Woodes goes incredibly in-depth on her new EP, Golden Hour
This week's Like A Version star celebrates her latest EP with one of the most comprehensive track-by-track walkthroughs we've ever hosted.
It's something we've said countless times before, and it's something we'll no doubt continue to yell as long as she's making music – Woodes is one of a kind. Ever since capturing our attention with a number of remarkable Elkkle collaborations three/four years ago, the Melbourne singer-songwriter has only gone upwards, finding love from not just us, but everyone who has their finger on the pulse in Australia's bustling indie music market. Her latest EP Golden Hour, the second from her solo alias, continues Woodes' rise to the top, following on from the confidently bold and spectacular run of singles in Run For It, Dots and Origami with four more that show her prowess of crafting enchanting and cinematic electronica in a way very little in Australian indie-electronic are currently able to achieve.
Currently in the midst of her EP tour (which wraps up in Brisbane this Saturday – tickets HERE) and following on from her incredible Like A Version this morning (viewable below), Woodes somehow found the time to walk us through her intoxicating second EP in one of the most comprehensive and thorough track-by-tracks we've ever hosted on Pilerats. It details the astonishing amount of love and hard work that has gone into the EP, from the smallest of specifics to the over-arching themes that hide underneath the EP's intelligent songwriting and lyricism. Read the track-by-track and dive into the EP below:
I wrote Hunger with a duo called Kate Boy. Usually, any sessions I've done in Universal's writing rooms we 'work out of the box' in that we work out of a music program in the computer, using mostly software synths etc. to flesh out a sketch idea throughout the day. For this session, however, Kate and Markus came into the session with cases of synths and hardware. We plugged in the Moog Voyager to play with, too. So the room was in a little circle of gear with nothing yet plugged into a computer.
For the first few hours of the session, we were all just moving around the room jamming going through samples and finding a middle ground for writing. Markus had a beautiful collection of lighthouse samples from Germany, which is where we got the underlying sample that is in the majority of the song. You can hear it distinctly in the intro of the song. It sounds like footsteps down a reflective hallway, really nautical and interesting. The steps provided a pulse to start with, which was slow and felt a bit like a slow march. From there we moved to the keys, and I began to play a bunch of different chords until we found some that worked. The "I got my eyes on the horizon" melody came first from memory. It also was the 'wild' melody at the end of the chorus. It kept coming back to us. We kept humming it and talking about all the powerful and strong themes I'd told Kate I wanted the next EP to be about. I really loved working with Kate; she's organised and very interested in getting to the underlying message of a song. She came up with the line "Let the seed grow in my mouth" which I think is such an interesting and cool way of presenting the theme of holding onto a goal or trusting your gut.
For the bridge, I had an idea to double the vocal melody with the Moog so that both trickled down together landing at 'The Golden Hour'. It's one of my favourite melodic passages on the EP. My original placeholder title for the new EP was Sink Into The Golden Hour after that one passage. The more I worked on the EP it felt like every day we finished a song the sun was there to flood my face and the room as I walked away. I love that last light.
I had a really strong internal feeling that Hunger was something special that would open the EP. There was something about how it set the tone for the rest of the EP writing progressed. It kind of lowers the listener into the world gently, communally. One of my friends said it could soundtrack Tarzan. Most definitely a great compliment. (Goals)
I brought in my friend Rob Kleiner to assist in finishing Hunger off. I've worked with Rob a bit in the past (Byron & Bonfire) He's an incredible vocal producer and brings a really unique approach to the tracks in finishing off elements of the production. He also worked with me on Northern Lights in replacing some sounds with samples he had in his library. Something I've learned through the last couple EPs is how much I enjoy working with an engineer/additional producer or vocals focused producer on my voice as opposed to recording myself. Especially for the lead vocals. I think when I started I wanted to make sure I was doing absolutely everything if possible… but that really slowed down my process because I had 'forever' to find the perfect vocal take. Similarly, I found with my workflow it can be good to get someone to push a song from 75% to 100% communally if you're in a rut with something.
With vocals in particular, in working with Rob (LA) and AJ (Melbourne), it's meant that after the session the vocal is recorded and cut together and I can walk away with a file that I can't really add to (although I can definitely still warp and chop it if need be). It's really enhanced my workflow having dedicated sessions working this way. A day where I am a 'vocalist' specifically, it puts a time stamp on that element of the process. I offer this as advice quite frequently to people, in that I think it's a really valuable thing I've learned to help me finish things quicker, especially when you get to work with a core team you trust.
I got my friend Cayn Borthwick in to record sax on the bridge. He improvised for a bunch of takes with my direction of 'monkeys/night time jungle'. He nailed it. I like having moments in production where they are just for the headphone, late night listens. They're quite soft, but I love them!
I wrote Dots on my first writing trip in LA with my now dear friend Scott Effman. It was my first week writing with people I didn't really know overseas, fresh off of my first international shows in Canada. The moment Scott and I met we bounced off one another really effortlessly. Dots was actually officially the first track I wrote for this EP, even though at the time I had no idea that's what I was doing… it just sort of tumbled out.
We began the day with a walk around the block to go get a Starbucks and walk Scott's dog, Rufus. On the way there we were talking about relationships and connections and the idea of being away from home but quite present through technology. The things I wanted to 'switch off' also were so convenient like GPS or tagging where you're at etc. on social media. Sometimes all of that really gets to me, but then you find yourself on the other side of the world feeling so grateful to be so easily joined to home.
In the studio, we found an atmosphere sample and then lay down some chords. I then went to the mic and began to record an army of my voice on loop, from there it turned into this quest. The layers kept coming and coming and before we knew we had the bridge army of Woodes. "High and low, I search for you" became a constant theme and then the song started building around that. I always keep voice memos and notebooks of every session, and I love listening back to this one because it's just both of us humming and singing and then yelling "YES that's great!!!! Track it!!" Dots was a lot of fun to create.
I remember leaving Scott's house in my Uber and I had Dots looping in my headphones in the car and the sunset/golden hour was beginning. I didn't even know that's what was happening, or how much the moment meant. I just remember being in this car in traffic, hit by golden light looping the track over and over. It felt like the most pop work I'd ever done, really. I didn't really think this would be something I'd do as Woodes. My management was sent it and they loved it. I actually took a little while to come around. We played it in our live show a couple of times, and I noticed people look up and start to film. I went back to the drawing board and began to piece together how to finish it and how to make it more me.
It took me a while to finish because until I had released the first single Run For It, I had been trying to find the right series of sounds. From there, in Dots, all of the drums were replaced with storm drums. I added thunder, glass crashing, warped vocal lines, an arp celesta line and also added my guitarist Hayden Jeffery in with some of the lines he'd been playing in the live show. Seeing how Run For It connected with a more orchestral/epic drum line, I felt excited to keep pushing it.
I visited LA for a weekend to finish Still So Young and Dots with Scott quickly on the tail end of a family trip, last (American) summer. It was so much fun finishing them off and then sending Dots off to mixing and mastering to become single number two for Golden Hour. We only really had three days to finish everything at a studio out at Thousand Oaks. I really liked the name.
I wrote Northern Lights in Sydney. The structure of the song and the writing was all done in one day and then I took it back to my studio and started to build the arrangement. This is actually the most layers of anything in my EP.
I was a percussionist in high school/primary school, that was really the roots of where I started to get recognised in my city for music. I did a lot of musicals and stage shows. Percussion allowed for me to travel interstate in orchestras and play in groups, which was a big part of my musical development. I think for this release it was important for me to figure out that all of my influences (choir, orchestral, musicals) and my personal listening history with music (Sufjan Stevens, Imogen Heap) could be included in what I was creating. I think when I started in 'electronic music production' it was really easy to fall into this realm of trying to make things that were cool, minimal or 'lush' – trying to mimic things around me in order to figure out how to create it. Those developmental stages of experimentation are important, and every song is so different, but for now, this orchestral pop is the music I'm really into and this song, in particular, holds a lot of sounds I'm really excited to keep pushing and figuring out. For Northern Lights, in particular, I wrote the arrangement thinking of an ensemble performing it on stage. There are three marimbas, vibraphones, clarinets, old synths and Viking chants.
The more I added, the bigger the stage got in my head. I wanted the bridge to just be this cacophony of sound. If I could perform it with a dream band, there would be giant Taiko drums at the front of the stage. I've always wanted to go to Iceland or Norway to perform music or just to go stand on rocks and smile the biggest smile of my life. So this song is a sort of internal promise to me that it's going to happen someday.
Origami ironically was one of the most methodical pop songs I've worked on. Quite a lot of structure, but then, in the end, we have this strange, beautiful little pop song that hits in all these unexpected places. Lyrically it started with Origami as the title and then worked backwards. We did a big mind map of songs like 'tessellate, fold, polygon, sculpture' and then built it into a story.
I wrote this when I was over in Bali and the studio was a little room underneath a pool with a back garden path. It was quite secluded and looked out onto a jungle. I'd never been to Bali before that trip and it was a really interesting week of at times, being quite secluded. I'd never really done an international writing camp before and the whole thing was quite fascinating. I was really stoked to be selected to come over, after hearing so much about it from other writers.
Essentially every day an artist, a producer and a writer are paired in a different room and by the end of the day, you have a song. Friends that have never heard of this form of song creation are always quite taken aback. It's definitely an approach that works for some and not for others, I personally love it and really thrive with that sort of pressure. It's like this problem solving, friendship making, people skills work day and at the end, if you're lucky, you have a song you love.
Since I produce too, a lot of these sessions were starting blocks where I'd then take home elements or stems of the songs and then work on them for a while to see if they worked with certain releases etc. Origami was at my side up until d-day. It was the last track of the EP I submitted for mixing (very close to when the single was out!). I worked with Cayn again on recording the clarinet pad parts. I also worked with longtime collaborator Elkkle on the drop and adding in a few additional production elements including acoustic guitar. Simon Lam mixed the millions of layers. From the beginning to end Origami was a big feat of trying to figure it out. I think we got there in the end and I'm immensely proud of it.
Run For It
Run For It was also written around the same time in Bali. I saw some really harrowing things while we were there, stuff I didn't really talk too much about initially when the single first came out. Bali is an interesting place where you have tourists living their best lives next to an entire family living on the street. I recorded the vocals the night after I saw some young women being mistreated and I was in a rather difficult, powerless position. At the premise, this song is about calling out bad behaviour and humans providing lights or beacons to one another. I wrote it as a battle of wolves and birds.
I didn't want to re-record those demo vocals because the anger and strength I can hear in my voice. When I found out it was being listened to in Indonesia, it felt like a circle. Production-wise, this song started with something I needed off my chest. The beat came first, then the sliding string-sounding bass line. In the session, once we'd worked out the chorus we all stood around a single mic and yelled the "ooooh" - I love those chants. I took the recorded stems back to my studio and began to flesh out the piano/melodic instruments to make it fit into my world. It's one of our favourites to play live.
Higher was the second song I wrote for the EP. I was trying to not write about beginnings or endings of love, instead, the middle point in a relationship or friendship. It began with the idea of colouring someone in that's fading slightly. I liked the notion of a colouring-in book, bringing someone back to life.
This song is a bit of an outlier from the others I suppose, in that it's got a more electronic production focus and this really demo-sounding guitar. I had been listening to Frank Ocean in the months leading up to writing it and I loved the vulnerability and little throwaway gems he had in his tracks and production. Hayden again played guitar in it, Elkkle co-produced it with me, and I had Sydney-based producer/instrumentalist/songwriter Lupa J record strings in the bridge.
I tracked the vocals before going away for a month and then when I came back to my studio they were sitting in a folder and I had totally forgotten them. When I slotted them back into the session, I got really emotional. To me, my voice sounds a lot different in this track to my first EP. Stronger.
Still So Young
I wrote Still So Young with the same collaborator as Dots, Scott Effman. We had a couple of days to work together but just ended up getting really into this one song. I had just played my first American shows at SXSW and he had just had a friend stay with him that took him on these crazy adventures in the desert. We were both pretty tired and ready for something a little quieter, rather than starting with drums or bass we went to the acoustic guitar.
The little seed for this song began with how, when I was younger, I finally accepted that Santa and the tooth fairy, and indeed the concept of 'magic', was not entirely true. I grew up obsessed with fantasy - I suppose I'm grown up and I still am. I remember how I presented my research to my mother and she said "Would you prefer you lived in a world with.. or without Santa? Do you want to believe in magic? that's your choice."
I wrote this song with the live show in mind. I think it was a culmination of all the things I'd been processing and feeling for a while. Looking out at the community and meeting fans after the show. Trying to figure out why I'd want to excessively tour music if I didn't believe wholeheartedly in the message or reason behind us all gathering. My hopes were for it to be a special little escape bubble in the set. Live music and recorded music is my escapism. I have been thinking of all of this for such a long time and I feel like in this particular song... I got to say what I wanted to say in the right order and in the right way.
For the production of this song, it started on guitar with the 3/4 feel, like a waltz. The backing vocal "You-who's" were placeholders but they grew on me more and more. We played in the vocal harmonies into the vocoder and if you listen closely to the samples - they're all from this wonderful NASA sample library online, which is free to use! I wanted to have samples talking about lift-off. In constructing the verses, I wrote down a whole bunch of ideas where something is magic or ordinary based on perception. Fairy lights, snow globes, travelling on trains… It was a big list to start with, but slowly it felt more and more Christmassy.
When Scott and I reunited and finished Dots and Still So Young, this particular song was such a therapeutic one to wrap. I have held onto this song on plane trips and train trips, I've played it for children I look after and last Christmas I listened to it, curled up on the sofa. Now the whole EP is out and shared; I'm very proud of this one. At the live shows this last weekend I noticed a bunch of people in the room singing along to Still So Young and it means to the world to me.
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