Splendour Interview: Woodes (Australia) talks evolving her live show for “Change My Mind” & her favourite music

In our final interview from Splendour in the Grass 2018, we sit down with acclaimed Townsville artist Woodes, who is just about to hit the road on a tour in support of her latest single “Change My Mind”. We talk about the track, her experiences touring with City Calm Down and how her live show in developing. We also look at some of her influences, like Nils Frahm, Bjork and Sigur Ros, and talk about collaborating with Danny Harley aka The Kite String Tangle!

I imagine it’s a bit of a lifelong dream to play Splendour in the Grass, officially with your own set!

Yeah. I did some guest vocals last year and that was my first ever Splendour. And I think, because before that I was a student studying music, it was just really hard to get from Melbourne to here. But we always wanted to come up. And I think between my band mates, we’ve just always had it in our sights as something we would one day maybe get to do, so, yeah. It’s definitely been quite surreal.

Did it happen quicker than you expected in that respect?

Definitely. Yeah. This time last year I was getting ready to go on stage for Set Mo, doing “I belong here,” and I remember just being like, man it would be unreal if one day this happened with my own music and with my team at the same house or in the dressing rooms. So, yeah, it was really cool to do that within 12 months.

And within that 12 months you’ve really developed your live set. You know, from seeing you last year at SXSW to today. Three piece with a… we’ll call it a horn section…

Yeah, horn section.

The songs I already knew sounded just so much more fleshed out live, and the songs I didn’t know were sounding beautiful on the stage, and obviously the latest single, “Change my Mind” just really got the crowd moving. So, it seems like you’ve come a long way in the last 12 months I guess is what I’m getting to!

Yeah. I definitely feel like, maybe as even at Splendour last year I put on my big cloud jacket, and I was like, man this it totally ridiculous to wear on stage. And ever since then I’ve been trying to go one step further. Like having an urchin cape, having pom poms, having all these crazy things on stage. And I think now that we’ve played as a three piece for a while, it’s just really fun up there. At SXSW we were a three piece, but it was very fresh, very new. So I guess it’s just been experimenting with outfits, experimenting with lighting, and really figuring out the kind of world we wanna create up there.

I like the stars in the background – created a beautiful atmosphere, which I liked.

Yeah, yeah. That was our first… we got that logo this morning.

Oh, cool. It looked great.

Yay!

In September you’re gonna be embarking on a tour around the country which just got announced for your latest single, “Change My Mind”. Tell me a little bit about kind of what you’ve got in store for those shows.

I’ve been working out this sort of colour palette, I suppose. But, yeah, I guess ’cause we’re going to Perth and Adelaide, which we haven’t been to as a headline show. Definitely the fashion aspect will be there. Working out visuals and lighting. And I suppose even the new demos I’ve been working on have just been even bigger with orchestral arrangements. So it’s trying to figure out how to incorporate bigger instruments and convert the venues into this sort of Woodes haven, I suppose.

But other than that, I’m not sure. I think now, after Splendour, I can go back down and figure out what it’s gonna be. But I think because “Change My Mind” is so happy and summery in my head, even though it’s mid winter, incorporating floral or organic elements into the visuals or the fashion is something I’m gonna look into.

So, tell me a little bit about kind of the demos you’ve been working on. When you say it’s orchestral, are you bringing in people on strings and trumpets? Are you playing them yourself?

Well, I studies orchestral percussion and I studied composition at uni. We’ve had some people that have been making strings remixes of my songs and things like that, so I think in an ideal world I would love to have a quartet or a concert base drum and a gong.

You want the gong for yourself, yeah.

I’m playing the gong for sure. But I would love to go back to playing mallets, ’cause when I first started as Woodes I was solo with a vibraphone.

I remember!

You kind of go into something that’s maybe more tour friendly and then the bigger the shows are, you can kind of start bringing back in those elements.

Do you wanna be doing more on stage?

Yeah, I mean ideally- I was just looking at photos of Kimbra’s live show around Australia, and she was in a spaceship. And one of my favourites, Jamie XX, in the XX, out the back, just covered in gear. And I think at first I used to build this fortress of gear just to show that I was across it.

This show today was very much like, I have a keyboard, I have my drum pad. But, it is good to try and connect with people and sing and, I guess, be a front man. So it’s trying to find that balance between being locked into a spaceship. It’s just like, you either have a lot of room or you pile the keyboards and mallets all up and try and move around them. So, yeah, I’m just trying to work that out. Like, I’d love to have timpani on stage as well. But, it’s just you would run out of space.

At this stage of your career, you wanna do everything, but you’re limited in what you can do from a logistical standpoint.

Oh, totally. I think with electronic music it’s pretty limitless as well. Where I’ve got my SPD, drum pad, which you can load any samples onto. Which could be, like I have mallet sections and big drums on those.  I guess you can go from that. My friend Danny, aka The Kite String Tangle, has that big mallet kind of hybrid…

Yeah he’s in a spaceship of his own, isn’t he?

Yeah, yeah. And I’m like, “Ah, I wanna do that.” Just having things to hit is really cool. And I think because I also produce, knowing all the elements really well, I’m just excited by certain hit points. So, yeah. To be able to bring those to life in a really simple, but cinematic way.

It’s the dream. It’s just you are really spoiled for choice with instruments and electronic abilities and rigging different live shows. Everyone I talk to, like looking around at the line up here, like you look at their rigs and you’re like, “oh man, you could do that, you could do this, you could do that.” So I mean, ideally I’ll be hiring timpani and gongs and stuff… it will just take a little while to get there.

One step at a time.

Yeah, ’cause you don’t wanna tour with it. You can’t put it on a plane.

It needs to arrive before you do.

Yep.

You did a tour with City Calm Down last month. What were those shows like? Obviously it was pre-single, so you were able to road test some new tracks I’m guessing within the support slot.

Yeah. It was really cool. I think because City Calm Down, it’s quite rock, and they’re still that dark pop… I guess everything to me is kind of pop. Like they do make those singles that are just like dark pop. But it’s very rock, I think. A lot of the audience members didn’t actually know us, because we’re in different circles. And so it was interesting going into it.

Were you nervous at all? Kind of trying to tackle a crowd that you thought maybe wouldn’t know you.

I think through doing a lot of supports, it’s kind of like you’re booked on the basis that the main act like what you do. And so do what you do and do to the best of your ability. And I think in the past I would be like, “oh they have a certain sound, we should try and shape arrangements to that.” But, yeah. If you go out there and give everything for your particular sound, if you like music, then we’ll be your kind of thing.

So, yeah. The rooms were incredible. The Tivoli and The Forum, which was a dream venue. Just like ticking those off the bucket list. And also City Calm Down, incredibly lovely people. I’m sure you know.

Yeah, best dudes.

Just like everyone said they’re lovely, you’re gonna have the best time. But, they went above and beyond really. They were just like a band of brothers. You can tell that they’ve been playing together for 10 years. Even just backstage, like advice and things like that, I don’t know. It’s such a privilege to work with them. And they also would watch our shows from the wings or at the front every night, which, I don’t know, you don’t get that every time.

No, you definitely don’t. And to have that support is amazing.

We’re fans of them, they’re fans of us, so, it’s a beautiful tour and the most places we’ve ever gone as a band. So, pretty overwhelming in that regard. I was nervous about that, because you just don’t know what to expect by it. I’m not so nervous on stage now that I have this three piece. We’re just really good mates.

And I was about to say, because you did all those shows, as well a show like today. You’ve essentially been rehearsing this show on the road for the last couple of months.

Yeah, there were certain things where I was like, “Let’s put that in and let’s change this up.” And everyone’s just like, “you’ve been running this show, let’s not change up too much.” But, we did put some singles at the front and did the bit of rearranging. But apart from that, it’s just, we’ve been sort of on the similar size stages for the last month. Which is really good.

Because I think at the start I was very shy. Just in terms of Woodes. The beginning of that, for me as a producer and as a songwriter, to get out of my room and sit on those stages, was a big deal. Just in terms of proving it to myself and to do this whole circuit of bigger stages and also Splendour. As the shy person used to hiding up in my room, I’m stoked.

Are you looking to do more, kind of, production and songwriting work outside of what you’re doing as Woodes? Are you kind of looking to work with other artists as well?

I’m already sort of doing that. I signed with publishing last year. I’ve been writing for the artists doing top line work and then also doing some production work. And then actually getting into doing some remixes. But, it’s just that’s always been the driving force, is that I love the back end of these projects.

I’m my own stylist, I do production, I do songwriting. It’s very much like an amalgamation of the things I love about creating this. And I think watching interviews of artists like Grimes really helped me see that that was possible. You can call the shots and do that back end… it all just excites me. And so now to be able to produce for other people, or do remixes, and be recognised for what I bring to the table is really cool.

I do find it interesting, too, that when I ask about the show, you instinctively talk not about the music you play, but about how you make the show look. It’s clear you love every aspect of this creative process.

I did musical theatre and I loved set design and costume design throughout high school… I think a lot of my best friends were the actors that were just passionate and ended up going to NIDA and things like that, and I was just like, “Oh, I’d love bring that into the stage.” And I couldn’t imagine one day we’d get to do our own Forum show. It’s just like, you have the opportunity of backdrops!

Build a world.

Yeah, build a whole world.

I saw Bjork last month.

Oh, man. Yes, her world.

And her world is unbelievable.

She’s just… Her artistry and her vision is just incredible. I follow the guy who makes her masks. But he makes them out of latex. The flowers and orchards. I love her too in that… her whole everything, it’s completely ageless, it’s timeless. I love her collaborators too, like Jesse Kanda. Like making people feel uncomfortable or making people just experience everything so intensely. I think that’s such an incredible thing for an artist to be able to do.

Beyond the tour in September,  what’s the rest of the year holding? Will we get to hear any more new music?

I’ve been writing the last two weeks actually. I got back into the studio. I did APRA Songhubs and I did a week in Sydney.

Danny (Kite String Tangle) was with you at the Songhubs wasn’t he?

Yeah, we wrote a really good song. Like, I’ve been looping it a lot. I think we were overdue for a songwriting session. I’ve written for his project, but then we were writing for me. And it was just, like, yeah. We both love Sigur Ros, so it’s great to work with him.

Actually, last time I saw Danny, he was walking out of Jonsi of Sigur Ros’s Liminal experience at Primavera.

I want to go to that so bad.

I couldn’t get in, but apparently everyone lays on the ground and takes it in…

Yeah, these sort of glowing orbs are taken around? And Alex Somers, Jonsi’s partner is involved as well. I actually met Jonsi this time last year (at Splendour). He walked past me and I grabbed his arm and he looked over to me and I was like, eh, I didn’t plan anything else. And then I was like, “Thank you.” And he was like, “Thank you.” Thank you, thank you. Over and over. And then I looked behind, and Danny had been following him since he got off stage. For like 20 minutes. And he’s like, “Thank you so much for stopping him so that I could also say hi!” ‘Cause they were trying to figure out how to – and I just grabbed his arm, which is kind of intimidating.

That light show that they brought out for the last tour-

Oh my god.

Wasn’t that just incredible?

Yeah, I saw it in Melbourne as well. That element of just experience… like, I saw Sampha last year. He’s just all silhouetted with the big arch. I love it when people really consider all the elements of a performance. Not necessarily just it being up front, it’s like an art piece in itself. Yeah. I really love that.

It makes it such more an engaging experience. I’ve always gone out of my way to see things when I know it’s going to be an engaging live experience.

Definitely. I think that’s a huge role of live music.

Well, I can’t wait to see where you go next with your career, and indeed your own live experience.

Thank you. ‘Cause I’m independent, I get to create my own path. In terms of releases, I’ve got heaps of demos ready. Yeah, I think definitely working towards another release soon…

Does a apart of you, the minute you finish a song, go “I wanna get it out, I wanna tell everyone about this song?”

Sometimes. But then I’m sitting on a lot of demos, and I put them all in a row, and you realise that there’s a story between them. So, I love albums. I’m a big album listener.

Yep. Do you have a favourite? Favourite album in that sort of just album context.

I think Illinois by Sufjan Stevens is one of my favourite albums. Valtari by Sigur Ros is like my sleep record. That every year is in my top played on Spotify or whatever, ’cause I listen to it before bed all the time. I love Max Richter, Sleep, even though that’s a different format. But I just really like how considered things are.

Have you listened to Nils Frahm?

That’s actually, my album of the year. It’s funny, my partner and my house mate bought me the vinyl.

Oh, really?

For my birthday. I got two copies of it. But, I guess I’ve been talking about it a bit. That came out just before I moved house, and it was just the beginning of the year. It would be hard for something to top that for me.

I saw him last month and he had…

Oh wow. Everything right? Like 12 different keyboards.

Yeah, 12 keyboards. You talk about a spaceship…

I bought tickets to his Melbourne show for, I think it’s Melbourne Festival. And then he’s also playing at the Opera House. So, I’m still like, “Should I do both?” ‘Cause last year I did both for Sampha. I went to Sydney and Melbourne. ‘Cause it was like, well they’re only gonna tour that record right now.

Exactly.

But yeah, no, Nils Frahm is a huge influence. That’s probably in one of my dream collaborators list as well. He’s made this instrument called the Una Corda with Native Instruments, and it’s a single string piano. And I’ve been trying to make my piano sound like that my whole life. Recording it. And he just brought out this plug in with Native Instruments that just is the perfect piano. And I’ve started noticing in lots of recordings, but it’s just a joy to play. So, I need to shake his hand and be like, “Thank you for the dream piano.”

Well we’ve got a lot of music to see! We better wrap this up. Who are you most looking forward to seeing before the weekend’s over?

Oh, man. I’ve got a lot of friends playing where I’m just like… you just brim with pride. I’m really keen to see Alex Lahey at the main stage.

That’ll be special.

It’s so cool. We were just talking about when I first moved to Melbourne, I was following a couple Melbourne bands. Animaux, which is her old band, was one of them. I remember seeing her T Billy Hyde and being like, “Oh my god. Just famous people out and about!” But then her releasing some solo material and watching it explode has been amazing. I’m definitely keen for Khalid and Lorde tonight. And, oh man, there’s a whole bunch. I think Sunday will be really special too. It’ll be cool to see Angus and Julia Stone as well actually!

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Woodes is on tour in September playing Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Adelaide. For all the details, and to keep tabs on everything the Townsville artist is up to, head to her Official Facebook Page. Her latest single “Change My Mind” is out now.

Photo by John Goodridge

Larry Heath

Founding Editor of the AU review. You can find him on Twitter @larry_heath or on Instagram @larryheath.