about what would please my teachers, which is the worst way to be a creative person.”

On finding liberation through music….
“I was in the midst of my degree at Michigan and I was very miserable. I found a free recording programme online and I started trying to record. I’d started working at the college radio station, and there was a guy there, Sean, who goes by Jib Kidder. He was the first person I knew who recorded music in this exploratory way, where he was just making these crazy sounds. It was very inspiring to me and I wanted to try, so I just did it one day. I recorded this song and I played the harpsichord sound on my keyboard, and it was so liberating, because I’d been wasting away in misery over these pieces I was trying to write for school for so long. I felt burdened by them, and it was really nice and freeing to record.”

On never leaving LA…
“I’m from LA, and I just never really think about leaving. Before I started making a living as a musician, when I was doing various little jobs around LA, I had friends who were touring and I was so jealous. At that point I might have wanted to leave and have a new experience, but now I’m travelling all the time and all I want to do is go home.

“LA has so much to offer, it doesn’t really get boring. All of the neighbourhoods are different, it changes from place to place, it’s vast and I have family and friends there. I like New York, but it’s a very different place. I don’t necessarily feel like it would help me creatively and that’s one of the most important things to me. I mainly just need space to write.”

On teenage inspirations…
“I went to a high school that had a music programme and I really loved music theory. A friend of mine also got into composing, we started going to classical concerts and I was exposed to avant-garde European music, and the atonal qualities. At the time that stuff really blew my mind; Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, and Lutosławski. There were these different pieces that the LA Philharmonic would play and the crazy wildness of the sounds was really foreign for me. I thought that was exciting and I wanted to do that.”

On the inspiration behind her new album…
“I had references for a lot of the songs, stories I was inspired by, but they’re not direct influences for the whole record. Like Sally Bowles from The Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood – I read them because I was in Berlin, almost exactly a year ago, for a month.

“Lucette Stranded on The Island is a song that is centered around a side character in a Colette story. It’s really a light story but it’s crazy because the side character has a totally gruesome experience, which is what my song is based on. Vasquez is based on this legend of Tiburcio Vásquez, who the Vasquez rocks are named after outside of LA. It’s a state park, it’s actually where they filmed Star Trek, it looks like Mars! Whenever I come across something that inspires me, there is a chance I might lift it for my own poetic purposes." 

On the joys of coming home after touring…
“I’ve been away from touring now for over a year pretty much, and it’s been really nice. I’m grateful that I get to perform my music, but I’m not necessarily well suited to travelling, so it’s kind of hard, I’m sensitive to discomfort. I’ve felt myself become an adult again, and a human. Touring makes you feel like either a child or an animal because you don’t make your own decisions about how you spend your time. If you tour all the time, you lose a lot of responsibility. I wonder how that affects people, because you get off tour and you get back home and you don’t know what to do with yourself, you have no sense of how to organise your time.”

Julia Holter, Have You In My Wilderness, is out September 25th.