Friday, February 18, 2011

Interview: Brice Woodall

Posted by Sasha

photo: Brittany Diliberto
Originally from Virginia, Brice Woodall arrived in Chicago in 2005 and immediately began putting his own take on indie folktronica all over the map. It's difficult to fit his work into a genre box; his songs are simultaneously digital and lushly organic, accessible and mysterious, playful and dark. He's been called the Thom Yorke of the south and the Andrew Bird of outer space. Radiohead might be his most traceable influence, but there's plenty going on that's uniquely Brice as he combines dreamy electronic atmospheres with surprising melodies and enigmatic lyrics. He just released a fantastic set from the Abbey Road Studio sessions he recorded with his band, The Positrons, and his latest self-released solo record Devil Take You! is now available for purchase on iTunes. His next studio record is currently set for a spring release.

You can catch Brice live for free this Saturday, February 19th at 9:00 p.m. at Leland Tap with Andy B. White and Haywood Yards. In advance of the show, he took the time to chat with us about things like the upcoming record, DIY, YouTube, and 19th century Russian lit. Check out the interview below.

WCR: How long have you been gigging here in Chicago?

Brice Woodall:  I moved to town in '05 and formed a band called Brice Woodall and the Bots in '06 with members of the punk/experimental pop band Grinner. We played at the Midwest Music Summer in the summer of '07 and sort of broke up in the summer of '08 because the dudes moved to Japan and DC, respectively. I've always done the solo thing with drum machines even when I had or have bands. So I guess it started in '05 and it's still going, although I've slowed my pace down because of multiple recordings and jobs making music for documentaries and such. 

I noticed a lot of the songs on your solo demos have been redone with your band The Positrons. How is your process different when you're writing and recording with Bots, Positrons, et al versus when you're solo?

It all starts at home for me with the demos. And the difference in recordings is that I give tons of freedom to the musicians that I play with. If the songs sound different in arrangement on "real studio" recordings then it's because those are parts that each of the musicians wrote themselves. The Positrons are guys that I play with in VA. When we'd tour, I'd fly out to VA and just start from there in a van. The Bots were Chicago dudes that were here when I moved here and that I met through playing solo shows. The writing process has always started at home with me. The songs are done when I introduce them to whatever bands I play with. Then we work out better and cooler arrangements that we're all happy with. I'm never the supreme dictator which is confusing because my name is always in the title, but when I'm with the guys it's always a democracy. 

What kind of gear do you write on? You mentioned drum machines, but I thought I spotted a guitar or two on your tracks.

It used to always start with guitar and vocals and that's probably still how I write 65% of my songs. But when I get maxed out guitar it's good for me to turn to other instruments to stoke the creative fire a bit. But yeah, sometimes it'll be with my 1998 Dr. Groove drum machine, or a Micro Korg synth. And most recently I've added a bass and an electric piano to the home arsenal so now I have tons of options to get it going. The bass has been tons of fun for sure. I suck, but I can fake it when I need to. 

I think I remember reading 'dubstep' once on one of your sites, which isn't a descriptor I usually see in the Chicago indie scene. Do you take a lot from dub? And how do you identify your music, genre-wise?

That has been the hardest question for me over the years. The 'what genre' question. But I'll start with dubstep. I guess I sort of have a history with electronic music in that I started going to raves in the mid-'90s when I was right young. The specific genre of electronic music that first really grabbed me was the UK drum n' bass, and more specifically, LTJ Bukem's crew and label from Good Looking Records. So when I got that first drum machine, what I had in mind was to attempt to mix what I was already doing with acoustic music and the shit I heard at raves. It was gross for a while, for sure. Long story short, dubstep is in the drum n' bass family tree and I naturally gravitated towards that when visiting my favorite record store here, Hardboiled Records. Mark, the owner, is from England and turned me on to it back in '05 when it was still sort of newish here. I don't like getting stuck in genres, but these days I'm digging the Flying Lotus records which has a bit of the Hyperdub influence, but is totally a hybrid of that and soul and anything good musically. So I'm not stuck on dubstep, but I thought that to try to explain my genre then dubstep folk could help get me there. I've fucked around with the words psychedelic and atmospheric but I always get a gag reflex when I have to insert the singer/songwriter tag. I've gotten southern Thom Yorke before. 

I think I've also tagged you as DIY, but I'm not sure how accurate that is. It seems like you do a lot of your own recording, but is that just out of convenience or is there an ethic behind it?

Well, if I don't do it then no one is going to do it for me. So I guess that would make me I.I.D.D.I.T.N.O.I.G.T.D.I.F.M. But yeah, I would rather make flyers myself and record myself because I feel like it's really giving people me. Once it gets into others hands I feel like I'm losing a bit of my art. At least the art that I can say is 100% my own. I love the commune of the band too, but there is something that is truly rewarding when I get to share home recording and make collage flyers and post them and blog them and make iTunes records out of them. Technology fucking rules! 

For sure. Are you currently unsigned?

Yes. I am independent and after my previous experience, which I don't want to slag people on, I'm happier this way. For now. I was signed at one time. 

And it just diluted it too much for you?

I can just do more myself. My pace outpaced 30 people together. The whole thing was slowing me down and I don't have any patience. Angry Brice sucks. I could do more booking, promoting, idea creating, blah blah blah then all of them together.

That's awesome though, that you can be so independently prolific. I know a lot of artists struggle to get stuff down without the studio process, but I definitely think it's the easiest it's ever been to be an independent musician and self-producer.

Yeah. That's one reason that live shows have taken a back seat at the moment. Recording and getting to know my social media options and Youtubing. And tons of writing. Shows can wait. People will like it better, I think. 

Do you think you'll ever lend your skills to other folks for that kind of stuff? Or is it only really rewarding when it's your own work?

Well, I've been lending music and writing music for ad agency documentaries that dudes I know work for and that has lead to commercial writing. For example, writing music for Singapore Airlines or a Middle Eastern bank. Not jingles though. Still my style of music. Interesting. Helps with the bills. 

What kind of world do you write from? Musically and lyrically? I get this sense of innocence from your songs, but there's also something mysterious in there too.

I never really like to do the storytelling thing. Maybe it's a rationalization, but I kind of like throwing out a lot of surreal dream imagery and letting people go with interpretations when I know perfectly well what some of these themes are about. I like expressing guilt and terror and anger and things that I have a hard time dealing with verbally in day to day interactions. But recently I've enjoyed being in 19th century Russia. Murakami and the Russians have been a big influence for sure. 

How did you get into that? And how does it figure into your music?

Reading is regenerating the brain cells I lost during the rave days. I don't know, though. Those guys are just so inspiring and I think the escape helps me get through my days. It envelopes me and I think I feel like it's thievery sometimes when I write and can tell where it's coming from. There it is again! Guilt. Years of church will do that. 

Is it sort of like a translation of the books into music, or is it more that your lyrics come from inside the same world that you enter by reading?

It just makes me think outside more. I like the newspaper too. I don't get how some songwriters are just so hung up on themselves and the wowez-me and all this love song shit. It has its place from time to time, but come on. Transport me! That's what I try and I'm grateful for all of the creativity and perspective of others that influence me. As far as the books and the lyrics, I think I can latch on to a certain situation in a book or an emotion and just sort of exploit it for an interesting subject of my own. Like "Devil Take You!" That's the name of my new download only lo-fi/home recording junxt. It's totally like a way of saying go to hell or fuck off. It's in a lot of the 19th century literature and not just the Russian.

It seems like you enjoy demonstrating your process going into a recording. YouTube and that sort of thing. Is it important to you to be transparent about how you make a record?

Yeah, I don't have any secrets. I just max out my minimal instruments to expand the limits of my arrangements. I'm enjoying Twitter and the Facebook page. Since I'm not doing a ton of live shows now, the YouTubes suffice. It's a way to demo songs, too, and it just happens to be available to the world. If it's horrible I can bring that shit down! 

And you're recording in Brooklyn now, right?

The recording is done. There are like three things to fix in the mixing process and then it's on to mastering and then it's on to vinyl and download. Probably a spring release. I'm getting impatient because it's out of my hands. Like I was saying earlier about shit not being in my total control. 

Why Brooklyn?

Well, originally a lot of those demos were going to be rerecorded in a "real" studio with the Positron crew, but shit fell through. The same day shit fell through, my friends Trevor Bittinger (done tons of my art, and videos) and Mark Lewis (Junxt Studio) told me to just come out there and fuck around since I was so down about it. I knew both and played with both of them in Northern VA and Richmond and they both live in Brooklyn. Shit got more serious once we started and it just became this six-song EP that people will eventually hear. So Devil Take You! just became another release. Basically, I ended up with two albums because of it. The album is performed by Mark Lewis, Trevor Bittinger and myself. Different sound, too. A little less electronica folk. A bit harder in some parts. We utilized the acoustics of the studio for more organic sounds, but I slip in some scatter beats and bleeps. Mark kills it on guitar--murders. 

Awesome. Exciting to hear. Does it have a title yet?

I think Id Escaped. I had a series of sequitur dreams where I was escaping a totalitarian regime with all of that surreal imagery and shit, of course (it's a dream!) and there was espionage and secret taping machines and golden cities and tunnels and I was trying to figure out what or who I was escaping. Probably myself.


Check out more WCR interviews:
The Congregation
Fall Fox
Diamond Rings

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