WOODES debut album, Crystal Ball, is out now! We chat to the musician about her music and more.
Image: Jordan Drysdale
Melbourne based musician WOODES has released her incredible debut album, Crystal Ball. Weaving together themes of mortality, growing up, hope, nature, the light and dark side of humanity, the ten track album was curated down from forty songs the musician had written for the project.
Laced within the tracks and the records accompanying visuals, there is a magical and surreal quality. Listening to the record is like stepping into a new realm, as if you're walking through the wardrobe and find yourself Narnia. The sonic soundscape and instrumentation was at times reminiscent of the score and soundtrack of Disney's 2005 adaptation of the C.S Lewis classic, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. The intricate sounds and beats all work coherently to really create an other worldly listening experience, where the stories on the tracks play out within the same realm.
There is a site specific nature to the record, with each song feeling as though it takes place in a new are of WOODES multiverse. Queen Of The Night makes direct references to the desert where as the records opener, How Long I’d Wait, places you on the beach, watching the waves crash at your feet. Staring At the Fire emits the warmth of feeling at home whilst also creating a magical forest.
The singers vocal performance is unparalleled. Her crystal clear vocals cut through the tracks as she soars above the scintillating sonic sounds of each track. WOODES brings the perfect combination of fantasy and reality to the record, with tracks like Staring At The Sun and Euphoria presenting everyday situations in a more overt light.
Crystal Ball is out now! Read our full interview with WOODES below!
Tell us a bit how your musical journey began…
Yeah sure! I grew up in Townsville in North Queensland and I started playing piano when I was about eight, songwriting when I was eleven and then I started producing the first year out of high school when I made a couple of EP’s with some friends up there. I worked with Mark Myers from The Middle East on my music and it was great working with him. I would produce something up thinking that I would have to redo all of it and he was like “No you’ve already produced this, it’s already good to go. We just need to add the vocals”. That was sort of the beginning of me being like okay I’m a producer. I came down here to study composition at the Victorian College of the Arts and all through high school I played percussion. So I did a lot of musicals and and orchestra pits and things, which was great to do up there because there are fewer opportunities I suppose, which is why I moved down to Melbourne. But it was a very close-knit community. Whilst there weren’t as many venues to play at, there were these really close knit open mic nights and things like that where everybody’s supportive of original music. But yeah that was sort of the origin, and then I came down to Melbourne to study composition. I really like film music and I just really like making soundtracks and things. Whilst at uni, I would have to produce all of the things that I submitted and I just got really into the idea of creating this like multiverse, this little realm of WOODES where it wasn’t just me singing but it was combining my love of creative direction, styling, making film clips and working collaboratively with other people. It just definitely became this big, almost like a collective of people to bring it to life.
Yeah you can definitely feel that throughout the record and see it in the visuals as well! You touched on your move from Townsville to Melbourne a bit there, how do you think that move impacted and influenced your own musical practice?
I think quite a lot. The early WOODES stuff is very like electronic and experimental. I was just moving to a city like Melbourne where there’s just so many gigs and so many international touring artists. You’re just constantly getting this source of inspiration from seeing different live shows and working with other producers and being able to see their process. I think that definitely shaped me a lot. Just in that up in Townsville I was playing piano and live instruments, whereas a lot of doors opened in Melbourne with different styles of production and I was usually able to go and see live music every weekend. It just fills you up with inspiration. There’s also a thing with the arts down here where you can sort of say “I do this as my job“ and it’s very accepted down here. You talk to other people and they’re like “Oh you should talk to this person”, I just love that about Melbourne. There’s just a really supportive arts community that is quite interdisciplinary.
Congratulations on Crystal Ball! It is such a beautiful record.
The album itself weaves together themes of mortality, growing up, hope, nature, the light and dark side of humanity. What prompted you to explore the themes present on the release and weave them all together?
Starting with Close, that one looks into into the passing of a loved one end and that one was I think the first song I wrote where I knew that I was working on an album and I think that sort of became the heart, like the centrepiece where a lot of themes came from. Where you are looking at sort of racing to grow up and mortality, and how grief can kind of progressively just become not as strong and painful but it still with you. So that one was a really important one. At the beginning of the album process I also had some scary moles taken out, like from a skin check, and it was an interesting time because I did that check just before Christmas and I couldn’t get in to get them removed until like three weeks after because everything sort of shut down. Over that Christmas I thought about a lot. “Am I really happy with what I’m currently doing and what would I change and where are the places that I want to go?”. I don’t know it was a really nice thing being like “I’m very proud to be an artist and to be able to work with friends“ and that all felt very comforting. But then it was like “if you only have a certain amount of time left what would you want to do?“, which is a lot for just three weeks over Christmas! I had stitches in my legs at the beginning of that year of working on the record and I did a bunch of festivals where it made me perform different. I think because before I walked up on stage I was just not taking it for granted. That was one big thing that happened and I sing about that directly in the second verse of Crystal Ball because it was like kind of taking that fear and just turning it into this little pop place. I wanted it to sound like wizards duelling and have lots and lots of sound affects and just make it really fun even though it was kind of a darker topic for me.
You were saying earlier you like making soundtracks, and listening to the record is like stepping into a magical world. It’s like walking through the wardrobe and ending up in Narnia. The intricate sounds and beats all work together to really create this kind of other worldly listening experience where it feels like the stories on the tracks play out within the same realm. Was it your intention to create this other place on the record, to transport the listener into a fantasy filled, ethereal landscape?
I think it’s quite an organic thing that I just do naturally with my music. I really like putting in funny sound effects or putting atmospheres in a track. Even starting a song that way, like finding an atmosphere where it’s a sample of being at the beach and there are birds and then you can kind of add in places and all of a sudden you’re transported out of the studio. I really like writing that way and and for the record I wrote about forty songs and then cut it down to the ten and it was definitely about trying to tell a story because I really do like having albums that have central themes and trying to keep the palette not too disjointed I suppose. Exploring different terrains where a song like Staring At the Fire feels very much like home and up in the rainforest and not in a summary kind of place. And then you have something like How Long I’d Wait which feels very coastal and being able to see the ocean. Sort of having those lyrical cues as to where you are on the map. But yeah I definitely try and do that with my music and with the live show as well, trying to transport you somewhere else. I guess that’s just how I write and create generally, but having a love of soundtracks in music and game music kind of all carries into it.
You mentioned there you wrote around forty songs for the record. How difficult was it to curate that down to a succinct body of work and are there any songs that you think may end up having a life of their own?
Yeah I think so! There’s a bunch of them that were just outliers but I think they work really well as a smaller body of work. But yeah, there’s a bunch of them. I’m really proud of the writing and at one point it was looking like it would be a sixteen track album and then I was sort of like I’ll just do more frequent releases. It’s tricky to know, but the majority of them I tried to push them into being standalone songs and then have a few moments like Distant Places where it’s the kind of atmospheric glue In the middle of the record.
Your vocal performance is absolutely flawless. It’s almost a combination of Imogeon Heap meets Enya. Did you have any particular vocal influences when crafting the record, and any influences in general?
I have a mixing playlist! I really love the album Go by Jónsi. And actually Coldplay, I love Coldplay. But I love Chris Martin’s vocals and pure and pop, they’re just so beautiful. Ghost Stories and Viva la Vida were mixing references. I was also listening to a lot of Rosalía and The National and Nils Frahm. I don’t know if that translates at all but I was listening to them a lot. Also Melodrama by Lorde I love. I love the present vocal being quite close and kind of dry in a lot of that record whereas some of my previous work I just drenched everything in reverb. So it was nice to just have it a bit more forward and poppier.
The body of work kind of ties in all the elements that make up WOODES. Performance, composition and fashion. Did that go hand in hand while you were creating the record? Would the visuals be something you thought of writing each track, or were they considered afterwards?
I suppose at the three quarter mark I started actually physically planning stuff. But whenever I write I have visual components to it but like a song. Like Queen Of The Night, I wrote it about being in the desert and the Sandman and all of these quite visual elements. But I was writing and I just pulled up a whole bunch of superblooms, like when the desert goes into a beautiful spring with purple flowers all over the hills. I put up a bunch of those and was just writing this song whilst looking at them and imagining being there. Ideally I would make a film clip for every song in a totally different terrain. I was thinking more about the logistics of the armour and it being quite a brave or strong character that would be on the front cover and I kind of had that in my mind for a while. Like having a sword and some kind of really boss armour. We shot that in January earlier this year.
The visual aesthetic of the record is honestly phenomenal. From the music videos to imagery to the bespoke Minecraft server which was so cool!
Yeah i’ve really been playing a lot more Minecraft this year than ever before. If I had a 2020 bingo card of what’s happened, I absolutely would not have expected to build my whole album in Minecraft but that’s something that I can tick off!
How important are the visuals (both stills and videos) to you when it comes to conveying the story and meaning present on each track? And how involved you are when it comes to planning the visuals?
I would say I’m very much across all of the visual side. It’s all produced in a way where I am bringing in the photographer and the stylist and creating the mood boards. I sort of stepped back from the logistic planning this round, It’s fortunate to be able to work with Believe on bringing the album out so that I can kind of manage the tasks. But I’m very much across all of those aspects and I just find it really fun to pull the world together. I was talking to a friend recently saying a nice lesson with the lockdown has been to go a bit slower and have some time to recalibrate, but also because I haven’t been able to fully style things in the way that I had in the past or to go to a studio or to go do the things that I guess I had planned. It’s been good for me to do stuff where WOODES is on a street in Brunswick wearing armour. Like it still has that imaginative thing, but it’s kind of putting that escapism in real life situations. In the past I’ve been like I want it to be in a timeless place where it’s nature and it’s not necessarily specifically Australia or you couldn’t place it. But it was a nice lesson of just being like “okay, we’ve got some serious constraints”, to the point where it just got down to a standstill where we couldn’t do any visual components apart from anything I could do myself at home. Which meant that you kind of just had to create as much of the fantasy as you could in your own house. Which I guess why I went to Minecraft and more online streaming and things like that, that I could control.
If you had to pick three songs off the album to play to someone who had never heard your music to make them an instant fan, which three would they be and why?
I think How Long I’d Wait is one i’m very proud of and I love playing live. It has a string quartet in it, which I knew going into making an album I wanted to have strings. I think that one and Crystal Ball are songs I hope people really enjoy. I’ve been really looking forward to putting that one out because it kind of combines my love of soundtracks with a bit more pop, and there’s mandolin in it. It’s really fun! The third one is actually one of my favourites, which will be out with the album, is Staring At The Fire. It’s kind of a more peaceful song I suppose but It’s all about growing up in North Queensland and when we used to go out camping and how sometimes you wish you could go back. And how all of those friends who were at those camping trips are all spread over the world but it would be nice to just go back sometimes. And I’ve thought about that a lot this year, just trying to reconnect with people from high school and from different parts of life because everyone’s kind of going through this communal experience and I think I’m just really proud of that song. I made the drum kit on it out of a pan with some polenta in it like shaking, shaking a pan and a snare drum that I made out of a baking tin with baking paper strapped onto it with duct tape. I was going to replace it with some jazz drums but then I was like “you know what, it’s kind of fine just in this lo-fi polenta baking paper kind of way”. Yeah, I really like that one.
What messages do you hope listeners take away from the release?
I hope it just takes you to a beautiful place. I hope that it accompanies some trips back out into nature and makes you think of a loved one or it makes you feel really brave and strong and connected to other people. It’s definitely a concoction of different ideas and things I’ve been thinking over the last twelve months, but a lot of it stems back to being able to show your younger self where you are at now, and knowing that if you at seven or something like you in primary school could see what you’re doing now, they would be most likely quite stoked. Because it’s that sort of race to grow up and taking time to just consider the small things. I thought about that a lot.
The current pandemic has obviously put a halt to touring and performing live, what are your touring plans post pandemic? If any, what can people expect from one of your live show?
I definitely would love to tour this album. At the moment because Melbourne has just sort of opened up, it’s hard to know. But I’ll definitely be performing as soon as we can. I think with the new live show, it’s quite percussive and lots of transitions and these sort of cinematic interludes. We always try to make it so it’s like It’s nice little bubble that you can escape into for the evening. I really miss playing live with my band and I think with all of this it feels quite surreal to release songs that you’ve never played live before. And also the realisation that playing live is the most physical and real the music can be. Because you get to experience it seeing people singing it back or talk to someone after the show that has a story about where they first heard it or things like that. I really miss that connection And that physical moment of appreciating and celebrating the music. So hopefully soon. We’ll take it one day at a time In Victoria, but yeah hopefully now that it’s getting warmer and we can do outdoor things.
GET TO KNOW WOODES
Biggest musical influences?
Sigur Rós. Alex Summers who produced a couple of Sigur’s records, he’s on the album. He helped me write Distant Places. That was definitely a surreal moment, that was at the very end of my trip in LA last year. We got to write a song together. Yeah Sigur Rós, James Blake and probably Imogen Heap in that she was the first woman I had seen produce her own music and that was the reason why when I was twelve I was like, “cool, I’m going to do that!” So yeah, probably those three.
Your dream collaboration?
I mean it kind of happened on the record, because of working with Alex Summers. It’d be incredible to work on a soundtrack like Hans Zimmer or oh I don’t know, or like the LA Philharmonic or something like some kind of orchestral, to be an artist that has so much work that you could have in 10 years time be able to play with an orchestra and celebrate a lot of output. Like the kind of Björk, Florence and The Machine category of output. That would be like a dream because it also just means I’ve put out a lot of stuff.
An album that has had the most impact on you?
Oh man, the most? That’s tricky. I’ll look at my vinyls. I mean, maybe Illinois by Sufjen Stevens. It was like, oh it’s hard, it’s hard to pick one. But probably that, or Tack by Sigur Rós. But yeah Sufjen I love his songwriting and the combination of like trumpets and big choirs. He was the first big live music show that I saw where he had two drummers and he was dressed up like an astronaut and there were like just so many things happening on stage and I was like “this is what live music is.” And since then it’s like “no that was like absolutely super specific.” Yeah he’s really great.
If you could create the soundtrack for any film or television series which would it be?
I mean, I love like The Viking’s soundtrack with Fever Ray. My absolute dream as an artist would be to be the theme song of a TV show that I like cause I love TV shows. If I’m not making music or working in TV doing composition or music supervision or something like that, it would just be so cool. I don’t know, I loved Game of Thrones and then unfortunately they ruined it, but that kind of show would be really cool. Something fantasy or like something like Euphoria. I really loved Euphoria, yeah that was really a great soundtrack.
Hannah Montana or Miley Cyrus?
They’re both so different. Probably Miley. I mean, Miley is Hannah Montana. But she’s just a phenomenal singer. Like her latest, the covers that she just put out are so good, the Heart of Glass [cover]. She’s just a really incredible artist and I can’t even begin to imagine that like growing up in those conditions, I think she’s been very open with her fans and she just at the core of it just has an incredible voice. Like Party in the USA is huge, it’s so good.
What is the most memorable show you’ve ever performed?
Playing Splendour in the Grass was very, it felt just very surreal. But yeah I didn’t know like it’s funny I think the record explores it a bit as well, but it’s like the ones that you don’t expect are usually like the things that you didn’t expect to happen it’s like those surprises. Yeah like I remember one time in Adelaide pretty early on it was like, we don’t know who’s going to come, you just have absolutely no idea because I hadn’t really played in Adelaide before and then there were people who had driven really far to be there and like last minute, there was just heaps of people arrived and it was all sold out and packed and I was like, yeah like I had no idea, I went into it just being like, yeah! So those are often, there’s those special ones cause they’re also just going into something like Splendour in the Grass it was surreal and a very important milestone. Yeah, you just never know what to expect with touring and playing shows.
What was the best concert you’ve ever attended?
Best concert. I really loved seeing Flight Facilities with the MSO (Melbourne Symphony Orchestra) that was at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl I think. Again, it was an experience where I had no expectations, I went with a friend, and it was so cool to see the sort of transitions where there’s like marimbas on stage and brass and all of their collaborators walked out one by one, and they all just seemed like really stoked and happy. Seeing Reggie and Emma Louise dancing together I was like, “this is so cool!” It’s probably that or the first time I saw Sigur Rós at Harvest Festival and it was just, they didn’t really speak in between songs, but it’s just this transportation to another realm. Which was really cool.
If you were a Spice Girl what would your spice nickname be?
Trying to think, so Baby, Sporty, Scary, I don’t know. Sometimes my Mum calls me Distracto Girl, which I just like, I’ll think of something and then be like yes! But I don’t know if Distracto Spice is good because like maybe it’s like Shiny Spice. It’s like you get distracted by the shiny things but it’s like I wish it wasn’t the case, but that’s what I’ve heard from those who care about me.
Who is an artist that you think has had the most influence on the music industry?
Woah. I feel like maybe Taylor Swift in a way, like currently. But I mean The Beatles, or something for all time cause it’s like you invented pop music, well done. Yes, it’s hard because the industry itself I guess has, like how far back do you go? But I’ve really enjoyed the discussions Taylor Swift’s had about ownership of masters and things like that, where they’re really important discussions and it’s been simplified in a way where fans understand and can really get behind independent artists with more knowledge on what’s happening, and how major labels have worked in the past. So I think there’s been really important discussions and even around streaming services and things like that, I’ve felt that that transparency has been really good. But like most impact, it’s hard to know. It’s quite broad.
The moment you knew you wanted to be a musician?
The moment I knew I wanted to write songs or like continue to write songs, I had a really lovely piano teacher throughout primary school who taught me, like she could sort of see that I liked classical music but it wasn’t something that I was as passionate about as writing my own songs. And when I was about 11 or 12 I wrote a song and it made her tear up and it was very, I don’t know, I hadn’t had a song have that impact on someone that I cared about before. And that was really, just like a moment where I was like “ooh” just me sort of writing and talking out issues and things like that, could have an impact far beyond my own experience. I really remember that moment, and just like comforting my piano teacher and it was just like woah this is powerful kind of magic. Yeah.