Julia Holter is awesome. Her voice is beautiful and haunting and dreamy and she makes weird epic music that belongs in a museum, hanging on the wall. Like the Mona Lisa, there’s a curious truth about it that’s puzzling, and seems to move with you from one corner of the room to the other, like eyeballs. Her music is full of eyeballs. And the world is sitting down to eat her eyeball soup. This interview by Daiana Feuer.
Do you ever feel like, even when you’re succeeding, that somehow you’re not fulfilling your potential?
I don’t think I ever feel like I’m succeeding. I think I frequently feel like I have trouble enjoying the moment. I find it interesting how my priorities will shift. When something interesting that I’ve wanted to happen happens, I will immediately not focus on that and focus on some other problem that I never cared about before. Even if it had been present before. Sometimes it’s really weird little things. It doesn’t make any sense. I’ve been really happy because my music is finally being heard and my records that I’ve been working on for a really long time came out. I have had this sense of thankfulness that it’s finally happened after almost three years of working on them. But then I find all these little things upsetting me. I was going to a show the other day and I threw a banana peel out the window and I was really concerned the whole way to the show about this banana peel and what was going to happen to it. Oh, here’s a good example—because I just threw it out the window and I was like, ‘Well, this is Philadelphia; I don’t know how they deal with things. The banana is not going to just decompose like it would in L.A. I don’t know if they’re just going to pick it up and throw it out in the garbage and it will never decompose.’ I was really concerned and I thought it so weird that I was really upset about it. Or, this is a better example, I finally got the keyboard I’ve wanted for a long time. I have been so happy because I finally have this Nord but I had to exchange one Nord for another because it wasn’t the right thing for me, it was too heavy. But now I’m so upset that I had to exchange it in because I think about how I was with that one Nord, just because it was in my presence for a week, we shared this experience together and now I abandoned it for this other new Nord. Sometimes I fixate on weird little things. I have this emotional concern like I’ve abandoned something.
Do you think your attention is focusing on that to avoid thinking about the good things? Is it modesty?
I don’t know! I feel like I’m such a lucky person in so many ways. I’ve always been thankful for anything and a generally happy person. I don’t think I’m a negative person, but it’s just natural for me to fixate on things just to make myself anxious.
When something important happens, you put so much into it. There is a tendency sometimes to fuck it up completely—or to not be able to recognize or deal with it.
Or not being able to enjoy … I played a show in New York recently—this new friend, Naomi Yang, she did a video for me, and the whole time at the show I was feeling negative. I was going to perform solo, just me and the piano, and it was such a beautiful space, and I felt like it was too good for me. I kept saying, ‘This is so beautiful and I’m just going to play my shitty songs and it’s going to be shitty.’ This is an extreme version of what I was actually saying, by the way. But she was like, ‘You just have to enjoy this.’ She said, ‘I remember once performing for a thousand people; I saw all these people and I should have just had fun but I wouldn’t let myself because I was so caught up in something. You have to enjoy the people in the moment.’ She used that word modesty like you did. I don’t even think I’m a humble person, but it is a human thing to do.
It’s like how they tell actors to be present in order to react to the situation as if it’s real. But I find that it’s hard enough to react to reality like it’s real all the time. And to be aware and present and be your best whenever you have the chance. It’s weird to face your own greatness.
Right! Some people love when there’s a million people there to see you and you take advantage of it. There’s a happy medium. I actually do enjoy performing and have taken in the moment, in the moment.
Can you think of a moment where you did enjoy it?
Actually, the previous show at Le Poisson Rouge in New York, in March, the release show for Ekstasis—that was weird because I was so present, because I was so nervous. It was my first show with my band playing together live, and here we were in this other city doing it. I had built up all this terror all month about it, that at the moment when we were playing, I really enjoyed it. It was also the first time where people clapped in such a way that they were really into it. I had fun and I was laughing and thought it was so surreal. The place sold out. I don’t know how it sold out, maybe they gave away tickets. But it was so weird to me. I’ve played shows in L.A. for years with three people there, and I love those shows. But I was laughing because this was so weird and funny and fun and great.
That’s another example of it being so hyperreal. ‘This is it!’ The day will come when you are in front of a thousand people and you will giggle because you’ll be like, ‘Oh, this is what it’s like—this is the moment I’ve waited to experience.’ And then that moment itself will be over so quickly.
Thank god, though. The first time Tragedy was released—when I first got my hands on it—I got in my car and started bawling super hard. I was so emotional about it. It was crazy. It was this intense moment because I had worked on this for so long, and I was overwhelmed with gratitude. It was hyperreal. I think creative people tend to think of things that they create as kind of insane. Like you know it comes from a magical place in your spirit. For it to actually come out in a physical form is almost disturbing and crazy and weird, that it’s been framed in this thing and shown to people as something just as real as a piece of paper or a computer. That it’s actually legitimized as something for other people. It’s continually shocking that people are listening to my record. Not because I think it’s bad, I just don’t even know where some of it comes from, but it does. The creative process is so weird. When people build a house, it’s so amazing. How do they make this physical thing? Or how scientists make discoveries, it’s always magical. They have this moment of epiphany while relaxing. They have to do a lot of research to get to that place. Then they get to a point where they can’t solve something and go get a massage, and they have this epiphany. That’s like how the person who built the house—yeah, it seems crazy they built this house, how did they start, how did they do it? There’s magic in everything. You plan it, but then things have to just happen at some point. When people say, ‘How did you make this record?’ They took the time and let their imagination happen. I guess it’s about balancing this aggrandized notion of the fact you know that people create things—they’re so magical and you can never be that versus letting yourself do something that’s honest and you create it, and you’re not a god or brilliant, you’re just true to your vision. You build the house.
It’s about realizing that you can realize your potential and it’s not that big of a deal. You can just do it and let it come out without worrying about it or procrastinating.
It’s about doing what you want to do instead of thinking about it being impossible because it’s you, and how could you be great?
There are different sides to the music you make. Sometimes you do abstract things, other times you do more straightforward things. Sometimes it’s light, sometimes dark. Do you ever feel disembodied by the notion that one side of you is the side that everyone will know rather than the other?
I do expect people to be drawn more to short songs. At first, ya know? I don’t let myself go to the place where I separate what I do because I’m so dedicated to letting myself do what I want when I feel like it, to the extent that I guard myself from categorizing what I do. But I’m aware of that categorization. I know that people say I’ve had two records, but I feel like I’ve had more! I don’t think about it too much.
You’re too busy worrying about banana peels in the street.
But it’s a good point. I think I’m going to continue acknowledging all my records. Ever since Tragedy came out and there was this unexpected interest in it, I’ve felt really optimistic about listeners and what they’re open to. I really didn’t think it would go as far as it did. I never thought it would sell out like that. Or maybe I didn’t let myself think about it. I don’t even consciously do it. ‘Who will like it? How will it be categorized? Should I choose to do what’s catchier?’ I tend to not categorize things as much as possible. It might be a safety guard. I’m aware of it but I keep it at a distance so it won’t bother me. It’s like my room, which is really messy but I can still work. I don’t care. I leave whatever it is in the corner. I don’t think creation is ever healthy. But it can be soul-fulfilling, which is healthy ultimately.
If creation is so unhealthy, why do it?
I just have to. I kinda feel like I have to do it. It’s an impulse. My personality, no matter what I do, it will always be a little bit unhealthy. It’s just how I am. I will put too much effort into something I don’t need to. I always get anxious. I just have to do, I have to make, I love singing. I enjoy that so much that I will go through anguish to get it out. And it’s also so hard to form something you really love doing. That’s the cool fun crazy battle with creation. Yeah, you want to just explode this idea but you have to tame it—not tame it, that’s a horrible word, but you have to form it, shape it, fill it out.
JULIA HOLTER WITH RAW GERONIMO AND TES ELATIONS ON FRI., AUG. 24, AT THE ECHO, 1822 W. SUNSET BLVD., ECHO PARK. 8:30 PM / $10 / 18+. ATTHEECHO.COM. JULIA HOLTER’S EKSTASIS IS AVAILABLE NOW FROM RVNG INTL. VISIT JULIA HOLTER AT JULIASHAMMASHOLTER.COM.