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FYF Fest 2016: Julia Holter uses her classical training to make indie pop music

Julia Holter performs at FYF Fest on Aug. 28 in Los Angeles.
Julia Holter performs at FYF Fest on Aug. 28 in Los Angeles.
Tonje Thilesen

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It’s hard to describe Julia Holter’s music. The indie artist has been compared to avant-garde musician Laurie Anderson, ‘80s pop icon Kate Bush, and the experimental pop artist Joanna Newsom.

Holter studied classical music and composition at CalArts. Since graduating, she’s composed music for the L.A. Philharmonic, and has released four albums to critical praise. 

The Frame’s James Kim spoke with the experimental musician about studying classical music, her writing process, and how she wants to take risks with her music.


Going to school for classical music as a back-up plan: 

I didn't think it was possible to support myself doing what I'm doing, which is kind of why I went into academic music because I thought that was more stable [laughs]. [That was] a different time ... before the recession. 

When I got into high school I started studying music theory and I was a piano major. I was definitely not one of the best pianists. There were so many great pianists, but I ended up focusing on writing music. 

My friend and I would go to shows at the L.A. Philharmonic and we were very excited about music that was crazy. There was this excitement about it, and I wanted to make music that was really insane. 

Holter's writing process:

One of the struggles that I have with classical music is the way one thinks about a recapitulation. There's always this idea of themes and I have trouble with that. Even with repeating verses in pop music, I have trouble with. A lot of times when I'm working out a song I have all these new sections. 

I don't know how well I work in traditions. I don't know if it's just the way I listened to music growing up and never having my foot in one particular world, and just wanting to do my own thing. 

Breaking down her remix of Nite Jewel's "Running Out Of Time":

There's a pool right across the street from where I live — like a community pool — and it's really loud. There's always this sound of a diving board. In fact, the whole swimming pool itself is really incredible sounding. It's just this huge reverberant room. 

I actually used the sounds in a remix of a friend's music, Nite Jewel, and you have all these people screaming and talking. It sounds kind of emotional because you have all of these children and it sounds like a memory or something. 

Not being afraid of taking risks: 

I say most of my music is very trial-and-error. I don't consider myself supremely talented, but I really like to try things and sift through it and see what mess I made. 

Julia Holter plays FYF Fest on Aug. 28 at 4 p.m.. 

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