Album Walkthrough: Woodes breaks down the universe of her debut album, Crystal Ball
The ten-track debut record welcomes you into the world of the Melbourne-based musician, and the universe she's built.
Header image by Jordan Drysdale.
You should never expect something small from Woodes. Since her earliest arrival in 2015 (with a series of collaborations featuring close friend Elkkle), the Townsville-raised, Melbourne-based musician has always built a larger universe around her music, doing the best she can to further her singles to the largest level possible. At first, that came through remix EPs that saw both local and international acts add distinct, versatile touches on her earliest work, but in the time since it's flourished into something else entirely, with examples spread across art forms that transcend those long-traditionally used for music.
Take her 2018-released Golden Hour EP, whose cinematic magic found itself nestled amongst Netflix films and international TV series' alike, before its larger-than-life, enchanting beauty was further dived upon in a one-off headline show that brought her traditional band together with a mini-orchestra. There's also the work that revolves around it, too - music videos that bring her music into the worlds of sci-fi and fantasy; a reflection of her long-time admiration of those worlds, and the crucial moments they've brought into her life.
The world she's built around her debut album Crystal Ball, however, is something else entirely. The record itself is monumental, navigating the valleys and peaks of her sound and the moments of beautiful magic that's captured within. On top of that, however, there are Game of Thrones-esque video clips painstakingly built in short moments of coronavirus-free Victoria, further linked into the album's cover art and press shots, featuring Woodes front-and-centre, armed with swords and shields while wearing armoury that feels plucked from history's past.
There's also an entire Minecraft world too, created alongside Reuben Gore. It's a place that's become both a form of connection and escapism over the last twelve months, a place she can entertain - over the course of the album roll-out, Woodes has hosted building battles with acts such as Mallrat and Ruby Fields - and bring the album to life in an entirely new dimension; the Minecraft map reflecting pockets of the album's themes and inspiration, such as the large crystal-like ball in the map's centre (a play onto the album's title, Crystal Ball).
The album itself speaks too, so much so that while her adventures into worlds outside of music have been both innovative and spectacularly brilliant, the album can carry itself without the context of the larger world around it. It's a tinkering ten tracks that reach through the highs and lows of Woodes both musically and personally, switching from subtle moments of intimacy to those far more grand and otherworldly, built from the influences of video game soundtracks and fantasy scores that can build whole worlds with just their musicality.
Take the album's title track for example, which encapsulates her work at a high point, at its most climactic and grand. "The title track and lead single Crystal Ball deals with themes around uncertainty and hope. Often it’s hard to know which way everything is headed, and for this song I wanted to turn those darker feelings into something lighter and more magical," she says. "There are over 100 different layers in this song, with sparks, spells, electric bass, harp, mandolin & vocoder. It was a lot of fun to finish & I’m looking forward to playing it live, when Victorian musicians can return to the stage."
It's a spectacular, well-earnt time for Woodes that feels like it's been a long time in the making, capturing the musician as she reaches a newfound peak and eyes how she can grow and further experiment in the future. In the meantime, however, take a dive into Crystal Ball below, alongside a track-by-track walkthrough that dissects the album's themes and creation one song at a time.
1. HOW LONG I’D WAIT
I knew for my next chapter I wanted to explore more of the cinematic moments inspired by my love of film and soundtracks as that’s what initially got me into production and composing.
For How Long I’d Wait, this fuses a couple of storylines. Firstly, I wrote this in the golden era around the start of the Game Of Thrones final season (Still sad about how it ended) I pictured a vivid oasis, like High Garden. A sort of day dream space, overlooking the sea. The word ‘Garden’ was the first part of the song and it all unravelled from there.
When I was overseas I wrote How Long I’d Wait after a big block of time away from home. In the 12 months since writing this song, I’ve continued to learn more about going slow and being patient. I wrote How Long I’d Wait with my friend Scott Effman, who I wrote Dots with. As he played the guitar the song almost seemed to write itself, as it was a combination of things i’d been mulling over for quite some time. It immediately became the song that would start the record.
2. CRYSTAL BALL
“Learning to address my mortality” is a lyric in Crystal Ball. At the start of making this album, I had 3 dangerous moles cut out, I found out I had to get them removed urgently just before Christmas and had a strange feeling all Christmas that it would be bad news. Fortunately only one was bad, and it was removed in time - but this little moment made me rethink certain things, and even ended up shaping me as a performer - trying not to take things too seriously, or be so hard on myself.
I did a couple of festivals and guest vocal appearances with stitches in my legs. It made me think of why I make music and what my absolute dream goals are with it… I shaped a bit of anxiety and the unknown into a song that makes me feel powerful. I wanted the instrumental ‘drop section’ to sound like wizards duelling, it took a while to produce and get right. Before I went into writing Crystal Ball, a friend said ‘make something you’ve never heard before’ - so I did!
It’s a time where everything feels unknown. We all have different coping mechanisms and methods for finding purpose or ways of getting through.
3. DANCING IN THE RAIN
This song is written about making the most out of a tough situation, finding silver linings for growth, and change. I finished it with my bandmate Hayden Francis last June and it's one of my favourites on the record.
Close was the first piece of the puzzle, the first moment where I knew I was working on my debut album. It’s about the loss of a family member. Entwined in a story of how we, as children race to grow up.
These stories and themes run through the rest of the record, but this was the foundation stone. It’s a song that I’m incredibly proud of. In a time where we can’t be with our loved ones, in a time of collective grief and collective hope, I hope this song can take you somewhere beautiful.
I wrote it with The Kite String Tangle and Sammi Constantine. We wrote it and recorded final vocals in 3 hours. It felt exciting, as it developed so naturally.
5. QUEEN OF THE NIGHT
The queen of the night is a woman out in the desert, surrounded by super blooms, regaining her power. Breaking through the glass ceiling. This song is at the start of the quest, and was written as a live performance. I’ve been playing a lot of video games and thinking a lot about how we like patterns and symbolism.
It’s probably one of the strangest songs on the album, from a vocal/production point. Lots of strange backing vocals and foley sound design.
6. DISTANT PLACES
We wrote this on one of my favourite days ever. It was co-written/produced with Alex Somers. I’ve been a fan of Alex Somers & Sigur Ros for a long time. Alex has produced so many beautiful soundtracks & albums. Every year he’s in my top played artists. When I was in LA we found a day to write together, on the very last day of my trip, it almost didn’t happen!
I sat down at the piano I’d heard in so many of my favourite albums and we wrote this. I was thinking of how we never really know how things will turn out - but if I could tell my high school self that one day I’d be there in that room, I could tell her it all would be a wonderful journey & things work out.
It can feel so hard to navigate artistry, or quantify personal growth, but it truly is one of the best things in the world to be acknowledged by your creative heroes. To write in the same space and go back and forward. The Valtari boat was framed above the piano and I kept looking up at it, which inspired the sails idea.
It was so nice to create with Alex Somers, his techniques for capturing sound feel more based on collecting textures and feelings. The beauty in raw or imperfect layering. I worked with The Kite String Tangle to finish this track together, adding the drums and choirs in my studio in Brunswick. It also has a big boat horn.
7. STARING AT THE FIRE
I grew up in North Queensland, in a place called Townsville. This song feels the most directly reminiscent of home.
We used to go camping alot, and had day trips up in the rainforest. We used to drive up to a place called Paluma about an hour north of Townsville. It’s high up in the rainforest, with a couple of creeks and waterfalls on the way up. We camped at the Paluma Dam a lot when we were all just out of highschool, we’d sit around the fire and swim and enjoy our independence. I have so many fond memories of those trips, even the trip where it rained the whole time and we slept in our car.
Moving to Melbourne, a lot of my friends moved down too, but now with time, everyone has moved to different places, some overseas, some back north again. I love that when you sit around the campfire you can be so caught up in watching the shapes that in turn you’re comfortable and open. It’s like having big chats when you’re driving with someone in the passenger seat. Time just slips away & makes room for honest, deeper conversations.
8. THIS IS MY YEAR
I love everyone’s optimism and the way we reflect, summing up chapters. I remember so many New Years eves really vividly. Fresh starts, fireworks. I love how everyone unites and cheers with strangers, all focusing on the future. Every year I find myself watching parts of my own resolutions unravel and slowly think “it’s ok, next year”. In particular, every time I go on tour I straight away think “I should have gotten way fitter before this” … maybe next time. This year certainly didn’t go to plan, but personally I’ve spent a lot of it airing out the soil for new growth. I’ve been learning what’s most important & what I value and have time for. I’ve felt part of a whole & have called up friends and re-focused.
There have been some big changes in my family this last year, and this song really feels special when I perform it. We always want to be better, do better.
Euphoria was written imagining it being played live on stage. Imagining it being so big and building up at the end of the set, and sung all together. It was written with The Kite String Tangle around the fire.
To me, on the album, this is like walking into another room, or celebratory space, it’s a bit different than the others, but I wanted to build up to this moment. I really miss live music and can’t wait to perform this one as a band.
This song is about the planet & the growing divide. It’s also about perception, which a few of my previous songs have explored as a theme, too. I placed it on the end of the album as a final thought, similar to the structure of my previous EP Golden Hour. I knew when making a record, it would be a dream to add a live string quartet. This then carries into the outro of the record. How Long I’d Wait & Waterfall having live strings feels like a nice book end for the record.
To me, Waterfall is on the same thread of Crystal Ball, walking into the unknown.
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