Julia Holter’s Listening to Mykietyn

What do your parents think about your music?

They are very supportive. They have different tastes in music, but I think they are finally learning to try my judgment. Recently I’ve found they listen to my recordings, which warms my heart. I would love them even if they hated it though. I want my loved ones and friends to be honest with me, it would never hurt me if they disliked my music. Really not important for anyone I care about in my life to be a fan of my music. But the fact that my parents have been supportive and have finally stopped worrying about practical aspects of it definitely provides some relief.

How about critics, have you kept track of what they said about Tragedy and Ekstasis? How much of it did you find acceptable?

Haha, I do keep track of it, for better or for worse. Not all of it of course. But the only reason I would ever complain about a critique is if there was a deeper issue than my ego involved. In general, I have been amazed, thrilled, overjoyed with the response the records have had, and of course it’s all happened very quickly so it’s not something I’ve fully absorbed yet.

From what I’ve read, you seemed to be an accomplished musician even before releasing your debut album. Is there anything you know or understand better about music that you didn’t about 2-3 years ago – before recording Tragedy and Ekstasis?

Hmm, maybe. I guess I’m not sure though. Maybe I have a new perspective is all I can say. At that time I was really excited and had so many things I wanted to do at once, and wanted to get it out into the world so badly, so that I had some support. Now, my music is finally being heard, and I feel a lot more grounded, but in a good way. I feel more focused, and I think the reason is that things have come together for me. I have been able to tour and actually support myself – on a very low level! – with my music, which is totally different from before. So it makes everything easier.

When you’re writing new music, what would be your typical starting point? Does the final effect ever surprise you? 

Definitely. I am surprised at every turn. I am always allowing myself to wander off, usually that doesn’t do anything detrimental to the final result. But I tend to start with a pretty good idea of what I want. I mean the first thing I do varies but recently I haven’t recorded as much as I’ve written ideas out a lot and come up with the lyrics, harmonies and melodies at the piano.

And how would you know that a song is finished – nothing to add or take away?

Not sure, everytime it is different, but there is usually a point at which I am satisifed/exhausted to the point of acceptance.

Do you ever use music notes?

Yes, all the time. Sometimes I just use it for preliminary notes, but I just made some scores arranged for string quartet too.

For your concert in Krakow? 

Yes, I prepared scores for the musicians, as well as for my part – I will play along with them. I’ve actually never done something like this at all. Because I’ve written music for string quartet before many years ago, but I have never arranged a piece that previously existed in another form into notation for a new instrumentation. I mean I really have never done that, which is crazy, because I studied composition for a while, and I think it’s an important skill to have. So it’s been a great learning experience and I really really want to do more of it. I think it’s SO fun. Not sure how these ones will turn out because I didn’t have loads of time to work on them, and I don’t know the players at all, but we’ll see! I’m confident that the festival will find some great players.

Many songs on Ekstasis have very complex vocal parts. How do you manage to recreate them on stage?

I don’t actually, for the most part, but Corey and Chris (the drummer and cellist) have taken on a few of the parts, to lovely effect. But the feminine madrigal-like stuff is absent. I would love to have another voice or two eventually. Voice meaning anything from actual voice to, say, viola or saxophone. We’ll see!

You’ve recorded the two first albums in your bedroom. What equipment did you have?

Logic, computer, and just recorded sounds – mostly synth/digital piano/Casio and also some cello and harmonium, and also some guest instrumentalists – directly into computer, through interface. Not really MIDI.

Now you say you want to move to a professional studio next time. It seems natural, but what would be the main reasons for you to do so?

Working in my bedroom is great because I can take as much time as I want to trial and error. But horrible because I just sit there for hours on my own, trying things out in a way that takes a lot more time than if I was working with other people and having to make faster decisions. And it’s horrible for my back. I know that sounds ridiculous but I hurt myself so much working in my slump-inducing chair at my crappy desk with all my stuff everywhere.

I have one more extra question, but it would need you to spend like 15 minutes on listening, so I don’t mind if you ignore it. I’d like to ask you about your opinion on a piece called “3 for 13” by a contemporary Polish composer Pawel Mykietyn. We have a nice footage of a performance by Ensemble Modern

The first part is great. I really love hocketting – when different voices take turns playing one melody. Which is what’s happening here, and gives it that cool sonic “panning” effect, resulting from the constant sharp shifts in timbre from note to note. Harmonically and melodically, it sounds like some kind of Bach music or something, not sure if it is an arrangement of old music. It seems like this piece is an arrangement of a sort of conventional – and pretty! – melody and harmony in as fragmented a way as possible. I like it!

The other parts I don’t really feel as interested in. The thing that I loved about the first part seems complicated, as modern music frequently is, too much so. And all the drama with the drums feels unrelated. So maybe I just need more time to understand the rest of it.

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Fine.




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