Get to Know Woodes [Interview]

Emma Neveux

The Melbourne-based artist Elle Graham, also known as Woodes, has found both escapism and inspiration in the world of fantasy since her childhood. She grew up in the rainforests of Far North Queensland, which provided a dreamy and idyllic background. Throughout her life, Woodes has immersed herself in sci-fi and fantasy films, drawing on their soundtracks and visuals to shape her diverse musical project. During an interview, I got the chance to better understand her world which blends music, fashion and tech simultaneously.

After creating her own Minecraft world for her fans, you’ll get to discover in more depth, her creative process and aspirations for her soon to be released next projects. 

It’s been 3 years since the release of your first album, Crystal Ball. How have your projects and your life evolved since then?

Well I guess I released my debut album in pre-pandemic times in Melbourne, so I had to do the whole release online. We didn't get to play it live or do anything outside of our houses, so it feels like a lot has changed since then. I spent all of last year (2022) working on new music, which became Kingdom Come – this EP. It was really important I think after time spent indoors, and you know, considering what you’ve been needing from missing from it, it made me really appreciate the community and also being on the right with my friends, to travel and sort of process experiences through music was just so important to me. So yeah, last year I spent a lot of time just writing and working with my friends without sort of showing many people. I was so grateful for finding a home for music with Nettwerk Group, which I signed with them last year. And moving to the states, also doing a lot of moving last year, the upheaval of life and finding solid ground again has been really important. 

So a lot more work after a lot more work, which is great!

Yeah like I never really stopped writing, but I think there was a period where it was kind of like, your writing has a form of processing a lot of things going on and you’re not sure what you want to release or what the next chapter is, or what that should look like when you’ve just gone through this complicated campaign of not being able to tour or do the best part of the job. It’s very much like rebuilding again, and in that time I’ve been self-managed and sort of funded it all myself. So it was very much believing in yourself through that period, and being like okay I still want to do it, and I want to give myself the space to just explore it and have fun with it as opposed to being just a job. 

You’ve made a name for yourself thanks to your craft to create lush and hypnotic singles that showcase your whimsical singing abilities, but I know that you’re also a percussionist and a multi-instrumentalist, and you do all the production for your music. Can you tell me a little bit more about your creative process and how everything blends in together for you?

Yeah, I work as a producer as well. So I’ve been working with one of my best friends, we really co-produced it together. Which I think is cool when you find this creative partnership, where there aren’t that many times in the studio where there are wrong decisions. It just keeps on flowing off improvisation and it’s nice when you find your people. As a producer, as a songwriter, as a multi-instrumentalist, you feel very welcome and supported in the studio as opposed to being such specific roles, you can kind of just swap in and out. That was really important for me. I guess being a multi-instrumentalist means that you have pianos at some point, percussions… For "Kingdom Come," the title track, we ended up taking this type of dry flower that we found in our AirBnB, and we ended up just brushing it and turning it into a pattern, it's very playful. My productions have always been quite experimental and when you work with one of your best friends, there’s never really a bad idea. 

It clearly sounds like you’re having a lot of fun rather than approaching it as just work, and the idea of fantasy has been a recurring theme in your projects as well as in your image as an artist, which really sets you apart from other artists: can you discuss more in depth about this Sci-fi influence? 

I got into production through the love of soundtracks and just sort of like the compilations of soundtracks. Just music accompanying images, or anything beyond a music video. I really love the idea that some artists are really passionate about world building. I think that for Woodes, it is this multi dimensional project where you get to do things like styling, help co-direct things, you get to go find locations and put Woodes in those different places. For me, it’s also such a joy as the realtor of it, to be able to step outside of that, and see that stronger version of myself that lives in this world that can be whatever world you want it to be. Being able to do that with a music project, it never stops being exciting.

You’ve been merging music, technology, and fashion a lot in your past projects and it really resonates in the world you’ve been building for your persona and for your audience. What or who have been your major influences?

I have a bunch of music ones, I recently have been listening to David Elfman who is this composer that worked a lot with Tim Burton, and I realized how inspiring it has been for me. It’s blending more soundtrack music to a degree of pop and playful music. I also find fashion very inspiring, I know early on for Woodes I was really drawn to Alexander McQueen, so many of his runways were just like exceptional, fantasy, other worldly. You see a lot of his pieces used in the Hunger Games, where everyone is in the most ornate, ridiculous sets, but I think that the extremism of pushing things as far as they can go is very inspiring and very consistent. You just don’t see anything else like it. Also just nature is a massive inspiration, like going out on a hike, traveling somewhere, that fills my cup right up. 

And I’ve heard that apart from being involved in the music industry, you’ve also set yourself to take upon the world of fashion by having modeled for clients such as Chanel, David Jones, and Myer, can you tell me about your experience in this field?

Early on with Woodes I was wearing more couture pieces and more like one-offs, and do still work with really amazing designers primarily based out in Melbourne. For this release actually, I kind of pulled back to being more in line with being Elle / me, I love functional fashion and I love having pieces that will last a lifetime. So it was wearing brands where you can go hiking in and that I’ll have for 10-20 years. And I guess when I've worked with fashion designers, it’s really supporting them, getting their art out there. It's not fast fashion, but rather these timeless pieces that are made by people in Melbourne, having similar aspirations of building a world. There’s definitely parallels with what I do and my friends who design beautiful clothes. I love earring designs that make you feel strong, like armor.

In addition to expanding yourself a little bit on all fronts in the creative industries, I’ve picked up that you are also getting onto the scenes of more scholarly debates surrounding the impact and influence of tech on music. You’ve spoken on numerous panels and podcasts about tech and music for AIR, Sounds Australia and Microsoft and have recently been asked to join the artist advisory board for Music Victoria to help with innovation and strategy, to help guide the future of contemporary music. It’s very impressive, especially with the rising invasion of AI in the past month or so, any thoughts on this rising issue?

There is an element that is very daunting, and I have a bunch of friends who have been working on projects bridging music and AI/tech, I’m not shocked about it. I think looking at it as someone who loves process, and someone who enjoys to do things in effective and efficient ways, you look at this and you can only think, well how do i use this as a tool in my toolkit. to help me as creator to save time or change my practice and adapt. It’s here, it’s happening. It also makes me think of, which I've mentioned on the Microsoft panel, that part of my process that for years has been adapted and fine tuned with the assistance of technology. When you think of it, every pop songs have autotune on it in most cases, that is algorithms that are fine tuning frequencies on your voice to help you sound better, and it’s kind of a norm that people have grown to expect. At a certain point in history you would have people absolutely hating that, and now some people have pushed autotune to the extremes. And maybe you see that now with Grimes by saying to use AI to write Grimes songs, and it’s a new story again pushing it to the extremes. You can’t really run from it. It is probably better to figure out what your relationship to it is. There’s definitely questions surrounding IP too, but I mean there’s just so much that is unknown about it. I’m not afraid of the discussion and I think that’s why that side of things is part of my project, and always pivoting in parallel as a musician. 

You definitely have an interesting take on it, the comparison that you just did with autotune is very striking. And it definitely sounds like you’ve been embracing it with past projects, when you released your own Minecraft world to promote it. I think that’s also what is so interesting with you because you are quite an experimental artist and playing hand in hands with aspects of tech, but listening to some tracks of yours, while some are very experimental and some remain much more simple and natural, just like your latest release “Magic." Any words on that new track, was there a specific aim behind it?

I guess with this, it’s really pulling back to songs that you can play around at a campfire. What is like the essence? Thinking back on lockdown, I wasn’t thinking about robots and making dance tracks you can rave to. I do miss dancing, but what I actually missed the most was connection, and "Magic" was very scary to put out, because it’s very vulnerable and is quite transparent about my experiences of last year, going through heartbreak and life changes you didn’t expect. And I thought that I started this chapter by going back to absolute basics where you have an acoustic guitar and a piano, or you’re just working with one of your friends. Rather than just adding and adding, just pulling it back to just what is needed. I was also doing a lot of hiking, every song has a hike. I was wearing a lot more sustainable clothes that are more aligned with Elle than Woodes, just to see what it would be like if in a moment where you need to have loads of content around a release, I think the most sustainable for me to do that is just to be super honest and put it all back down to basics, whilst still doing my research and having interest in moving forward. 

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