Julia Holter tends to sneak up on you, since the ambient sighs of her dramatically understated avant-pop songs feel like a gentle nudge amid breezy instrumentation. The singer-songwriter never allows her personality to overpower her music; instead, she allows it to envelope you. Her glowing voice emphasizes the warm serenity. The approach has worked well so far: Her first two albums, 2011’s Tragedy and the following year’s Ekstasis, were acclaimed for their dreamy processions and intimate bedroom feel. Her forthcoming album, Loud City Song, is more of the same, just with a bigger budget. Hive spoke with Holter about life beyond the bedroom.
What should listeners expect from the new album?
It’s hard to compare Loud City Song to other albums, but it tells a story like my record, Tragedy.
This is your first proper studio album. What are the differences between recording at home and the studio?
It was really nice and so much better, because you’re working with people who know what they’re doing. They know how to produce and they know how to cue things really well. If I wanted to bring out the vocals, they could certainly do that. It was just so much more professional. Having actual musicians come in and play the music gave the album a much fuller sound, which brought in so much more color.
But when you’re recording something at home, you have more liberty to play what you want to hear, right?
I’m not sure that’s true. A lot of times, you might know exactly what you want, but not really, because you don’t really know how to play it. For this album, I actually did work at home a lot: I wrote the whole record myself and demoed it in my house. I could execute my own ideas, then take them to the studio and have people do them better. [Laughs] I recorded some stuff at home, like the keyboard parts and the vocals. We did a lot of recording at home; it was the best of both worlds.
Given the success of your previous work, did you feel pressure to top it?
[Laughs] Not really. I didn’t think about the other records. I just wanted to focus on this record, and try not to think about what other people say about it. That’s my motto. Because if I think about what other people are going to say, it’s going to hurt my writing.
How much does Los Angeles influence your music?
It inherently does. I don’t think there’s an obvious connection, but the art coming out of L.A., it’s all very unique because people have the space to do what they want. It doesn’t feel like a place like New York, where there’s more networking with more ambitious people. In L.A., there’s more people doing what they want to do, and not worrying about what other people think.
What were the external factors that influenced Loud City Song?
The individual versus society is the theme of this record. It goes into the way an individual feels when they’re somewhat alienated from society. I’m sure every person has felt that way at some point in time. There are times when you just do your own thing, so this record explores that. Like with celebrity culture, we’ve arbitrarily picked our icons and they’re not necessarily doing anything important. We just like to talk about them for some reason. They become these symbols of things that are important to us.
Occasionally, I’ll see a celebrity at the shopping mall. And there’s always some person in there that paparazzi is chasing. They’re really crazy; they really go after them. It’s really scary to me, like it looks like they’re in a war or something. It’s like the cameras are guns, and they’re chasing after these people. It almost becomes a life and death situation. It’s very serious. [Laughs]
Loud City Song is out August 20 on Domino Recording Company.