A conversation about music, career and timeouts with singer Hilary Woods.
I was recently fortunate to have a conversation with Hilary Woods, a talented singer-songwriter whose debut album, Coat, was recently released. We chatted about her sound, her musical inspirations, and the art of songwriting.
Armed with a beautiful voice and songwriting skills capable of deep meaning, Hilary is down to earth and unconcerned with what the music business wants from her. In fact, she walked away from the successful rock band JJ72. She’s now an independent artist who follows the beat of her own rules.
To embrace her music, you embrace Hilary herself. Authentic, extraordinarily talented, and downright cool. Her debut album Coat is an amazing journey.
Andrés: What sparks your creativity?
Hilary: Transience, sub cultures, physicality… everything and anything really.
A: How important is atmosphere and the time of day or night your writing and recording?
H: I think its important, not consciously, but the mind and body have their own rhythms and these things all have an impact on the imagination when it comes to writing or hosting an enclave to record.
A: What was the sentiment behind the songs Inhaler and Prodigal Dog?
H: Claustrophobia and home sickness.
A: Do you have to draw emotions deep within you. Do you have restricted areas that you won’t go to?
H: No restrictions! Not too much excavation was needed on this record, the emotonal terrain was there to begin with to come out.
A: How much of you is revealed in your songs?
H: I think all work is very exposing to a certain degree, of one’s blind spots and preoccupations of a particular space in time.
A: Where did your interest in music come from?
H: Music has always played a huge role in my life, I have been surrounded by music and musicians for as long as I can remember. Writing songs and making my own was what natually came next.
A: What’s one of the most important qualities for a songwriter to have?
A: Does the number of chords in a song direct the development of the melody?
H: No, it doesn’t matter if the song has one chord, it’s what you do with that chord that counts! The beauty of melody is that it can be given free reign.
A: Give me a snapshot of the making of the album: Colt and the EPs Night and Heartbox.
H: Night and Heartbox were both recorded in a band context in various places with an engineer at the helm, whereas
Colt I recorded alone at home effectively. With Colt I brought my own productions of the songs to Berlin to co -producer WIFE (James Kelly) who ended up working on sounds and adding beauty and mixing them.
A: What was the most difficult thing about writing and recording Colt?
H: Exposure, and feeling ok with realising and releasing something very personal out in the world.
A: What kinds of instruments did you use for creating the album’s atmosphere?
H: Gosh loads!! I used various synths, a yamaha piano, put lots of sounds and field recordings through effects. Used first takes of improvised bits of piano in ‘Jesus Said’, loops of snare brushes, layered strings, drum samples, bowed guitar..vibes before chops all the way.
A: What continues to inspire you?
H: Curiousity, wonder, mood, imagery, alchemy, change, risk, courage!
A: What was the most widely-held misconception about you?
H: Possibly something to do with my old band, whatever tired narratives and projections there may have been (if any at all)
A: What was your ambition when you were younger? What is your ambition now?
H: I wanted to be a classical dancer when I was a child. Now, to make good work.
A: What are your memories of the making of the JJ72 album?
The loyality it required. Also being under pressure to get takes down in a certain time frame and not being very happy with certain dynamics within the band, and simultaneouly being excited to see how the band and album grew and working with Ian Caple.
A: What kind of 2000 was it for JJ72 after the song “October Swimmer”? What are your thoughts on that particular track?
H: I have no thoughts other than it was a teenage band of the time that did quite well and that particular track was definitely one that fans wanted to hear live. It was a busy period of gigging every night in a different city around the world. I loved the crew and enjoyed playing bass.
A: Do you have any regrets about that band?
H: Of course, but none that I’d give my energy to now.
A: Is rock music and the industry still pretty masculine and testosterone-driven? Do you worry that the audience won’t realise how rich the songs are, and just notice your looks?
H: Well there is a very long hangover from a deeply and historically misogynistic ‘industry’. I never worry about anything other than creating an environment and finding the resourses to keep working as an artist.
A: What is the thing you love or hate the most about Ireland?
H: I absolutely love the Irish sense of humour, I’m very disillusioned with Ireland’s politcal infrastructure and blatant disregard for people at the lower end of the pay bracket.
A: What’s the biggest obstacle you’ve overcome in your life?
H: I’d say possibly coaxing myself out of deep bouts of depression.
A: What’s the most one can hope for in life?
H: Joy and appreciation. Right here, right now.
A: How would you like to be remembered?
H: I’ll have to get bk to you on that one, but would certainly like to aspire to work that lives on and has a life of its own.
A: Finally, thank you for making such inspirational music.
H: Thanks Andrés!