INTERVIEW: Hilary Woods

A creator of fleshy, poignant, industrial-orchestral sounds; Irish artist Hilary Woods has been a firm favourite at GIHE since the release of her debut album Colt in 2018. Her most recent album Birthmarks is equally as captivating, and we wanted to find out more about what inspired Woods to create it. Read below to discover her processes, her vision, and her favourite track from the record…

Congratulations on releasing your second album Birthmarks earlier this month. What are you most proud of about this record? Do you have a favourite track?

Ah, thank you. I’m most proud of the process from which this record was made. I think ‘Tongues of Wild Boar’ is my favourite track. I love the drum processing and the presence and character of Okkyung’s cello playing, and I enjoyed exploring, layering and recording a lot of bass analogue synths for this one. It was a sensorial process. I recorded this song many times since its inception many moons ago, and I like where it has journeyed to in sound and feel.

You collaborated with Norwegian experimental noise producer & filmmaker Lasse Marhaug when you were recording the album. Talk us through how you worked together to create Birthmarks‘ dark, shadowy sounds.

Myself and Lasse spoke of the colour palette, atmospherics and the nervous system of the record from the outset. We were both interested in creating textures and what ways we could record and use different instrumentation to achieve such sounds. Saxophone plays an important role on the record, not so much because of what saxophone lines I wrote, but more to do with how Dag plays those parts and how we wanted his breath work through saxophone to be woven into the mix. Field recording, drone and noise all helped create the sound world of the record too. I recorded a lot of the synths, piano, electronics at home in my lil studio, and whilst I was with Lasse working at his studio in Oslo, we recorded guitar parts and some vocals together. Lasse would process a lot of what I had already recorded at home, he recorded cello with contact mics, Kyrre Laastad recorded imaginative textural percussion, and we went from there.

You wrote the album over the course of two years, and whilst heavily pregnant, which is impressive in itself. On your record, there are themes of growth, germination, and feeling either detached or attached to one’s body. Without sounding too invasive, do you think you were more aware of these feelings during your pregnancy? Did it influence your writing in any unexpected way?

I actually wrote this record before I got pregnant. I also had the title Birthmarks decided upon from the get go, which is a little uncanny but true. However, I recorded the album whilst heavily pregnant in the Autumn of 2019. So the writing of this record really was never consciously in a direct way influenced by physical pregnancy, although it was certainly very much focused on themes of self-hood, gestational growth, the birthing of one’s self and processes of becoming. I wanted to write a record that was of the body, one that registered in and with the body, a more physical record than my previous work.

Your visuals and artwork beautifully accompany the music you’ve created. Talk us through how you put these together – from your photographs and videos with Josh Wright, to the album’s artwork…

I feel as both a music and visual artist, my work in both disciplines is very intertwined. I think visually, and when it comes to making videos and artwork there is an ease there, I enjoy that side of things, it comes naturally. The visual ideas arise from within, almost simultaneously sometimes to the writing of the songs themselves. The artwork and videos are for me an innate and important part of the album; although the LP stands alone and is separate in form, I feel the visuals come from the same place. In terms of making videos, I always make and direct my own as opposed to outsourcing them to another filmmaker as an extra thing to do to tailgate the main thrust of the project, if you know what I mean! Josh and I have been working together for a long time, and there is a beautiful communicative short hand there with Josh working the camera, which is cool. He’s also a dab hand at software that I find frustrating and we are friends – which always helps particularly when a video requires us to spend so much time together editing and grading etc. Re the album artwork; the front cover photo of me was taken by friend Emma Martin. It seemed apt to have a picture of my pregnancy on the cover. It’s a strong image and embodies metaphorically what the album addresses; birth, rebirth, hidden growth, unknowing, making redundant the old and a dawning of the new. It is also an image that communicates that this record is heavier and more physical than its predecessor.

Birthmarks is noticeably heavier in sound compared to Colt, but are there elements you feel are similar to your first record?

Yes. At the end of the day I initiate writing melody on the piano or guitar. I also work within my own limitations vocally, as a musician and work with whatever resources I have around me. So there are those similarities. Also, lyrically I have my own patterns with which I lean in to, and I think there are similarities in that regard between Colt and Birthmarks for sure. Overall however, I feel the big difference between the two albums besides the latter being far more sonic and a lot heavier, is that Colt is more a collection of songs, whereas Birthmarks was intended as a piece to be received as a whole, a journey to be listened to from beginning to end in one sitting.

You’re signed to Sacred Bones, along with some of our favourite artists (Zola Jesus, Blanck Mass). They released a compilation album on Bandcamp – I Fall In Love With The Light – to help their artists make a profit during this uncertain time. Your track ‘Mouth To Mouth’ features on it. Talk us through why you chose to include this track.

The label suggested that ‘Mouth to Mouth’ go on the compilation. I’m a fan of the distortion and the mix that Lasse did with it, so on it went!

Thanks to Hilary for answering our questions. You can buy her latest album Birthmarks here. Follow her on Facebook & Spotify for more updates.

Photo Credit: Joshua Wright

LIVE: Hilary Woods – St Pancras Old Church, London 11.06.18

Bitter sweet and deeply affecting; Hilary Woods‘ performance at St. Pancras Old Church provided a startling new insight in to the multi-instrumentalist’s debut record Colt, released via Sacred Bones on 8th June.

Stood behind her keyboard, Woods performed solo for most of her set, with only projected visuals and a violinist to accompany her on a handful of tracks. Her achingly pure voice floated crystal clear across the heads of her congregation, who sat listening in attentive, respectful silence.

Woods’ solo work is far removed from the alternative 90s sounds she helped to create as a member of JJ72. She’s clearly invested a painstaking amount of time and energy in assembling her new album, and the two EPs that preceded it: Night (2014) and Heartbox (2016). Perhaps that’s why she was so nervous performing – something she didn’t admit until the penultimate track – but she had no grounds to be on edge, as her recent singles ‘Inhaler’, ‘Prodigal Dog’ and ‘Black Rainbow’ were all mesmerising, even in their stripped back states.

Footage from her recent videos played out across the back wall of the Church, as Woods performed stunning renditions of Colt tracks ‘Take Him In’, ‘Kith’ and ‘Limbs’ – with the latter standing out due to Woods’ clear, measured vocal delivery. Switching between keys and guitar with ease for specific songs, Woods’ performance style was quiet and introspective; but its impact was one of powerful, all encompassing melancholy.

Whilst Colt is an album about grief, loss and abandonment; we left St Pancras Old Church awash with raw and unexpected emotion, feeling like we’d gained rather than lost something from Woods’ performance (and that’s not just because we bought Colt on vinyl).

Support came from Ben Vine, whose piercing saxophone sounds and loops were an immersive experience not suited to all tastes; but his performance was one you won’t forget in a hurry.

Photo Credit: Joshua Wright

Kate Crudgington
@KCBobCut

ALBUM: Hilary Woods – ‘Colt’

A contemplative, carefully crafted record which schools listeners in how to come undone: Hilary Woods‘ debut album Colt is an exquisitely painful exploration of grief, separation, and abandonment. The Dublin-based artist signed to altruistic label Sacred Bones to release her first full-length record, and the partnership is one we wholly approve of.

Written and recorded at her home in Dublin, Colt was later mixed by and co-produced with James Kelly (WIFE, Altar of Plagues) in Berlin in the winter of 2017. The dynamics of the production and Woods’ layering of multiple elements – including piano, synth, tape machine, field recordings, vocals, and old string instruments – has culminated in a record which comfortably overlaps both the acoustic and electronic genres.

Opening track ‘Inhaler’ is a delicate example of this. It’s a pensive, melancholy song born from Woods’ struggle with homesickness. She explores her grief through tentative electronics and orchestral sounds, with her mysterious vocals floating calmly above. Following track ‘Prodigal Dog’ is a mesmeric examination of emotional claustrophobia: a disarming fusion of strings, understated synths, and hushed vocals.

There is a gentle urgency that permeates each of the eight tracks on Colt, and on ‘Take Him In’ Woods’ reflective lyrics and cautious keys instill this delicate unease further. Poetic track ‘Kith’ bleeds in after, with it’s divine, yet somber themes of “running on empty” in what feels like emotional purgatory. The persistent, steady beats and fluttering keys on the remarkable ‘Jesus Said’ mark a brief change in tempo on the record, as Woods laments a sincere disconnection and a search for absolution for almost six minutes. ‘Sever’ is equally as affecting with its heartbeat-like percussion, and more of Woods’ measured, poignant vocals.

Penultimate track ‘Black Rainbow’ though bleakly named, is an enchanting listen, and closing track ‘Limbs’ is a captivating collection of distant, alluring keys. Under all of the melancholy lurks a quiet power: a power that comes from being open and honest about genuine pain and how to deal with it.

To call Hilary Woods’ work on Colt siren-like is to do her a disservice; her music has a far wider, more disarming reach. Her emotional articulation and manipulation of sounds makes the record a dizzying but rewarding lesson, and we are grateful to have been allowed to endure this aural exploration of grief with her.

Colt is released via Sacred Bones on 8th June. Pre-order your copy here.
Hilary Woods headlines St Pancras Old Church on 11th June. Grab a ticket here.

Photo Credit: Joshua Wright

Kate Crugington
@KCBobCut

INTERVIEW: Hilary Woods

When news reached our ears that Dublin-based artist Hilary Woods had signed to Sacred Bones – a label which hosts our favourites Zola Jesus, Jenny Hval and The Soft Moon – our excitement for her debut album, Colt, gave us palpitations. Both Woods (formerly a member of JJ72) and Sacred Bones have a reputation for releasing altruistic sounds, so the pairing felt like a divine meeting of musical talent and opportunity.

Hyperbole aside, it’s clear from singles ‘Inhaler’ and ‘Prodigal Dog’ that Hilary Woods’ debut LP is going to be an exquisite, but painful listen. Soaked in stark, minimalist, ambient electronic sounds that explore feelings surrounding grief & abandonment, her melancholic music is the perfect fit for venues like St. Pancras Old Church, which she headlines on 11th June (tickets available here).

We caught up with the artist to talk about her anticipations for this show, her multi-disciplinary creativity, and what went in to the making of her debut album…

Hello Hilary! You’ve released your latest single ‘Prodigal Dog’ from your upcoming album Colt. Can you tell us a little bit about what went in to the making of this track, and why you chose to release it as a single?

I made the album without thinking of singles, pretty naïve really! But I think when ‘Prodigal Dog’ was suggested as a single, it made sense. This was the first track I recorded in the record making process, bringing it to James we spent a lot of time on drum sounds and enjoyed layering vocals.

Your debut album has been described as “an intensely personal journey through grief, abandonment, and mutating love”. How did you manage to translate these emotions in to lyrics and music? Do you have a particular process when it comes to song-writing that you follow, or is it a more chaotic affair?

I’d say both, usually songs either arise after a lot of playing around and experimenting, or they just appear like a bolt. I think emotions and feeling are translated in any given process whether subconsciously or consciously.

You recently signed to Sacred Bones to release your debut album. What is it about the record label in particular that drew you in? They’re on the ball when it comes to modern electronic music. Zola Jesus, Jenny Hval & The Soft Moon in particular are our favourites (and you of course)…

Thank you! I love their aesthetic, integrity and taste, that’s what drew me in, I’m a fan of many of my label mates.

You were a film, literature and fine-art student back in Dublin. Your music is intensely cinematic and your visuals are highly ornate: did studying a variety of subjects help you to develop your own sound and style easier than if you’d simply chosen to study one specific thing? Would you recommend a multi-disciplinary approach to other creatives?

I don’t know if I’d recommend anything! Everyone is on their own trajectory. In my case I was curious. I liked getting my hands dirty and the physicality of painting. Re studies: I went to college to get out of the house, literally. I needed some structure at that point in my life and I was lucky enough to be awarded some funding to go. It was all a bonus then to be super excited by what I encountered and be inspired by the material I was reading and seeing.

You described Colt as a way to “explore aloneness”, which is particularly poignant as many people use music to escape this feeling. What artists or bands do you listen to when you want to feel less alone?

Gosh, I think a good definition of a good film is one which makes you feel less alone, Music wise: I genuinely don’t have one specific answer to that, anything from Sybille Baier to Jlin to Father John Misty and beyond.

You have two upcoming London shows: St Pancras Old Church on June 11th, and Southbank’s Meltdown Festival with Moon Duo on 20th June. What are you anticipating from these gigs?

I’m looking forward to them, they’ll be intimate and atmospheric.

Finally, you’ll be playing at The Sugar Club in Dublin on 14th September. It’s a hometown show, so are you anticipating something extra special from the night?

It’s always different playing at home, feels more vulnerable if anything. It’s a beautiful space with the best of promoters and a great PA and some good friends helping out. I have some plans for it, it’ll definitely be a special one for me.

Huge thanks to Hilary for answering our questions.
Colt is released via Sacred Bones on 8th June. Pre-order your copy here.

Photo Credit: Joshua Wright

Kate Crudgington
@KCBobCut

Track Of The Day: Hilary Woods – ‘Prodigal Dog’

A mesmeric, gentle exploration of emotional claustrophobia: Hilary Woods‘ new single ‘Prodigal Dog’ is a disarming fusion of orchestral strings, understated synths, and hushed vocals. It’s the second track she’s shared from her upcoming debut album Colt, which is set to be released through the inimitable Sacred Bones on 8th June.

Based in Dublin, the multi-talented artist has released a monochrome video to accompany ‘Prodigal Dog’. Speaking of the visuals, Woods said: “I set out to make a video that was slightly claustrophobic, cyclical, predominantly black in colour, one that traced the internal feeling from where the song was written.” It’s this tender, seemingly uncomfortable context that makes the footage such a captivating watch.

Woods has described the songs on her debut album Colt as “a way to process and make sense of the everyday. A means to speak with inner voices, explore aloneness, and understand the complexities of desire.” With this in mind, we can’t wait to listen to the record, and to hear her exquisite pain live at St. Pancras Church on 11th June.

Watch the video for ‘Prodigal Dog’ below and follow Hilary Woods on Facebook for more updates.

Pre-order your copy of Colt from Sacred Bones here.

Hilary Woods UK 2018 Live Dates 
11th June – St Pancras Church, London UK
20th June – Meltdown Festival, London UK w/ Moon Duo
14th Sept – The Sugar Club, Dublin IRL

Photo credit: Joshua Wright

Kate Crudgington
@KCBobCut

Track Of The Day: Hilary Woods – ‘Inhaler’

Dublin-based musician & performance artist Hilary Woods has shared ‘Inhaler’, the first single from her upcoming debut solo album Colt, which is set to be released via Sacred Bones Records on 8th June. It’s a pensive, delicate, melancholy track about her struggles with homesickness.

Speaking about ‘Inhaler’, Hilary says it’s “a response to a relenting absence that was constantly present. It’s a song about homesickness, longing; an attempt to find new ways of being in the wake of separation.” She explores these emotions through electronic and classical sounds, with her tentative, mysterious vocals floating calmly above these elements.

Woods directed the accompanying music video herself, working alongside cinematographer and long-time collaborator Joshua Wright, and dancer/choreographer Justine Cooper. With her multi-talented approach to creating art, and extensive musical experience playing as a member of JJ72, Hilary Woods should be on your eclectic radar.

Watch the video for ‘Inhaler’ below, and follow Hilary on Facebook for more updates.

Pre-order your copy of Colt here.

Kate Crudgington
@KCBobCut