Julia Holter brought something new to this year’s Unsound Festival—not just to the crowd, but for herself as well. She presented three pieces of music, unreleased and unheard until that point, and she performed them together with the Sinfonia Iuventus Quartet in the amazing sold-out hall of St. Catherine’s church. It was breathtaking. By the time we actually got that breath back, the show had ended. Fortunately, we met up with her the day after.
How did it feel to be on stage without your usual band setup, but rather with a string quartet?
It felt great!
Did you feel more exposed than usually?
I used to play concerts on my own so I’m definitely used to that kind of exposure. I was really aware though of the fact that I had to arrange the music note by note as it was a classical string quartet whose musicians don’t improvise but play notes that are written on paper which is very different to how I usually work with my band which is to listen to my music and then come up with arrangements. So, that was hard. And we only had two rehearsals before the actual show which meant I couldn’t really change anything about the music so that’s why I did a more conventional orchestration that would definitely work.
This project, working with Sinfonia Iuventus Quartet…was that your idea?
Not really. I guess my label, RVNG, and the festival came up with it. Unsound Festival has worked with classical players and orchestras before and they just thought it would fit my music. Originally, they had wanted me to do a whole symphony, I think, though that wouldn’t have been possible because the time I had to write was limited to one month. But it was fun arranging songs that I had already recorded for myself with my usual instrumentation and then notating them.
Do you get the chance to write new music when you’re on tour?
I don’t write on tour—yet. For now, to me performing and recording are so different. I can’t focus when on tour. And I can’t write in a van. I can’t even read in a van because I get car-sick, I’m just like a vegetable then. Of course, every experience changes what you do but I don’t think that goes for me and touring yet.
Do you think of the practicalities of touring when composing?
No, that would be wrong. I like to write for ten musicians, even if I know that I couldn’t take them on the road with me. I’m not going to limit my recordings because of practical issues related to performing them live. As I said before, recording and performing are really two separate art forms for me.
Has there been much interest from other labels in the past months?
Oh yes… All the attention has been great, it’s been a great change in my life and I’m happy about it. I’m also happy because the great media buzz there once was and which scared me, naturally, isn’t that intense anymore. I’m a sensitive person. At least I know that I’m satisfied with the music I make and that I know it’s right for me.