‘I’m far more cre­ative ar­tis­ti­cally as a mother’

Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - CULTURE -

Hi­lary Woods comes to the in­ter­view prof­fer­ing a gift. It’s a vinyl copy of her al­bum, Colt, and it’s the way she likes mu­sic to be heard. The Dubliner re­leased the al­bum at the be­gin­ning of June and it has at­tracted sev­eral eu­phoric re­views, in­clud­ing one from this writer who mused that it could win next year’s Choice Mu­sic Prize.

Woods says she finds all the sweet words sat­is­fy­ing, be­cause she put her heart and soul into the mu­sic and she felt she had some­thing worth­while to say.

“It was a labour of love,” she says. “I played ev­ery in­stru­ment on this al­bum and pro­duced it, too, [al­though she did work to­wards the fi­nal stages of the record­ing with the Ber­lin-based Ir­ish pro­ducer James Kelly] and I made it ex­actly as I wanted to. The only per­son I was an­swer­able to was my­self.”

And that’s the way she likes it, es­pe­cially as her early years in mu­sic were within the con­fines of a band. And it was no or­di­nary band: Woods joined JJ72 while still at school and the trio en­joyed con­sid­er­able suc­cess. Their de­but al­bum sold more than half a mil­lion copies and she got to play in far-flung cor­ners of the globe.

The mu­sic on Colt could hardly be more dif­fer­ent to the alt-rock prof­fered by JJ72. It’s sparse and haunt­ing and has drawn com­par­isons to singers like Julee Cruise and Marissa Nadler. It’s the kind of mu­sic that steals up on you and makes you feel as though you need to lis­ten to the al­bum again and again.

Colt ful­fils the prom­ise of a bunch of EPs that she re­leased a cou­ple of years ago, and it ex­ceeds ex­pec­ta­tions. Partly as a re­sult of her sign­ing to the cult US in­die la­bel Sa­cred Bones, she has been get­ting all man­ner of pos­i­tive no­tices over­seas.

“It was made in Dublin, in my home,” she says. “I feel lucky to be mak­ing mu­sic in a time where it’s pos­si­ble to record songs so well.” She notes that 20 or 30 years ago, the busi­ness of record­ing and re­leas­ing mu­sic was far more com­pli­cated — and ex­pen­sive.

And, she should know. Pro­duc­tion soft­ware wasn’t nearly as re­fined in the late 1990s, when JJ72 were at large, as it is to­day. Woods has lit­tle in­ter­est in talk­ing about her old band to­day. It’s not that she finds the sub­ject awk­ward, it’s more that she feels it is some­thing that hap­pened in the dis­tant past and she’s so much older now. “It’s a life­time ago,” she tells me. “It’s like be­ing in a re­la­tion­ship in your teens and early 20s, but when you’re in your late 30s, you don’t think about it any­more.”

She doesn’t lis­ten to the mu­sic the band made back then, but if one of their songs come on the ra­dio, she doesn’t move the dial. “I’m not em­bar­rassed about it at all,” she says, “but it’s a dif­fer­ent stage of your life and it’s dif­fer­ent mu­sic so it doesn’t have much rel­e­vance any more.”

It wasn’t the sort of mu­sic she nec­es­sar­ily wanted to make ei­ther, but that’s the com­pro­mise that peo­ple make when they join bands. As bassist, she was al­ways go­ing to play sec­ond fid­dle to front­man Mark Gre­aney’s vi­sion.

When she spoke to Sa­cred Bones about the pos­si­bil­ity of sign­ing with them, she never men­tioned her old band. And, she says, they only found out about JJ72 two months ago. It seems odd, as a rou­tine Google search would un­cover the con­nec­tion, but Woods in­sists the la­bel were only in­ter­ested in her cur­rent work.

And, she says, they’ve given her carte blanche on all cre­ative de­ci­sions. So a photo that she took adorns the cover and it’s her choice to play spo­radic dates in sup­port of the al­bum, in­clud­ing a night at Dublin’s Su­gar Club and a num­ber of care­fully cho­sen dates in Amer­ica this Septem­ber.

“I want to chose the shows care­fully,” she says, “rather than just take any op­por­tu­nity that comes my way.”

Woods cer­tainly has lit­tle time in the sort of fran­tic tour­ing sched­ule that was part of her life in the JJ72 days.

“No,” she says, with a smile. “I don’t miss those days at all. When my daugh­ter was born, ev­ery­thing changed. I was 23 when I had her and I loved be­ing a mother. It changes you, but it doesn’t mean you have to give up the things that drive you — and for me those things are mu­sic and art.”

Woods says she dis­likes the idea that some be­lieve that par­ents should post­pone or re­lin­quish their pas­sions when they have chil­dren. “It’s a strange at­ti­tude in so­ci­ety, but why should it be that way? I think I’m far more cre­ative ar­tis­ti­cally as a mother than I was be­fore I had a child.”

The next day, af­ter gath­er­ing her thoughts, she emails Re­view to clar­ify this point fur­ther: “I feel it is very im­por­tant not just for women in mu­sic but for every­one to free them­selves of other peo­ple’s nar­ra­tives and pro­jec­tions.

“In the mak­ing of Colt I sim­ply just went ahead and made what I felt I wanted to make as an artist, par­tic­u­larly con­sid­er­ing that I never stopped play­ing mu­sic or mak­ing art, al­beit go­ing about it in a far qui­eter fash­ion up to this point.”

Woods is fa­mil­iar with the dif­fi­cul­ties of mak­ing mu­sic full-time but says she lives a fru­gal life­style.

“You couldn’t do this,” she says, “if you were mo­ti­vated by money — and I don’t know any mu­si­cians who are. It’s some­thing that’s in­side you and you want to ex­press your­self. I mean, these songs” — she points to the vinyl copy of her al­bum on the ta­ble be­tween us — “they just had to come out. I had to record and re­lease them.”

Her al­bum is avail­able on the stream­ing sites and she feels there’s lit­tle point on not putting her mu­sic out there. Af­ter all, there’s a chance that she will reach a far wider au­di­ence than if she in­sisted on mak­ing the al­bum avail­able for sale only.

But it’s a co­nun­drum that she and like-minded artists have to wres­tle with. “I feel mu­si­cians as a whole feel tied and cor­nered in that re­spect,” she says. “If our mu­sic isn’t on plat­forms like Spo­tify and so on, the work has far less chance of reach­ing any kind of lis­ten­er­ship, and then of course if it is, you feel com­pro­mised.”

Some­times be­ing a small artist on Spo­tify feels like be­ing a prover­bial nee­dle in a haystack. But there’s gold to be found amid the dross and you just know that, wher­ever they may be, un­sus­pect­ing stream­ers are go­ing to stum­ble upon Colt and it will move them.

Colt is out now. Hi­lary Woods plays the Su­gar Club, Dublin, on Septem­ber 14

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