Neon Lights Festival: Music

Don't call her daddy's girl

American singersongwriter Julia Holter’s (above) has scored a soundtrack for biopic Bleed For This.
American singersongwriter Julia Holter’s (above) has scored a soundtrack for biopic Bleed For This.PHOTO: TONJE THILESEN

American singer-songwriter Julia Holter's textually rich and experimental body of work has been feted by the music press in the past few years. With her latest project, she is likely to widen her audience.

The 30-year-old Californian native recently finished scoring the soundtrack for Bleed For This, a biopic about former world champion boxer Vinny Pazienza which stars upcoming Hollywood actor Miles Teller and is executive- produced by feted film-maker Martin Scorsese.

Composing music for the film was a refreshing change, she says.

"It's nice to follow someone else's art for a little while," she tells Life in a telephone interview from Brighton, a stop in her current world tour in support of her latest album, Have You In My Wilderness.

"It was very positive. I basically just worked with the film director, Ben Younger, for most of it.

"It was actually surprisingly a lot easier than I thought. I felt like I could do my own thing and he understood that and I understood what he was trying to do. So really it was very intuitive in a way."

She was fielding interviews ahead of her debut Singapore set at arts and music festival Neon Lights at Fort Canning. She plays on Nov 29, the second day of the two-day festival.

Earlier this year, she also collaborated with her father, historian and singer-songwriter Darryl Holter, for the first time, on a collection of songs by American folk legend Woody Guthrie.

While it might seem like she grew up surrounded by music, Holter, whose mother is also a historian, says that that was not the case.

"People always say, 'Your household was very musical', and it wasn't really. My dad is musical but he didn't really start recording stuff until 10 years ago.

"So before that, he was into it, but my mom wasn't. They listen to music, but my mom is not a musician. It was more like an intellectual, an academic house - it wasn't very musical exactly."

Holter got serious about music early, studying music in her teens at the Alexander Hamilton High School Academy of Music and later studying composition at the California Institute of the Arts.

In 2011, she released her debut album, Tragedy, a work inspired by the ancient Greek play, Hippolytus.

Have You In My Wilderness, released two months ago, is her fourth album and, like her previous releases, has garnered rave reviews.

British newspaper The Guardian went so far as to give it a perfect score, describing it "a genuinely exceptional and entrancing album, opaque but effective, filled with beautiful, skewed songs, unconventional without ever feeling precious or affected".

Holter, who is single, says the new tunes are translating well when she plays them live.

"One of the fun things about this record is how easy it is for me to get lost in the emotion on stage. I really enjoy playing these songs live."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 20, 2015, with the headline 'Don't call her daddy's girl'. Print Edition | Subscribe