JULIA HOLTER with JESSICA PRATT at the Drake Underground (1150 Queen West), Wednesday (July 17), 8 pm. $16.50. RT, SS, TF. See listing.
It wouldn't be a bad guess to assume Julia Holter's third full-length album, Loud City Song (Domino), is about her native Los Angeles.
"A lot of people assume that," Holter tells me over the phone while she packs, presumably for her lengthy European/North American tour.
But the ambitious orchestral indie pop record with subtle electronic washes started from a much more specific place.
A scene in the 1958 movie musical Gigi inspired a song - Maxim's 2 - that simply didn't fit on Ekstasis, the record she was working on at the time.
"After I wrote Maxim's, I realized that it needed its own context. It's a theatrical song, and in order for it to hold together I had to explore the themes of Gigi in other songs.
"I saw how this might be done in a way that wasn't an obvious or clear reference to the film but played with the imagery and characters a bit."
It was conceived in her bedroom studio and then recorded with a team of L.A. musicians, co-produced by Cole Marsden Greif-Neill. Holter's lyrics, whether quietly staccato-spat or melancholically moaned, are bluntly straightforward while allowing for interpretation. Always, they are unselfconscious.
"I don't know how I wear a hat so much. Even when I run. The city can't see my eyes under the bridge," she says on the sublimely sedate album opener.
In the musical-theatre-leaning Maxim's 2 (named after the restaurant in a pivotal scene of the film), she becomes the gawking onlooker: "When they're loud enough we can hear their words. By night we are inquisitory birds."
And so the links with Los Angeles are inevitably drawn. It is about her city, in a roundabout way, she tells me - a lens or approach to it, the dance with and around celebrity culture.
Thankfully, though their antics repulse her, she doesn't actually witness - or experience - too much paparazzi attention.
"I've never, ever once been recognized," Holter says, and she's not worried a third album and massive tour will ruin that.
Even as her profile grows, she's confident she can slip under a hat, away from the birds.