Julia Holter takes intellectual approach to music

Julia Holter is in awe of the hitmaking efficiency of Swedish composers such as Max Martin, who can materialize a worldwide smash out of thin air. “But I don’t think that I’d be able to write that way, even though I seriously respect people that can. I just don’t know if I’d be good at it,” says the erudite artist, who, since her Euripides-inspired 2011 debut “Tragedy, has grown more esoteric and abstract with each release. Her fifth and latest, last year’s “Aviary,” revolves around the concept of memory, as described in Mary Carruthers’ “The Book of Memory” and poet Etel Adnan’s “Master of the Eclipse,” with a healthy dollop of Alice Coltrane’s record “Universal Consciousness” on top. In a world of Swedish soundalikes, she remains wonderfully unique.

How did Alice Coltrane’s fifth album wind up influencing you?

Well, I didn’t want to use conventional physics on the record, because it’d be too sweet, or too heavy, dark and plodding. And then when I listened to “Universal Consciousness” and its arranging, I realized it needed to be psychedelic. So I wanted to get someone else who is better at arranging, because I needed it to sound … not flawed, ideally — because I’m sure that everything I do is somewhat flawed — but just somewhat magical and mysterious. So I basically used a bunch of violin parts that were all heterophonic, playing similar lines but in different times. In classical music you’d want more balance between the ranges. I wasn’t worrying about balance. I was creating a show of artistic expression while leaving in all the intuitive accidents and strange quirks that arise when you’re just improvising.

Do you even remember to eat when you get that lost in the studio?

Ha! Yes, I do. Of course I do. And I like getting out to see my good friends quite a bit. I’m not like a hermit or anything. But I do have trouble in large social situations. I can’t handle it, it’s too much. But I still love performing. I love performing a lot. It’s very different from recording for me. I guess I accept myself now. I don’t know what else to be except myself.

Before you studied at California Institute of the Arts with avant-garde composer Michael Pisaro, were there any less complicated careers you were considering?

I definitely wanted to make music. But I didn’t know back then that it would be a viable career option. I was working in high schools as a tutor and had considered becoming a teacher. But once I realized that I was actually able to tour and make records, I was like, “All right! I’m going to pursue music and see what happens!”

Julia Holter
Where: Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. March 8
Tickets: $20 to $22
Contact: (415) 885-0750, www.eventbrite.com

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