Woodes sits down with Mixdown to chat her recent move to LA, unconventional sources of inspiration and all things in between.
Ethereal alt-pop songstress Woodes has had an action packed several years. Having gained an ardent following in Australia and internationally with the release of her debut EP, she embarked on tours with renowned artists of the likes of Thelma Plum, Asgier, and Sylvan Esso, and showcased her talent at various festivals, including Splendour in the Grass, SXSW, and Beyond the Valley, all the while headlining her own tours.
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Following on from the 2020 release of Woodes’ debut album Crystal Ball, which received a stellar 4-star review from NME and reached #3 on the Australian Independent Album Charts, Woodes has re-emerged to showcase her delicate compositions and multi-disciplinary artistry with a brand new EP and its accompanying visuals – Kingdom Come. Out now on all good streaming platforms, to celebrate this release, Woodes sat down with Mixdown to chat her recent move to LA, unconventional sources of inspiration and all things in between.
Having recently relocated to LA, a city famed for being somewhat of a mecca as far as studio sessions and collaborative writing is concerned, I wonder whether you’ve found that you’ve been able to explore new realms and push boundaries creatively in ways that aren’t quite possible in Australia – or, have you found that you’re working in a largely similar way over there?
I’m between here and Melbourne for my music, feels nomadic but it’s been refreshing after being in Melbourne for a while, especially considering the last couple years with interrupted travel. I love the natural world of Australia, and the connection to my family and friends & I really love the connected ecosystem in LA. Felt like time to explore here, more in depth. It’s cool to see how much is happening here and it makes me feel limitless in the places my music can live in, and the projects I can be a part of.
This is my first time back here since I was working on Crystal Ball and when I was in LA that time it really was feeling like a second home. Ultimately my favourite thing in the world is collaborating on creating things and this city is full of people to work and create worlds with. Last year when I was creating Kingdom Come I was in Brisbane, working out of 4000 studios, and it was a special environment that felt like an LA/Sweden bubble in Australia. Everyone’s working and checking in on each other. You can make that momentum and feeling anywhere, really. 4000 Studios is a very special place in Australia.
As far as writing goes, have you made a conscious decision to expand your sound between your earlier releases and the new EP? What kind of sonic palette were you working with when you began writing and recording the body of work?
For Kingdom Come I was processing a lot of personal stuff (breakups, moving interstate, finding my feet, finding a spark creatively) and I wanted to just let it unfold organically, without putting too many production ideas on it or overworking it. I wanted to create songs that could be sung around a campfire.
Originally I pulled these arrangements back to being campfire songs with Dustin Tebbutt, and then we had fire bans in Australia… so we couldn’t film the arrangements in that environment… so we took them to the meadows in the mountains and sang to the flowers. This EP has trumpets, brass, some strings & choral stuff. You ultimately always hope to be evolving but I always am circling around anthemic indie pop.
Tell me about your songwriting process – Is it a collaborative affair, do you tend to tinker alone and then present to the producers and engineers you’re working with, or is it a combination of both?
For this I was working with Danny Harley. We’ve been friends for years and most of these songs started with independent tinkering in the studio. He’d be creating a percussive loop of textures and I’d be singing and mumbling, or sitting at the piano. I like making things in his studio because you don’t really need to talk through every step, we know when we’ve found it. I think our shared influences mean that we are starting with a common ground, which makes the process feel quite effortless.
One of the songs is called ‘The Girl’ and the process was pretty unique. A friend of ours brought in this old Casio synth to his studio kinda like “hey you guys should try this thing” and Danny played one note on it, and we stopped what we were doing and began an entirely new track. He built up this ambience and started adding live drums with the door open, so the sounds were bleeding out into the hall. I sat in the studio next door cross legged and cried and wrote notes on my phone.
I came back in and was like ok i dont know but this is what I have…. And rather than listening first, he just got me to record it in. It was an emotional one because it was just devastating to sing. A lot of this was leaving those moments in. I’ve been a perfectionist in the past, but what would happen if I just let it be what it is? There’s a lot of little moments like that. Allowing yourself to be this imperfect human.
Talk me through your recording workflow from demo to track completion. Do you begin in the bedroom or head straight to the studio? Any preference of DAW/special set up that goes the extra mile when writing/getting your ideas down?
We were working in Ableton, we started this EP in the sunshine coast in a living room. We sprawled instruments out and there were massive storms outside. That week Brisbane began to flood. It felt like a really intense time to be embarking on something. I’d go on walks when there was a pocket of clarity and kept getting caught in rain where I’d have to sit under big trees and wait for it to pass. Surrendering to the environment and to my feelings and the process. Again – there was no room for perfectionism.
A lot of these songs were on the tip of my tongue and really were a stream of consciousness. For ableton we like to work in a way where everything in the studio is always plugged in and there are no barriers of entry to ideas. Ideally everything is running in so you can tinker on anything and not have to set everything up and pack it down etc. But the start was really just us and a living room.
We also aren’t afraid to abandon an idea once we have a verse and chorus. Keep searching. We can jump around between projects – which really helps when you’re starting something. It doesn’t have to be a fully completed song, we just needed to catch as many little sparks in the net as possible. I guess from the pandemic we knew we could work ideas remotely, once they had started. But the thing that’s hard to do is the initial magic.
Are there any tools or pieces of equipment that you’ve found to be integral to your process when it comes to channelling that ineffable sporadic creativity that precedes a concrete, recorded song?
Definitely have definitely found that my laptop is the heart. I have one that’s just for production, so that it can run fast and be there when I need it.
We both use Apollo Twin’s, Nords, Prophets, Upright yamaha pianos.
An interface, a laptop and a microphone is all I really need. I’ve found my SM7B is pretty integral to the operation for demoing. Then I’ll take it to the actual vocal mic/recording process if we’re onto something. But I love that you can sing with background noise or monitoring the song quietly in the background.
With there being such an involved visual component to your creative output – I wonder whether you could speak to the process of crafting sonics and aesthetics in tandem – which ideas usually crop up first for you? Does the music always come first?
I envision the film clips as I write & often in my process I play films or trailers after the song is written to do a little test for how they sync with visual media. I am often doing mood boards, styling and world building in tandem for sure. My pinterest board is filled with stuff for Woodes. I don’t think of Woodes as just music or just visuals. It’s holistic.
What are the art forms that allow you to recharge your creative batteries – is there any medium that inspires your music that fans might not immediately expect?
I love gardening and going into galleries. I find a lot of inspiration seeing other artforms like theatre, visual art and sculpture. I love going out into nature too. I enjoy artforms where you can’t use your phone or tech – like pottery or sculpture. Stuff that’s so messy that you’re all in it. Last year I did a lot of landscaping and gardening on my parents property in Regional Victoria and I found myself simmering over ideas and really compartmentalising my vision whilst moving rocks around and wandering through local nurseries looking at plants. It was cool to have a block of land that I could really carve into. I’m grateful they let me take the reins on the project, since they had a new build with nothing but dirt. In a couple months I had created a multi level garden with different zones and paths. I loved landscaping. I love how tangible it is, after so much time working with frequencies and air… it’s cool to look at a big hole and be like ‘cool, that’s enough for today’ haha.
What’s next for you? Anything particularly exciting on the horizon?
For now I’m in LA working on cool projects, a new record, some special collaborations and film projects. I’m loving where the journey is taking me. I can see some live shows on the horizon and a lot more music ahead.
Keep up to date with all things Woodes here.