Julia Holter is a different kind of home-recording artist. The classically-trained L.A. musician isn’t a participant in record-and-post demo culture, preferring to take her time composing, recording and performing her ethereal pieces of avant-pop. It once took her six years to release one of her albums on a label. “People might think I’m new,” she says. “I’ve actually been making stuff for a while. I think it was great to have all of this time to develop and experiment without people watching my every move.” Holter’s had a lot more people watching her moves after she released two albums just seven months apart: last year’s Tragedy and this year’s Ekstasis (out this past March Leaving/RVNG).
Listening to Ekstasis, you can hear why Holter doesn’t have much in common with many of L.A.’s bedroom songwriters: Her sleek melodies, forefront vocals, and lingering hooks are too polished for that micro-scene. She cites ’70s pastoral-folk artist Linda Perhacs as one of her inspirations: “Linda doesn’t focus on genre or style or seem to have a sense of what’s cool; it’s just about making beautiful music, and that’s my same approach. It’s not whether it’s a hit or part of a scene. It’s kind of universal,” Holter explains. “That’s really great for me, at a time when there’s so much complication with how we look at music and references like ‘avant-garde’ versus ‘pop music’.” Her favorite musicians are household names: Billie Holiday, Roxy Music, David Bowie, and Steely Dan. “I’m not super obscure and not a record collector-type person. People expect me to toss out weird names because they know that I studied music. But I just like a good melody in wherever I can find it,” she explains.
Though Holter usually performs with two of her close friends, she calls it a “struggle” to communicate her ideas to other people. She’s used to it. “I spent a lot of my time at CalArts completely alone or working on solo projects, which is a little weird. A lot of people collaborated while they were there,” she remembers. “I used it to have time to read and write and record music.” Growing up as an only child after her older sister left for college, Holter has always been independent. But she also believes that it’s easier to be independent in L.A. “There’s a misconception that there’s only one way to make music in L.A.,” she says. “I would say that it’s incredibly hard to characterize at this point — except to say that L.A. is diverse, and there’s a lot going on at once.” And in way, that makes Holter so very L.A.
Ekstasis is out now. Holter is on tour in Europe through July.
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