Baker's Dozen

Artists discuss the 13 records that shaped their lives

Moulding Voices: Julia Holter’s Favourite Albums

From a girl group compilation heard in childhood to more recently discovered singer-songwriters and jazz via a medieval mass, the LA composer talks Gary Kaill through some key albums in her record collection

Photograph courtesy of Tonje Thilesen

"You feel like it’s more free-form on the new record? That’s so interesting. For me, it’s like the opposite," says Julia Holter as we leave aside her Baker’s Dozen selections for a moment to discuss her forthcoming fourth album, the enthralling Have You In My Wilderness. Recorded with the same group of musicians who so vividly brought to life the wild imaginings of her 2013 release, the Gigi-inspired Loud City Song, it’s been trailed as a more intimate work: more about the songs, less about the broader thematic intent. So, whereas tracking the high society romantic hopscotch of Vincente Minnelli’s 1958 musical gave her previous record narrative foundation, her new work requires the songs to stand alone. Perhaps that’s why, on initial plays at least, it seems to breathe more easily.

"It’s interesting, though, because you’re not the only person to say that," continues Holter, as we explore the point. "There’s a lot of density to this record and sometimes I worry that it’s too dense. The arrangements are very simple, in my opinion. I kind of just write them out and there wasn’t a lot of changing, just a little bit of improvising."

"For both albums, the process was the same, ultimately, where I would make demos of the songs at home and they are quite similar to the final versions in a lot of ways: you would recognise them. Then I would arrange the parts based on what I needed for the recording. But some parts are improvised and that’s where I’ve explained in the studio what I’m thinking and I let the band just kind of go with it. So yeah, it is collaborative in that way."

Holter pauses and considers further: "But that’s great that it feels free because sometimes it’s just the band reading stuff. And, to be fair, they do sometimes improvise and we’ll go with that if it’s better than what I’ve written. So what you’re describing is the goal and I would sometimes pick out performances that are what they’ve provided rather than what I’d written. The goal is to have an end result that brings out the character of each player, to a certain degree."

As we talk about each of her Baker’s Dozen choices, Holter considers at great length just why she’s chosen them, swapping out two original choices at the last minute (both Bob Dylan and Lou Reed bite the dust.) And while the depth of her passion for the music she loves is clear, she’s still figuring out some of her choices as we speak. "When I made this list," she says, "I made it thinking about what I listened to a lot at particular times in my life, not necessarily now."

Similarly, a question about whether she’s satisfied, or even happy, with the results of her latest endeavour proves equally difficult to nail. "Happy? I don’t know. I think it’s pretty weird to think about your music. I always have issues with things I’ve done, so I don’t really know how to answer that. How I view it is as this always changing, crazy subjective thing. We worked really hard on it: this record was a lot harder to make than the last one. There were times when I wanted to throw the record away, there were times when I loved it. But now I feel very at peace with it. But that doesn’t mean that I think it’s a work of brilliance, necessarily. You just accept what you’ve done."

Have You In My Wilderness is out on Friday, September 25, via Domino. Julia Holter begins a world tour at Cal Coast Credit Union Open Air Theatre at SDSU in San Diego, CA, on October 6 with UK dates starting at Komedia in Brighton on November 9; for full details and tickets, head to her website. Click on the image below to begin scrolling through Julia’s choices, which run in no particular order

First Record

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