Getting lost in a dream world of fawning landscapes, twisting electronic vines, and sweeping strings often feels like exactly that: a dream. It’s easy to envy how easily Los Angeles-based artist Julia Holter makes soundscapes like these. As part experimental electronic artist, part dream pop singer, and part composition creator, she’s often busy getting lost in live film scores or deceptively complex original work—and each time it’s tempting to tag along.
On her newest album, Aviary, Julia Holter turns her usual blend of smooth sounds and beautiful vocals into not just a whole new world, but a new planet. These songs ripple like water, building over time to show their depth, like “I Shall Love 2” or “Chaitius.” According to Holter, this new range of sound comes from furthering her compositional songwriting, employing more studio tricks than normal, and digging into the writing of other creatives.
“My friend who made the album art for the record introduced me to Etel Adnan’s writings. He gave me a book called Sitt Marie Rose, which is a novel of hers. I was really into it, so when I saw the descriptions for Master of the Eclipse, the other text, I wanted to read it since it’s about a lot of things that interest me,” she says. “Basically I thought about what poets are worth now, like what they can offer. Because I worked harder on arrangements for this record than I had previously, and it felt more hands-on. I feel like I combined elements from my more intuitively creative song forms that I’ve developed in the past, with a new way to gradually develop them in the studio. My freer song forms that I’ve done for many years got to be combined with more studio-style things, and I was thinking a lot about that.”
To get to know Julia Holter better, we interviewed her for a round of Wheel of Tunes, a series where we ask musicians questions inspired by their song titles. With Aviary as the prompt, her answers are opaque and wandering—qualities that will appear live when she headlines Brighton Music Hall this Saturday.
1) “Turn the Light On”
DIGBOSTON: When was the last time you experienced a jump scare?
HOLTER: Probably on the freeway or something where you almost get hit. I’m guessing it was the last time I was driving and someone almost hit me two days ago or so. It happens so often. I don’t get hit a lot, but I feel like I almost get hit a lot.
DIGBOSTON: What’s the biggest decision you’ve had to make so far this month?
HOLTER: That’s a crazy question. I don’t know the biggest decision so far this month. Hmm. Probably whether I should order 200 T-shirts to hand paint or just 100 T-shirts. I haven’t done this for 10 years, making my own merch, I mean. I’m trying to get back into that. It’s been a long time since I’ve done it. I might be really bad, actually, but I’m gonna try it. So let’s see. It will take a long time.
DIGBOSTON: What was the worst meal you made in 2018?
HOLTER: I don’t know if I eat things I don’t like. Is that weird? I wish I had an answer for this, because I’m trying really hard to think, but I guess I play it safe. I wish I could be funnier. [laughs] I don’t take lots of risks with my eating. I’m boring. Oh God. I don’t cook very well, but I also cook all the time. So maybe this just means I’m used to not cooking well, or cooking a lot.
4) “Voce Simul”
DIGBOSTON: Which relatively new game have you recently been digging?
HOLTER: I actually don’t play games. [laughs] I probably play games as a person, but I try not to. I play word games, too. They aren’t really win or lose, but that’s what I do. That’s what the song “Les Jeux to You” is about too: playing with words and the sound of words. I like to make mysostics out of text, or play with ways to make one text into another text, reforming it in different ways. Word games are very safe in that there’s no winning or losing. When I’m working on something creative, then I do this all the time, especially when I’m writing or working on music. Sometimes I’ll play with text in different ways. It’s like making a poem out of someone else’s texts. I almost never do that, especially on my record, but there’s one song I did do that with, and I explain that on the record. Anyway, I play with words. But when I’m reading a book, I just read the book. I’m not scrambling words then. It’s only when it’s creative purposes that I do it. Maybe it’s not a game then, but it feels like one.
5) “Everyday Is an Emergency”
DIGBOSTON: When was the last time you had to call someone for help?
HOLTER: Like five minutes ago. I was asking my partner how to use Instagram. I have a lot of trouble understanding how it works. I was trying to post a video to it and I couldn’t. I don’t know how to save videos to my phone. My phone was out of space and it’s from 2015 and like … I just can’t figure it out. I can’t do it. I mean, I can, but I had to get on the phone and ask. It just takes a while, you know? She is a little more adjusted at figuring these things out. [laughs]
6) “Another Dream”
DIGBOSTON: Where do most of your dreams take place?
HOLTER: In other places that I don’t live. On tour, I have dreams a lot, especially where I’m in an unfamiliar place. There’s nowhere specific that’s recurring, but it’s always unfamiliar. It’s like I have to figure out where I am first in the dream.
7) “I Shall Love 2”
DIGBOSTON: Looking back at your past relationships, what’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned?
HOLTER: Hmm, I don’t know. I think just knowing that the more friendships and relationships one has, the more you start to think about empathy. You try to understand the other person more. When you’re younger, you’re kind of just looking out for yourself in certain ways in relationships. But as you grow older, you learn more about how to listen to other people.
8) “Underneath the Moon”
DIGBOSTON: Do you have a favorite romantic song?
HOLTER: Oooh. I have so many. There are so many songs that are my favorite love song. [laughs] The one I’m thinking of, though, is—ugh, I can’t remember it off the top of my head! I cannot answer music questions like this easily. What is my favorite love song? [sighs] Let’s just say for right now, recently the past year and a half, it’s been “The Love Theme” from Blade Runner. No no, I’m sorry. It’s called “Rachel’s Song” and it’s by Vangelis. It’s from the Blade Runner soundtrack, the original one.
DIGBOSTON: What was the last thing you made by hand, not including music?
HOLTER: Food. Do you mean right now, as of 11:22 am? Because if so, then I made a taco by hand yesterday. I was making it really quickly because my friend was coming over. So I threw a fried egg in there and arugula and some salsa. No meat, but I’m not vegetarian. It was pretty good. It was okay. It was quick.
10) “In Gardens’ Muteness”
DIGBOSTON: Do you have any plants in your house that you’re growing?
HOLTER: Yes, there’s a plant in my house. I actually have a lot of plants. There’s a lot of trees in the yard. But inside, there’s a plant I’m looking at and I’m forgetting the name of it. My cousin gave it to me when she moved. I forget what kind it is, which isn’t a good answer. I’m sorry. It’s a houseplant, though!
11) “I Would Rather See”
DIGBOSTON: If you weren’t on tour right now, what would you be doing instead?
HOLTER: I like to write music at home. That’s my favorite, so probably that.
12) “Les Jeux to You”
DIGBOSTON: Which French word is your favorite to say?
HOLTER: Oooh. I don’t know French, actually, but I know some words. I like the words I’ve used in my songs. I like a lot of words. Maybe I like “parapluie” best, which means umbrella. I like that one a lot, actually.
[Holter declined to answer questions for the last three songs on her album—”Words I Heard,” “I Shall Love 1,” and “Why Sad Song”—due to time constraints.]
JULIA HOLTER, JESSICA MOSS. SAT 2.23. BRIGHTON MUSIC HALL, 158 BRIGHTON AVE., ALLSTON. 8PM/18+/$17. CROSSROADS.COM