Los Angeles-based composer/multi-instrumentalist Julia Holter blurs the boundaries between indie music, modern composition, and electronic music.
On early releases such as 2011's Tragedy, she combined bedroom recordings of droning electronics and distant vocals with inspirations as cultured as Euripides' play Hippolytus. On every album, the scope of her music grew; she incorporated chamber pop and the words of Virginia Woolf and Frank O'Hara on 2012's Ekstasis and engaged with Gigi -- both Colette's short story and Vincente Minelli's 1958 film -- on 2013's bustling Loud City Song. Holter's embrace of traditional pop structures reached a peak on 2015's acclaimed Have You in My Wilderness, but with 2018's double-album Aviary, she underscored just how vital experimentation was to her ambitious, uncompromising music.
Born in Milwaukee and raised in Los Angeles by a musically inclined family -- her father is a guitarist who once played with Pete Seeger -- Holter began playing piano at an early age and started writing her own music at age ten. Along with her classical training, Holter also learned to play songs by Billie Holiday, Tori Amos, Fiona Apple, and Radiohead. While studying composition at the University of Michigan, she began recording her own music. After graduation, she studied electronic music at CalArts with Michael Pisaro, who she was inspired to work with after seeing him perform during her time at U of M.
In 2008, she contributed tracks to Monika's 4 Women No Cry, Vol. 3 as well as a Human Ear compilation, and released the CD-R album Cookbook on Sleepy Mammal Sound. The following year, Holter began working with the Dublab collective and appeared on a volume of their In the Loop series of vinyl compilations. The fruits of another one of her projects, phonetically translating songs performed in languages other than English, were on display on 2010's "Why Sad Song," her interpretation of a Burmese lament that appeared on the Beaterblocker #2 collection (which also featured tracks by Keith Fullerton Whitman and Eluvium). That year, Holter also released the CD-R Celebration on Engraved Glass Records, a collection of live recordings on NNA Tapes and performed with the Linda Perhacs Band.
All of this activity was just a warm-up for her first full-fledged album, 2011's Tragedy, which was released by Leaving Records. Inspired by Euripides' play Hippolytus, the album melded tweaked electronics with classical and pop elements, earning critical acclaim from avant and underground music publications both online and in print. Soon after Tragedy's release came Ekstasis, a lighter and more accessible but still complex song cycle that arrived in March 2012. On top of her busy music schedule, she also found time to tutor teenagers in South Central L.A. as part of a nonprofit organization. Her third album, Loud City Song, was inspired by Colette's 1944 novella Gigi (and Vincente Minelli's 1958 film) and arrived in August 2013. On 2015's Have You in My Wilderness, she took a more intimate, accessible approach that put her vocals front and center. Collaborations with Ducktails and Jean-Michel Jarre preceded 2016's Bleed for This, the score to Ben Younger's film about boxer Vinny Pazienza. Early the next year, In the Same Room inaugurated a series of albums from Domino that featured the label's artists re-creating their definitive songs live in a London studio. In September 2017, Holter premiered her score to Carl Theodor Dryer's classic 1928 silent film The Passion of Joan of Arc at Los Angeles' FIGat7th. A year later, she released her fifth album Aviary, an expansive double album featuring contributions from Cole M.G.N., Kenny Gilmore, and Tashi Wada and sources of inspiration including Vangelis' Blade Runner score, medieval music, and Alice Coltrane. ~ Heather Phares, Rovi