Next Tuesday, we host the first of our special Future Is Now nights at this year's Live Lodge. Headlining round one is rising star Woodes, aka Elle Graham, who is set to offer up an exclusive preview of her debut EP.
We recently caught up with the Townsville producer/singer to discuss orchestral upbringings, balancing study with recording sessions and her long-awaited first release.
So, the EP is all done and ready?
Yeah. I have to decide on my title. I've got a few options [laughs]. It's so hard, even on my tracks. I'm just terrible with titles. Especially when you're titling a body of work that spans like two years.
Has it been two years has it?
Yeah. A lot of the songs started then, maybe it hasn't been a thing but I've been dabbling with those melodies for a long time. I spent a couple of years studying production and composition, so I got to kind of fine tune I wanted to represent. I was always songwriting but being able to produce has meant that I can construct them better.
So what did a course like that teach you? What have you been able to put into practice?
The primary thing it taught me was confidence. It taught me technical things and there was heaps of information being thrown at you but every week you had to present some kind of MP3, something for your class mates - and there was only 16 of us. And then we would have to talk about our work — just over and over and over again. And I think in a course where it doesn't really matter about the paper, you learn how to network and talk about your stuff, constantly. So that was probably one of the best things I got out of it. Because when I went in I used to talk over my demos the whole way through. Like 'I'll fix this bit' and then you just get to a point where you're like, 'oh, this is me, this is where I'm at'.
So did any of the ideas that ended up on the EP, did they start with any of those MP3s?
Yeah. "Daggers and Knives" was in my final [portfolio] at uni. It sounded a bit different. It's gone through [around] ten different versions. Which is kind of always the way.
So obviously doing that course at university, music was always something you wanted to get into career-wise?
Yeah definitely. I've always loved music. When I was 12 I loved The OC and I got really into music supervision [and wanting to be] Alexandra Patsavis. Just curating soundtracks. I think then, even though it wasn't really that long ago, there were no courses in it. It was quite a new profession, but now it's very prominent and it's a huge way of musicians making money in syncs. I was just trying to figure out a course where maybe I didn't become a music teacher.
So you didn't necessarily see yourself performing?
No I was terrified as a performer, and I still get quite nervous, but I think through listening to artists on The OC, like Imogen Heap, I started to be 'woah, she's a producer, she's touring and making this incredible music and soundtracks and collaborating with people like John Hopkins', and I thought, 'oh, no, I want to do that'. And yeah I started creating things through that.
With Imogen Heap, in terms of wanting to produce as well as perform, was that a specific moment that changed your view, seeing her and what she could do?
Yeah, I think you need a hero. You need someone that you can aspire to that has a career. For me I took a lot from [Heap] and I just love that she has this incredible studio in her house, and she always interacts with her fans in her video blogs, and brings them into her studio. There's no smoke and mirrors. It feels very intimate.
I remember hearing about her writing "Hide and Seek" on a little voice recorder in her apartment. She was super broke and just recorded this amazing song and layered it with a whole bunch of different effects. It's just her in her apartment, direct emotions and it's such an amazing song. I think I definitely drew a lot of inspiration from her. And it's also nice that she's older, as well. Because there just aren't maybe as many women role model producer artists that are older, but still very prominent.
Growing up, was there a lot of music in your house?
Yeah my dad plays banjo, and bluegrass guitar. He's amazing at fingerpicking. They raised me on Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and Joni Mitchell. My mum played french horn, and the family values on her side was that every child has to learn an instrument at school. And you have to stick it out through primary school, and then high school. I don't know it was pretty frowned upon if you quit.
And you chose the piano?
Yeah I chose piano, and then, grade six, there was mallet percussion as an option, the glockenspiel. And I thought that was super easy, it's a piano but you hit it with a stick and you don't have to use your left hand. But then snare drum, I was not as into. But through that, I got to do orchestra pits for musicals and travel interstate, because I picked up percussion quite easily.
How particular are you about percussion on your songs then?
I love the vibraphone. I was playing with a vibraphone this time last year. I'd love to bring it back but I'd have to have the budget and a truck. It's so heavy. But, yeah, I love mallet percussion. In my production there's pretty much always an element of adding mallets in some section. It's like my go-to for just providing rhythm without necessarily beats. I love Sufjan Stevens and how he does his mallet parts, almost like Steve Reich's canonic kind of stuff. It's still part of it. I feel bad that my technique isn't as great anymore [laughs].
So you said it's been about two years for some of these EP's songs. Has the wait been frustrating? Did you want to get this out earlier at any point?
Nah, I just feel like it's ready when it's ready. It's been a big progression [with] also leaving uni. I like having deadlines and task sheets and structure in my days, so this has been this huge growth period of not only learning how to make these songs and finish them, but also just, for me as an artist, try to figure out how to structure my day. I think everything had to happen the way that it did, and I don't think two years is that long, really. Because I've thought about it a lot, and we've tried to be really strategic in it. It's good [but] it's scary putting it out there.
With "The Thaw", you've said previously that the song stands for simply the time waiting for things to pass. Does that relate to your life? Is that song in particular about waiting for things to pass in your life or certain events?
I liked the idea of when the days get longer. I don't know if [it's about] waiting for things to pass. I don't know if I was even particularly writing about myself, because I was writing with Lanks [and] it just kind of turned into something. This sort of, lamenting thing.
With the other songs on the EP, are they certain experiences of your life that you're drawing from, that inspired you?
Yeah, definitely. There are always experiences. They're quite personal but I try to make them not too directly, just me. I've got one, the last song, is about growing up in the bush. My dad's a park ranger. I grew up on a national park [in Townsville]. We lived there for nine years. We used to have these giant fires for birthdays and Christmases, so there's a song about that too.
The act of producing the songs for the EP, what studio were you working at?
Home. And friends homes, and offices, and wherever we could find space. On your laptop is kind of fine. And I always have my headphones, and I just plug into whatever. But yeah, I've got a good home setup now, which is good.
I like to record my vocals elsewhere because I find it takes a while for me to do them myself. I've been working with this guy AJ at Tender Trap studios, and it’s just really nice. We've gotten into a system, you just go in and we comp them together. I can't touch it because if I record anything at my house it won’t be treated [and] it won't sound the same. So it's done, the track is off to mixing.
Lastly, I'm sure you've been asked a million times, in terms of choosing the name Woodes, where does that come from?
I was searching for a name for quite a while, and I think it embodies strength. It's quite natural without being, 'hippie'. I don't know if hippie's the right word [laughs].
And adding the 'e' on the end?
That was a very last minute call. I think it's androgynous in a way. It could be a band, or it could be a collective. And also Woods was taken.
Woodes will perform at Live Lodge 2016 on Tuesday, October 4th. Tickets available via Oztix.