Woodes has always been an artist that has had a very artistic and visionary approach to her music. Ever since the release of her self-titled EP in 2016 she’s been creating a magical world for her music to run free within, and with the release of her debut album ‘Crystal Ball (out now) she takes that approach one step further.
The cohesive and vivid collection of tracks takes listeners on a dreamlike journey of self-exploration while capturing the coming of age period of her life. These honest and emotional storylines are uplifted with an ethereal production that soars so cinematically. The intricate production weaves its way through the ten tracks, and captures a very DIY intent. But it’s also an album that has been made to dance through, and feels like a body of work that deserves to be showcased on the live stage.
With the Melbourne based singer-songwriter being heavily impacted by the COVID-19 lockdowns, this album also represents an escapism from the reality of what 2020 has become for a lot of people. With the whole roll out of the record having to be reimagined due to restrictions involving live performances, she’s built a cyber-world for the record inside Minecraft, and allowed fans to be side by side creating with her.
I recently chatted to Woodes about the cinematic foundations of ‘Crystal Ball’, explored the creative process behind songs like ‘Waterfall’ and ‘Close’, and discussed bringing this album to live within a Minecraft world. Check it out BELOW;
THOMAS BLEACH: Your debut album ‘Crystal Ball’ is a dreamy and ethereal collection of tracks that takes listeners on the journey of self discovery and reflection. A lot of these tracks feel very tender and vulnerable even though they have big productions around them. What would you say is the most vulnerable moment for you on the record as an artist?
WOODES: Two moments in particular come to mind; the first being the song ‘Close’ which I wrote with The Kite String Tangle. It was about the passing of a loved one and still feeling connected in some way.
The other moment is in the song ‘This Is My Year’ which began as a kind of sillier song about how it’s hard to keep your New Year’s resolutions, and how I often find I’m working on the same things each year. The verses are an opportunity to tell a bigger, personal story, and when I performed it live last year I choked up on the lyrics about my folks and wishing I could get home more. This has been a big year away from home with the borders closed, so I think moving forward the song will continue to be a reminder of what this year was.
TB: ’Waterfall’ closes the album with this big ethereal and cinematic moment. Can you explain how this song came together creatively?
W: I’d been playing with some really weird vocal techniques, and this one stemmed from that. The ‘oohs’ came first, where Scott Effman and I created a pulsing background, then I wanted to sing in and then resample myself as if we were sampling an opera singer or choir. We changed the timing from dividing the echo feedback on the ‘Ooohs’ and dividing it by 4 to 16 to 32 and back, so it has these staggered moments where the vocals just fly around and it’s hard to catch them.
In my work I often look at perception, looking at things in certain lights. I’ve been thinking a lot about the planet and the way things are headed, and what I can personally do on a small scale to help. It’s about hoping we can pull everything back around.
TB: The song ‘Close’ haunts with the lyric “Sometimes I swear I can feel your ghost. But what do I know? I just know you’re close”. What is the story behind this lyric?
W: This song, which I touched on earlier, is about the loss of a loved one. It can be really strange with grief, I can have a day where there are all these little reminders of them that are stronger than other days. Songs on the radio, films airing on the TV, or a mutual friend of ours reaching out. Feels like they’re here in another way, because those associations and that closeness will always be there.
TB: The stunning ‘This Is My Year’ was recently used in an episode of The Bold Type in a very emotional and beautiful scene. So if one other song from the album could be used in a TV Show, what track and what show would you love it to be?
W: I’d love to see ‘Distant Places’ accompany a trek into the unknown in a film. I started producing and writing music after finding my favourite indie artists on TV Show soundtracks, so getting that placement on The Bold Type was a real “pinch-me” moment. It was so unreal as they used so much of the song! And the scene it accompanied was perfectly aligned with the sentiment of the song.
TB: You called the album after the track ‘Crystal Ball’. So why did this song feel like the perfect representation of what this album meant and felt to you?
W: ‘Crystal Ball’ is about the uncertainty with the path ahead, where it feels like a ‘choose your own adventure’ book. This is something I often feel as an artist. This last year since writing it, I’ve felt like those emotions have compounded. Keeping up with the news, and trying to work out new ways of doing things, and stay creative and motivated. I wanted to put all those confronting anxieties into a bubble of magic and spells, as a way of dealing with them. I also like how mystical and foggy a crystal ball can be, where concepts can appear out of nowhere in the smoke.
TB: You’ve previously stated that the first song you wrote for the album was ‘Close’, while the last song was ‘Distant Places’. So reflecting on the journey between these two songs, what would you say was the biggest growth or self realisation you had throughout the album process?
W: I wrote ‘Distant Places’ with a producer and collaborator I’d been a fan of for a long time called Alex Somers, and it felt like a really special place to end this chapter. It’s the glue between the first and second sides of the album.
I’ve learned a lot in this process, it’s been really hard at times, particularly as I love planning and this year it’s been a massive lesson in going with the flow. For a majority of the roll out of the album I’ve been in Level 4 lockdown, some of the strictest in the world.
In that time I’ve taken things slow, working with the variables I have, and I have really enjoyed the transparency with my audience and community. I’ve also been experimenting with music in a really fun way, as the sole producer, jumping from Logic to Ableton. It’s strengthened my skill set and has been a lot of fun to just make things without them having an end goal. I’ve been writing lots and from doing this album, I believe in myself. I know I can do this, and so I know I can do another.
TB: You co-wrote some of these songs with people you hadn’t met before until the day you wrote them. So how did you find the process of writing with strangers? Did you find yourself naturally opening up to them quickly because they didn’t know you, or did you struggle a bit at first?
W: I’m pretty used to it now. We usually get a coffee or tea, chat about films or shows or what got you into this job with the people around you. You find this personal middle ground and ask about how one another gets started on a song, and work out how the puzzle pieces fit in your processes.
Some days you meet people and you are on the same wavelength, and that’s the most wonderful thing, as you also walk out with a new friend. I think it’s quite a unique job in a lot of ways. It would be rare to spend time talking out problems, relationships, family ties, aspirations, favourite music etc so quickly with a stranger in many other workplaces. I guess because you’re working with another artist or writer, the good days stem from both parties being open and adding what they can.
I keep a lot of images, lyrics and voice memos, so if it’s a harder environment, or if on that particular day something doesn’t spring to life, there are songs or ideas that are ready to go, so we still have output. I really enjoy the process. That’s probably my favourite part of this job, making music with people, and inventing new worlds.
TB: To coincide with the album release you’ve built a Minecraft world and have been interacting with fans through it who pre-order the album as well as creating some great YouTube videos along the way. So what has been your favourite thing about creating this virtual online world for the album?
W: We’ve been in pretty serious lockdown here in Melbourne and the Minecraft project has been a great social platform for me to connect to my music community and make new friends and fans overseas through Twitch. We’ve been making every song on the album in the world, almost like a giant sculpture garden.
I’ve really enjoyed the structure to it, streaming multiple times a week with a really dedicated community. We’ve had some very wholesome streams talking about how nice it is to have a limitless world to roam around in, full of colour and pixilated nature. It’s been way more special than I could have imagined, and that’s down to the community jumping in and making it what it is.
TB: What has been the most challenging creation you’ve done so far in the Minecraft world?
W: We have been doing build battles with other Australian artists every couple of weekends, we’ve had Mallrat, Alex Dyson, Ruby Fields, Alice Ivy, Didirri and many others in the realm. The first battle, we had 1 hour to build a castle. I was against Montaigne and Didirri and I was sweating. I now know how it feels to be on Masterchef. My castle was way too big and I barely got to furnish it. Very stressful.
All the build battles are on show in the world, so you can wander inside the creations any time. We have beach shacks, party houses with DJ decks & Island lairs. I look at the world now after 3 months of building and it’s massive. Stop by anytime! We have guest houses made of mushrooms near the farming district.
‘Crystal Ball’ is out now!