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Julia Holter Talks Ekstasis and Recording Stuff Like Chatter and Fireworks

Holter at Sage Organic Vegan Bistro in Echo Park
Holter at Sage Organic Vegan Bistro in Echo Park
Elano Pizzicarola

Budding indie pop artist Julia Holter spent nearly three years making her forthcoming album Ekstasis, and it seems to have paid off as it's positioned her among other L.A. indie-pop notables and scored her favorable notices from outlets like Pitchfork and NPR.

Of course the 27-year-old Cal Arts grad welcomes the publicity, but her artistic freedom remains paramount. "I just always make honest music. I just always kinda do what I wanna do," says the Echo Park resident over the phone on a recent Saturday morning after playing First Fridays at the Natural History Museum. Holter's music is lush and melodic, and the song "In The Same Room" on her latest album may remind listeners of Beach House or Blonde Redhead.

The process of making Ekstasis took three years for various reasons, one being side jobs that help pay the bills. Holter tutors kids after school and teaches them piano as well as works with students in continuation schools. "I like working with students a lot and watching some of the amazing stuff they put together," she says.

Secondly, Tragedy was made in conjunction with Ekstasis. In fact, Holter recorded some of Tragedy's and Ekstasis' songs in one day. She wanted to make the songs sound as good as possible even though she had no professional recording equipment. That meant it took her longer to put together Ekstasis, which was a challenge.

She named Ekstasis after the album's last song "This is Ekstasis." The song draws its inspiration from an essay called "Decreation: How Women Like Sappho, Marguerite Porete, and Simone Weil Tell God" by Anne Carson, who taught Holter at University of Michigan. "It's casual, they way she writes," Holter says, "but it's also very eloquent." The word ecstasy comes from the Ancient Greek word "ekstasis." Tellingly, in philosophy, it means "outside of oneself."

It makes sense -- while an undergrad at University of Michigan, Holter became interested in field recording after she performed a piece that lent itself to the process. "That was really fun and inspiring," she says.

Now, she uses the process often, taping outdoor sounds with a Zoom H4 handheld recorder and weaving them into her music. She prevents the wind from causing background noise by covering the receiver with a sock. On Tragedy, Holter recorded train station sounds for the song "So Lillies." One Fourth of July, she recorded the sound of fireworks, and on another day, people chattering in a backyard, before finally combining them.

Despite her affinity for "found sounds," making Ekstasis left her more interested in collaborating with real live human beings for future albums. Holter is excited to work alongside other musicians, such as viola players and bass players. "One thing I've learned is I really want to work with people," she says. "Having musicians come in and play on the record sounds really great and adds so much."

Julia Holter's Ekstasis will be released this Thursday, March 8.


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