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

PLAYLIST: St. Patrick’s Day 2020

We began drafting this St. Patrick’s Day Playlist before we were fully aware of the extent of the coronavirus pandemic in Ireland, and before the Irish government called for the mass closure of pubs and clubs, thus removing any chance to publicly celebrate on the 17th. We debated whether it was appropriate to mention St. Patrick’s Day at all – especially after the numerous gig & parade cancellations both in Ireland and here in London – but seeing the resilience of our Irish friends and musicians on social media motivated us in to completing it.

We all need a distraction during these uncertain times, so dive in to our St. Patrick’s Day playlist! You’re going to find a new favourite artist among our choices. We’ve included links to each artist’s social media, Spotify and/or Bandcamp accounts, and we urge you to stream or purchase their music if you have the funds to do so. Make sure you scroll all the way down for the playlist, and for a note about our allies at the end too…

Æ MAK – ‘Dancing Bug’ (Spotify)
A solid fan of Æ MAK otherwise known as Aoife McCann, I’ve followed her since the beginning of 2019, fresh off her recent support of both tUnE-yArDs and Warpaint. ‘Dancing Bug’ is her latest offering which speaks to her chaotic electronic beats and primitive vocal rhythms. (Tash Walker)

Cosha – ‘Do You Wanna Dance’ (Spotify)
A previous favourite of mine known as Bonzai, who released an old favourite of mine Where Are U Now, came back in 2018 under the name Cosha, teaming up with producer Rostam for this single. I’ve been keeping my ears and eyes peeled for their new music ever since. (TW)

New Pagans – ‘Admire’ (Spotify & bandcamp)
Filled with urgent, considered, intensely catchy songs that challenge the norms surrounding relationships, history, and gender; New Pagans‘ debut EP Glacial Erratic is a powerful blend of alternative sounds. The Belfast band take the best elements of post-punk, grunge, and indie rock and transform them in to abrasive, yet melodic noise. ‘Admire’ is my favourite track from the EP. (Kate Crudgington)

HAVVK – ’52’ (Spotify)
HAVVK have been long term favourites here at GIHE; a band who continually combine activism with their unique musical prowess, their exquisite, spine-tingling splendour resonates now more than ever. Although written about the extreme political dynamics in the run up to the Brexit vote in 2017, their track ‘52’ remains a poignant soundscape with all that’s happening in the world right now. Oozing a stark, stirring emotion, alongside the soaring, celestial splendour and gritty raw emotion of front woman Julie’s vocals, it’s filled with a glistening musicality juxtaposed with a frenzied, angst-driven climax. (Mari Lane)

The Cranberries – ‘Ode To My Family’
I couldn’t really not include The Cranberries on an Irish playlist. With the heartbreaking crystalline vocals of the late Dolores O’Riordan alongside a delicate twinkling musicality, each of their offerings sends shivers down my spine every time. I’ve chosen this particular track as, during these extremely troubling and anxiety-inducing times, I’d like to give an ode to MY family, and all loved ones – we need each other now more than ever, even if for some us it means not being able to physically see one another right now. Solidarity and good vibes to you all; we can get through this together. (ML)

REWS – ‘Monsters’ (Spotify)
I never fail to be impressed by the power of Shauna Tohill’s vocals, and they’re out in force again on this new REWS track. ‘Monsters’ is an aural challenge to self-doubt, and a bit of fiery pop-rock encouragement to persevere in the face of anxiety. (KC)

Vulpynes – ‘2 Cents’ (Spotify)
Propelled by the gritty, impassioned vocals of guitarist Molly, ‘2 Cents’ rages with a seething energy and sublime raw power as scuzzy punk-fuelled riffs are blasted out alongside intense pummelling beats. Reminiscent of the riotous force of the likes of L7 or The Distillers, it’s a storming, empowering offering from my favourite Irish duo. We’re sad that we’re no longer able to host Vulpynes at The Finsbury on 3rd April, but we do hope to reschedule the gig for as soon as possible! (ML)

Bitch Falcon – ‘Prime Number’ (Spotify & bandcamp)
Mari booked Dubliners Bitch Falcon the penultimate act for one of our GIHE gigs at The Finsbury a few years ago, and I was totally blown away by their live set. Such a raw, powerful sound. ‘Prime Number’ is a personal favourite, but I’d recommend listening to their latest single ‘Damp Breath’ too. (KC)

Party Fears – ‘Money’ (Spotify & bandcamp)
Party Fears are based in Berlin, but Maggie Devlin is originally from Northern Ireland. The band have been consistent favourites at GIHE since Mari first gave them a spin on our Hoxton Radio show, and this track ‘Money’ is one of my favourites. Keep your eyes peeled for their new single ‘All Is Good’, set for release on 27th March. (KC)

PowPig – ‘Pretty Woman’ (Spotify & bandcamp)
PowPig are Irish DIY at its best, I was totally blown away when I found out that they were still at school. ‘Pretty Woman’ and ‘Mayday’ are their most recent releases jam packed with indie harmonies and grizzly guitars. Loving it. Here’s to hearing more from them in the future. (TW)

Hilary Woods – ‘Orange Tree’ (Spotify & bandcamp)
Dublin-based Hilary Woods creates abrasive, primal, charged soundscapes that blur industrial and orchestral elements. She uses sound and image to navigate emotional territories, and I feel intensely comforted when I listen to her music (I also cry to it sometimes, but that’s okay too). “My body knows I can’t make it out” sings Hilary Woods on ‘Orange Tree’, tentatively trying to make peace with her physicality and her surroundings. This need to face her inner fears underscores her latest record, Birthmarks, which is an unsettling, but genuinely liberating listen. (KC)

Fears – ‘Blood’ (Spotify)
Fears is the moniker of London-based, Irish musician Constance Keane. I first heard her music while listening to The Irish Jam, and I’ve tried to keep tabs on her ever since. I love her dark, minimal electronic sounds. Definitely a bit of me. (KC)

SOAK – ‘Bloodbuzz Ohio’ (Spotify)
I came across SOAK last year when she released her sophmore album Grim Town, which is most definitely worth a listen. This however is SOAK’s cover of The National’s ‘Bloodbuzz Ohio’, tender and gentle and a pleasingly fresh rendition. (TW)

Aoife Nessa Frances – ‘Here In The Dark’ (Spotify & bandcamp)
‘Here in the Dark’ is taken from the very enjoyable debut Land of No Junction by Aoife Nessa Frances. Her voice evokes so much emotion, you’ll soon find yourself falling into the songs reflective melodic musings. (TW)

Maria Kelly – ‘july’ (Spotify)
Alt-folk artist Maria Kelly’s ‘july’ looks inward, exploring the idea that we are ultimately in control of how we feel, and must take responsibility for what we choose to dwell on. Another truly beautiful offering from the Irish songwriter, it flows with her silky smooth, emotion strewn vocals and a stirring, bewitching musicality. Oozing a heartbreaking sense of vulnerability, it sparkles with a mystical grandeur, creating something truly mesmerising. (ML)

Rosie Carney – ‘Bud (Rose)’ (Spotify)
This is the last track to close Rosie Carney’s album Bare. ‘Bud (Rose)’ is a beautiful instrumental which mixes birdsong with piano. The piano is one of my favourite instruments to hear on record especially when it is played with such tenderness, as it is here. (TW)

B*witched – ‘C’est La Vie’
One of the first cassette singles I bought, when I was about twelve, I just wanted to include this one from the Irish girl group to put a smile on our faces – so, turn up it up, sing along and try to forget about everything for three sweet minutes! (ML)

 

We’d also like to give a shout out to GIHE allies, and Irish born London-based musicians Niall Jackson and Matthew Sutton. Niall co-hosts The Irish Jam (along with Mel, Kealan & Rob) on Riverside Radio, which celebrates Irish music. Kate often contributes to their ‘New Music Sunday’ section.

Matthew fronts his own outfit called TAYNE, and is currently creating new music with his tattoo machine equipment. They both play together in Sweat Threats too. Both are trying to stay creative in a time of uncertainty, so if you can stream/purchase their music or merch, it would be greatly appreciated. (TAYNE bandcamp here. Niall ‘Swimmers’ Jackson bandcamp here).

ALBUM: Hilary Woods – ‘Birthmarks’

Both an aural purge of insecurities and a powerful exploration of self-autonomy; Hilary Woods‘ second album Birthmarks is darker and sharper in sound compared to her debut album, Colt. Set for release on 13th March via Sacred Bones, the Irish musician has collaborated with Norwegian experimental noise producer & filmmaker Lasse Marhaug, and together they’ve crafted a new set of cohesive, shadowy soundscapes that smolder with quiet intensity.

Written & recorded over the course of two years between Galway and Oslo whilst Woods was heavily pregnant, Birthmarks feels like her most personal and powerful record to date. Inspired by field recordings, the images from post-war Japanese & wet-plate photography, and the secret life of trees; Woods’ far-reaching influences are what make her art so transcendent.

Opener ‘Tongues Of Wild Boar’ is a foggy, captivating exploration of intense discomfort. From its scratchy dense opening, to its gentle blend of orchestral and electronic elements; it’s a primal, intuitive track that scars and soothes in equal measure. “My body knows I can’t make it out” Woods sings on ‘Orange Tree’, tentatively trying to make peace with her physicality and her surroundings. This need to face her inner fears underscores the record, making it an unsettling, but genuinely liberating listen.

The tender ‘Through The Dark, Love’ feels like an intuitive guide through an ambiguous, tumultuous relationship, whilst the sparse instrumentation and the rhythmic humming on ‘Lay Bare’ feels intensely comforting. Woods’ songs have a confessional, meditative nature; ranging from gentle to gritty all within a few short seconds. ‘Mud and Stones’ is much like this; with its stretched out saxophone sounds, changing tempo, and whispered lyrics.

‘The Mouth’ is one of the boldest tracks on the album. A fleshy, twisted lullaby about personal hesitation; it’s a somber yet powerful listen, laced with melancholy strings, saxophone, and distorted drone noises. Though fueled by uncertainty, it’s a carefully constructed song that provides space for healing and acceptance. The denseness of ‘Cleansing Ritual’ is unexpectedly soothing too. Purely instrumental, its layers of drone noises and distortion could cauterize the deepest of wounds. The eerie, persistent tapping of one key alongside Woods’ hushed voice on ‘There Is No Moon’ could feel desolate, but instead it feels restless; as if she is keeping herself awake with the urgency of that repeated note.

Though quiet in terms of volume, Birthmarks is an abrasive, primal, charged offering that allows Woods the space to navigate emotional territories, and proves her strength and resilience as an artist.

Pre-order Hilary Woods’ new album Birthmarks here (released 13th March via Sacred Bones)
Follow her on Facebook for more updates.

Photo Credit: Joshua Wright 

Kate Crudgington
@KCBobCut

LISTEN: Hilary Woods – ‘The Mouth’

A fleshy, twisted lullaby about personal hesitation; Hilary Woods has shared her latest single, ‘The Mouth’. Taken from her second album Birthmarks, which is set for release on 13th March via Sacred Bones, the track is a somber yet powerful listen; laced with strings, saxophone, and distorted drone noises.

Speaking about the track, Woods explains: “The impulse to write ‘The Mouth’ came from a longing to articulate feelings aloud that I failed to express til the moment had passed.” Though fueled by uncertainty and doubt, ‘The Mouth’ is one of Woods’ boldest, most confident tracks. It’s a dense, layered, carefully constructed soundscape that provides space for healing and acceptance.

Written & recorded over the course of two years between Galway and Oslo whilst Woods was heavily pregnant, Birthmarks looks set to be her most personal and powerful record to date. Inspired by the works of Norwegian experimental noise producer & filmmaker Lasse Marhaug, the images from post-war Japanese and wet-plate photography, to the secret life of trees; Woods’ far-reaching influences are what make her art so mesmerising and transcendent.

Listen to ‘The Mouth’ below, and follow Hilary Woods on Facebook & Spotify for more updates. Catch her live at Cafe Oto, London, on 18th May

Photo credit: Joshua Wright

Kate Crudgington
@KCBobCut