Within the sedate setting of St Pancras Old Church in London, Hilary Woods launched her debut album ‘Colt’ with an intimate live presentation.
It couldn’t have been any different from when at the age of 20, she found fame as the bassist of Irish indie trio JJ72. Going on to open for MUSE and COLDPLAY, Woods left the band in 2005 to pursue her passion for film, art and literature.
Woods started making music again in 2014 to begin the journey towards ‘Colt’, a highly personal collection recorded in an abandoned flat somewhere in Dublin. With an invitation from THE CURE’s Robert Smith to play at his Meltdown festival, it is an indication of the regard with which she is held by other musicians.
While ‘Colt’ itself combines piano, synths, field recordings and old string instruments, Woods accompanied herself alone on keyboards and guitar, save the occasional appearance by a violinist.
Opening with a stripped back version of 2016’s ‘Bathing’ from the ‘Heartbox’ EP, Woods’ wonderfully forlorn voice captivated throughout as she simultaneously transfixed herself to her ivory tinkling. It was an indicator of how the show would play out.
Under minimal lighting with a whispery allure in her voice, Woods excelled with her piano on ‘Take Him In’, while ‘Black Rainbow’ captured the serene essence of Julee Cruise.
Remembering absent friends, the gorgeous ‘Inhaler’ left those present breathless in awe at Woods’ previously hidden (to the public at least) range of capabilities.
One of the highlights from ‘Colt’, Woods’ rendition of ‘Jesus Said’ replicated the original, with the wonders of technology allowing its drifting synthesized tones and hypnotic drum machine to augment her beautiful piano passages. Described by the songstress herself as “a song that seeks catharsis”, its meditative trance-like quality was perfectly suited for the occasion.
A bare portrayal of ‘Prodigal Dog’ added some haunting moods while using loop pedals on ‘Limbs’, Woods built layer upon layer of string machine as a piano motif played out the coda.
‘Secret Sabbath’ from her first solo EP ‘Night’ affirmed the evening’s endearing understatement and with enigmatically nothing to say until before her closing semi-acoustic rendition of ‘Daughter’, Woods confessed to having nerves.
But she expressed her heartfelt appreciation of the attentive and informed audience who had gathered. With ‘Colt’ released by the highly regarded Sacred Bones Records who can count Zola Jesus, John Carpenter and David Lynch among their roster, the Irish songstress has proven she is worthy of belonging in such esteemed company.
With a wonderfully captivating performance of just eleven songs, Hilary Woods provided some welcome air and mystique to a world that has been infiltrated by far too many untalented wannabes playing out their lives in public on islands of love or whatever.
With thanks to Frankie Davison and Kate Price at Stereo Sanctity
‘Colt’ is released by Scared Bones Records in CD, vinyl LP and digital formats
Hilary Woods performs at Robert Smith’s Meltdown 2018 in the Purcell Room at London’s South Bank Centre on Wednesday 20th June and The Sugar Club in Dublin on Friday 14th September
Sacred Bones is home to many quirky acts; artists that have the very best of the alternative outlook on music and life.
Amongst Zola Jesus and John Carpenter plus the one and only David Lynch, the Irish songstress Hilary Woods feels like she belongs.
Since the music has been the driving force for the once band member of JJ72, with whom Woods (then a teenager) started her wild love affair with performing, it made sense for the multi-talented artist to cross over into film and visual arts.
Her early recordings culminated in the release of a couple of EPs, ‘Night’ and ‘Heartbox’. Writing film scores and theatre pieces gave way to the latest project from the multi-faceted Irish lady; ‘Colt’ is a very private and mysterious debut album, “an intensely personal journey through grief, abandonment, and mutating love”.
Written in an abandoned Dublin flat she was living in with her daughter using the equipment collected over the years, with synths, tape machines, and various odds and ends and utilising any other technology at hand, the “completely broke” Woods set off to create a “way to process and make sense of the everyday”.
Dealing with personal loss, sadness, pain and long lost love, the self-confessed minimalist begins the journey with ‘Inhaler’, a poignant cry for air. The simple piano with nothing much else but sparse strings and a voice of Julee Cruise, meanders through concepts of desolation and loss, eerily floating away Lynch style. What a perfectly dreamy start, but not without the punctuated feeling of uneasiness and dread, and that’s what makes Woods so special.
‘Prodigal Dog’ continues the weightless feel with a gentle rhythm and dedicate vocal, at times reminiscent of Dolores O’Riordan’s capabilities, while ‘Take Him In’ is a musicbox tale of abandonment sung in layered voices with only a piano to fall back on. ‘Kith’ brings strings in, simply showcasing the delicacies of Woods’ audio wizardry à la Marnie, pleading to her lover to “lay with me”, again culminating in palpable uncertainty and fear.
The only track with more prominent beats on ‘Colt’ is ‘Jesus Said’. In this semi-religious piece, arguing the existence of God and wanting her life back, with her child like expression, Woods experiments with offbeat piano sounds and other elements randomly added to create a cacophony of arty musical approach.
‘Sever’ returns to a simpler form with a metronomic beat, monochromatically embossed with a Kate Bush-resembling vocal, where the need to “sever these ties… they bide me” is expressed with found sounds in their simplest form over a grainy recording.
‘Black Rainbow’ could have easily been used by David Lynch in many of his productions, being particularly suited to ‘Twin Peaks’, with the stunning similarities to Julee Cruise’s style. This delicately placed track with its celestial qualities describes a sad ending of a beautiful relationship.
“‘Black Rainbow’ was so named because I loved that image, the idea that when that’s all one can see overhead / when a relationship is dying between two people that once loved each other very much – there is no choice but to believe that there is something better for you at the end of it all” says Woods.
The closing ‘Limbs’ offers no change of musical direction, continuing the heavenly serenity, the simplistic approach with delicate piano and bare vocal, and instrumentation sounding like a Japanese koto, with its soothing and fragile properties.
The concept for ‘Colt’ was to achieve “a siren’s song, once mysterious, dark and beautiful, pulling you in” and the Dublin based songwriter certainly achieves that with her first long player.
For Woods, the album was a perfect medium created “as a means to speak with inner voices, explore aloneness, and understand the complexities of desire. As a vehicle for imaginative flight, as a quest for resilience and connectivity to the outside world, as a medium through which to journey into the present, to temper the mind and inhabit the body.”
And for the listener, ‘Colt’ is the perfect calmer in the world full of noise, interruptions, deception and rejection. What the ex-JJ72 bassist has achieved here is a wonderfully balanced, beautifully exercised and marvellously presented piece, which has the power to cut through the ordinary and lift to higher levels of consciousness.
Hilary Woods, you’ve given us a beautiful album and proven that it’s not the endless supply of cash and fancy equipment that makes a great record; rather, it’s the talent and musical knowhow.
‘Colt’ is released on 8th June 2018 by Scared Bones Records
Hilary Woods 2018 live dates include: London St Pancras Old Church (11th June), Robert Smith’s Meltdown (20th June), Dublin The Sugar Club (14th September)
Since The Electricity Club caught THE SOFT MOON at the beginning of the year for their London date at The Dome in Tufnell Park, the act has been touring constantly in support of new album ‘Criminal’.
Essentially the one-man project of Oakland multi-instrumentalist Luis Vasquez, THE SOFT MOON have just released a new promo video for the ‘Criminal’ album track ‘Like a Father’ and have been added to bill at the Robert Smith curated 2018 Meltdown Festival.
THE SOFT MOON will join a stellar line-up at London’s South Bank Centre including NINE INCH NAILS, MANIC STREET PREACHERS, DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE, MY BLOODY VALENTINE, PLACEBO, THE PSYCHEDELIC FURS and THE KVB.
Luis Vasquez kindly took time out from his busy schedule to discuss the challenges of making of ‘Criminal’, his diverse range of influences and the impact of working as a solo musician.
Because the majority of your music is relentlessly dark, do you think people have a preconceived idea of your personality before meeting you?
Always, I’ve even been told a few times by journalists that they were a bit nervous to meet before an interview, thinking that I was some sort of dark and intense person. A lot of people are surprised by my outgoing exterior personality. I pretty much keep all my intensity internalized and only let it out through the music itself.
There is an enlightening Ingmar Bergman diary entry when discussing the link between pain and creativity which says “there is too much menneske in me” (Danish for ‘human being’), do you subscribe to this notion?
Of course I do. I have a really hard time processing emotions and even physical sensations. Resistance to my own humanity makes it difficult for me to function sometimes, and is the culprit behind a lot of my anxiety.
You’ve lived a very nomadic existence; which of the cities you’ve lived in have had the most effect on your music?
Definitely Berlin. It’s taken me to some extreme highs and lows and I’ve learned a lot about myself in terms of human limits. It’s made me realize how emotional, anxious, sensitive, spontaneous, and daring I am. I’ve almost died in this city and it scares the hell out of me. It’s the only place in the world where I’ve lost complete control of myself.
What sort of impact did growing up Catholic have on your music?
It’s impacted the subject manner of some of my songs. All Catholicism ever did was leave me with a guilty conscience to which I’ve been working on myself ever since in order to banish it. Especially with my most recent release ‘Criminal’, the key emotion throughout the album is guilt.
Although you are not an Industrial act per se, some acts in that scene have changed their sound considerably. What is your viewpoint on bands that could arguably be seen as “selling out” or disassociating themselves from their original roots?
It’s a natural process in life to grow, therefore making you change several times throughout your own personal evolution.
Also, in terms of music itself, there is only so much you can create before you start repeating yourself, so the only way is to give yourself more freedom to expand. I think it’s not fair for fans to sometimes keep an artist imprisoned to that one favorite album of theirs, or sound, genre, or era.
There were 72 (!) credited writers on the last BEYONCE album, what is your viewpoint on the pros and cons of collaborating and why do you prefer to work alone?
When it comes to THE SOFT MOON, I do prefer to work alone, because in the end this particular project is about my personal life which includes self-discovery and self-healing. It’s also about my curiosities as a human being living on earth. In general, I actually love collaborating with other musicians, there’s no other feeling like that in the world when communicating with a fellow artist. I grew up playing in many bands sharing ideas and it wasn’t until I chose to create THE SOFT MOON that I became a solo artist.
Which artists have had the most influence on the sound of THE SOFT MOON?
The Krautrock genre was the initial main influence for THE SOFT MOON, specifically CAN and NEU! because of their use of the motorik beat which I’ve used on several of my songs. Other influences would be PRINCE and MICHAEL JACKSON. My first exposure to music was pop.
JOHN FOXX is an acknowledged influence on you, what was it like working with one of your musical heroes on ‘Evidence’?
Aside from feeling completely honored about the opportunity to work with JOHN FOXX, the collaborative process itself was very casual without any pressure (except for the pressure I gave myself). Foxxy sent me a skeletal idea to add flesh to. After a few exchanges over the span of a few months, what turned out was something beautifully polished.
You cite the ARP Odyssey as a go to synth, what is it about this particular instrument that makes it special for you and are there any other bits of gear that are important to you?
The ARP Odyssey played a big role in the Krautrock genre along with Moog. I really like late 70s and early 1980s space sounds so when I found out that KRAFTWERK were using an ARP Odyssey, I knew that was the synth for me.
Some of your other influences are intriguing, can you tell us about the connection between the demon possession movie ‘The Entity’ and one of your songs?
I was hugely inspired by the film’s theme song entitled ‘Relentless Attack’ for the creation of one of my songs entitled ‘Black’ on my third album ‘Deeper’. It was such a menacing sound and I completely connected it with it on a deep emotional level.
Did you have a particular plan for the sound of ‘Criminal’ and if so, did it end up the way that you hoped?
It actually took me about six months to figure out which direction to go into. I was confused and angry with my life during the early stages of creating ‘Criminal’. I was upset about living in Berlin, I felt I was a slave to my own music, and I was even questioning whether or not I wanted to continue making music as THE SOFT MOON. When I almost reached the breaking point, I spewed out ‘Burn’ and it paved the way in unfolding the rest of the album.
‘Give Something’ is a standout track on ‘Criminal’, is the lyric written about a specific relationship?
It’s about my relationships in general, but I have found myself contemplating my actions more so in recent relationships, which is why I felt the urge to finally express this particular subject.
The Electricity Club caught THE SOFT MOON at their recent London show, how does performing live work for you, especially having to bring in other musicians?
I feel it works very well in a live context. In fact, when I write music I always keep the live show in mind and can picture what it would look like. In the beginning I never intended to perform live with THE SOFT MOON, so I never wrote music that I thought would translate well in a live environment. Because I use so many layers and create heavily rhythmic patterns, I don’t think THE SOFT MOON would work without additional members on stage.
One of the unique elements of THE SOFT MOON live show is your use of percussion, how did this evolve?
This all stems from my Cuban heritage. I grew up around percussion instruments, but ultimately it’s in my blood.
Prior to a 2016 Las Vegas show, you had all of your equipment stolen, how much of a blow was that and did any of it get recovered? Or did you see it as an artistic opportunity to evolve your sound?
It was a pretty major blow. We posted a fundraiser right after and were able to make up for some of the loss thanks to the generosity of our loyal fans. Unfortunately we weren’t able to recover any of the equipment or merch.
The majority of what was stolen was all our merchandise, so the next morning we drove around Oakland searching through dumpsters and keeping an eye out for people on the streets wearing THE SOFT MOON T-shirts *laughs out loud*
What is next for THE SOFT MOON?
As of right now, we’re 100% focused on touring ‘Criminal’. I have a hard time doing too many things at once but I am making my way toward soundtrack work.
The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to Luis Vasquez
Special thanks to Frankie Davison at Stereo Sanctity
‘Criminal’ is released by Sacred Bones Records in CD, vinyl LP and digital formats
THE SOFT MOON perform at Robert Smith’s Meltdown Festival 2018 on London’s South Bank Centre with MY BLOODY VALENTINE on Saturday 23rd June and with THE KVB on Sunday 24th June, more info at https://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/
Hilary Woods was just 20 when she first found fame as the bassist of Irish trio JJ72.
‘Long Way South’, a percussive angst ridden slice of alternative rock in the manner of JOY DIVISION’s ‘She’s Lost Control’, reached the lower reaches of the UK singles charts in 2000.
Three hit singles ‘October Swimmer’, ‘Oxygen’ and ‘Snow’ followed but after two albums plus tours opening for MUSE and COLDPLAY, Woods left the band in 2003 to pursue her passion for film, art and literature.
In 2014, she started making music again with her resultant EPs ‘Night’ and ‘Heartbox’ both finding media acclaim. June 2018 sees the release of her debut album ‘Colt’, recorded on eight-track in an abandoned flat somewhere in Dublin and mixed in Berlin.
Combining piano, synths, field recordings, drones, occasional beats, old string instruments and Woods’ wonderfully forlorn voice recalling Julee Cruise, the record will be released by Sacred Bones Records, home of Zola Jesus, John Carpenter and David Lynch.
If the haunting new single ‘Prodigal Dog’ is anything to go by, the Irish songstress undoubtedly belongs in the company of her esteemed label mates. For its visual accompaniment, the predominantly monochromatic self-directed video captures the song’s dark and claustrophobic mood while allowing plenty of life into the earthy atmosphere.
With ‘Colt’ about to be unleashed and a prestigious appearance at Robert Smith’s Meltdown 2018 following not long after, Hilary Woods kindly chatted to The Electricity Club about her return…
‘Colt’ is very different from your musical past with JJ72, what inspired you to head in a more ethereal direction after your time away from music?
It’s what came out and what naturally arose when I sat down at the piano on my own. I can’t pinpoint one particular inspirational force behind it, I do think though creating music on your own is a very different beast to a band context and that in itself shapes the material.
They often say art is a reflection of life, how has yours been these last few years?
I’m in my music and my music is in me but we all live many inner lives through the course of our day. I feel all art reflects strands of what preoccupies us, but not all strands.
Is the album a reaction to your past?
I’m not sure if it reacts as much as dialogues with a lot of elements from different stretches of time. The act of making the record no matter what time / where the songs were drawing from, was very much a present thing.
You opted to blend acoustic with electronic, had there been any temptation to keep things purer or were synths a malleable aesthetic that you couldn’t resist?
A malleable aesthetic I couldn’t resist.
The EPs ‘Night’ and ‘Heartbox’ helped you dip your feet back in the water, how important were they in helping to realise your own sound?
Very. I have a different relationship to both of them, ‘Night’ gave me confidence. You learn by doing about what works and what doesn’t.
Speaking of dipping your feet in, ‘Bathing’ was a particular highlight of those two releases…
What I like most about ‘Bathing’ is that it has evolved live into something I’m currently more connected to. The video took months and was a painstaking undertaking!
Did the deal with Sacred Bones Records come out of the blue?
No, we had been in conversation for a while.
‘Inhaler’ is something of a beauty and a fine trailer for the album. What’s that about and how did that come together?
‘Inhaler’ is about feeling the presence of someone who is absent and a longing to return to how things once were between two people. I recorded many different versions of it, and spent a long time playing around with sounds.
‘Black Rainbow’ sounds like it could have appeared on the soundtrack of ‘Twin Peaks’?
It does have a tone of ‘Twin Peaks’, atmospherically it reminds me of a dystopian 50s dancehall.
Rhythms are not particularly prevalent on this album, although there are percussive elements to ‘Prodigal Dog’. Has this template been conscious for ‘Colt’?
Rhythm is key in all the songs just not in a percussive sense, although there is a strong presence of beats but certainly not on every track. I ran with what felt most natural for the record as a whole.
‘Jesus Said’ is one of the stand-out tracks and one which uses actually mechanical beats, so what inspired that one musically and lyrically?
I think it’s a song that seeks catharsis, it reminds me of a spinning dervish that works itself up into a trance except one that is grounding, gets into the bones.
There’s some lovely piano on ‘Jesus Said’ and ‘Take Him In’, what is your training as far as keyboards is concerned?
I sit down at the piano every day. It’s the instrument I feel most at home on, so that would be my training ground.
You’re going to be taking ‘Colt’ out on the road, what format will these shows take and how are you feeling about them?
I will be playing solo shows, the record is intimate and so is the live show. It’s stripped back, I’m looking forward to them.
How do you hope things may develop over time for you?
I’d like to keep excavating, playing, writing, making and doing what I love.
The Electricity Club gives its grateful thanks to Hilary Woods
Additional thanks to Frankie Davison at Stereo Sanctity
‘Colt’ is released on 8th June 2018 by Scared Bones Records in CD, Vinyl LP and digital formats
Hilary Woods 2018 live dates include:
London St Pancras Old Church (11th June), Robert Smith’s Meltdown (20th June), Dublin The Sugar Club (14th September)
Following the remarkable success of her latest album, the American songstress, who loves all things Russian, comes back with a few “additions” to the stunningly personal record that was ‘Okovi’.
Nika Roza Danilova, also known as Nicole Hummel, is the artist behind the ZOLA JESUS project. Known and adored for her darker fuller synth productions, the intensity of her vocals and the poignant subjects of her lyrics, Danilova brought back the frosty aura to her recent offering. Dealing with the pain of her closest, a friend’s suicide attempts, mental illness and cancer, gave ZOLA JESUS a challenging canvas upon her Wisconsin homecoming. Shackled in Slavic “okovi”, the artist channelled her strengths and weaknesses, stressing that her work wasn’t up for critical scrutiny, as it remains of a personal and fragile nature.
The ‘Additions’ offer further remixes of four tracks from ‘Okovi’, with ‘Ash To Bone’ featuring Johnny Jewel of CHROMATICS’ cinematic take on the melancholic masterpiece, as well as Katie Gately’s dark version of the stunning ‘Siphon’. The black metal band WOLVES IN THE THRONE ROOM take on ‘Exhumed’, turning it into a punchy industrial anthem while lastly, Joanne Pollock twists ‘Soak’ into a parallel reality of tomorrow.
But the real treat arrives with the four brand new tracks, extending ‘Okovi’ into an even more epic enterprise. Gleaming with powerful gritty synth, ‘Vacant’ hits where least expected, mutilating all senses and destroying all predictions. It’s tribal, harsh, pushy and well above board.
The single ‘Bound’ continues the utilisation of found sounds and marries dance elements with the uniqueness of Danilova’s musical interpretations. Hauntingly eerie, purposefully messy and freakishly fresh, ‘Bound’ rips apart the boundaries. The more classically sounding ‘Pilot Light’ irons out the creases with multiple vocal interplays, the gentleness of straightforward melody and the uncertainty of its ending.
‘Bitten Wool’ meanders through Japanese bells, a raw vocal and the pure genius of a non-complicated melody, fitting with the concept of ‘Okovi’ in a seamless manner. As Danilova puts it: “The songs on ‘Additions’ traverse a vast amount of sonic ground, but taken together, they cohere remarkably well as an album, all while serving to enrich the experience of Okovi”
Danilova follows IAMX’s idea, where his 2015 ‘Metanoia’ was followed with an ‘Addendum’; something a little bit extra to complete the album journey.
The four new songs were indeed to be part of ‘Okovi’: “Each of them represents a snapshot of my journey in making the record, and are just as precious to me as the songs that made it onto the final track listing. The remixes are beloved in their own way, as most were born from organic circumstances, and have drawn the original songs into completely new atmospheres”