Artist Interviews

Q&A: Doldrums

By | Published on Tuesday 26 February 2013


Doldrums, aka Airick Woodhead, released his first mixtape in 2010 on VHS. A year later he moved onto more accessible formats with the ‘Empire Sound’ EP through No Pain In Pop, which featured the brilliant ‘I’m Homesick Sittin Up Here In My Satellite’. It was that track which started to get him noticed, but a real turning point was the re-release of Portishead’s ‘Chase The Tear’ later in 2011, which included his cover of the same track as the b-side.

Part of the same Canadian electronic music scene that spawned artists such as Grimes and Purity Ring (indeed he produced a track on the former’s ‘Visions’ album), this week he releases his debut album ‘Lesser Evil’ through Souterrain Transmissions. Less sample-based than his earlier work, it features heavily layered electronic collages of sound, formed into strange, otherworldly pop.

Tonight Doldrums will play an in-store performance at Rough Trade East in London, ahead of which CMU’s Andy Malt caught up with him to ask a few questions about the album, his attempts to create a musical lie and being licked by “a lot of dogs”.

AM: When and how did you start playing music?
D: My first gig was on the cello when I was twelve – my friend gave me five bucks to do it!

AM: And when did you start writing your own music?
D: I started writing songs with my brother around that age too. We had a good one about being on anaesthetics in the dentist’s chair. I listened to The Stone Roses and The Verve and played guitar with huge amounts of delay on it.

AM: Your earlier releases were a lot more sample-based than ‘Lesser Evil’, what led to this shift in your sound? Did you want your debut album to be a distinct body of work in its own right?
D: I was mostly trying to avoid getting sued! By mostly using my own voice as the keyboards and using a lot of glitchy and broken drum sounds I tried to create a sonic world that was very dehumanised but still expressive. I hate electronic music that sounds like wallpaper. Bad wallpaper, I mean. Wallpaper can be great.

AM: Do you feel you’ve now settled on a ‘sound’ that you want to further experiment within, or do you plan to go through a similar sonic shift for your next release?
D: Oh, I think a sonic shift is inevitable, but the most important thing to me is the songs. I’m first and foremost a songwriter, you know, and I try to use the production stuff to augment whatever I’m singing or thinking about. It’s got to have a good melody and lyrics. You can only polish a turd so much.

AM: Do you have a particular process you go through when writing a new track? Do you have an idea of what you want to do before you start or is it more a process of experimentation?
D: When I hear something that gets me excited or go to a great show it stimulates a great desire in me to rip it off – haha! I used to do it by writing similar sounding things but recently I find it’s easier to just sample it. I’m in the merger and acquisitions department of Doldrums. I want my sonic world to sound artificial and shiny, cheap and disposable. A sleek silver lie.

AM: Your live shows are very energetic and musically you seem to do a lot live on the fly. Is it difficult to keep it all under control? Is that part of the appeal?
D: Yes, the term ‘janky’ gets tossed around a lot after shows. I’m used to playing at house parties and DIY venues were the audience is right in front of you and you have to be really confrontational to get anything across. It’s strange now to do these bigger tours where the audience treats you like a movie, you have to really slap them around to make them remember they are there to take part in something, not just check something out.

AM: Have your shows always been so hyperactive, or is that something that’s developed over time?
D: They’ve definitely become less hyperactive! My first tour was with my friends Tonka Puma playing punk houses in California. I just had a glitchy VCR and a microphone – I don’t really know what I even did at those shows. There were a lot of dogs in the crowd one night, and I was rolling around on the ground singing into my friend’s iPhone and the dogs came over and started licking me and rolling around with me.

AM: You’ve already remixed and worked with the likes of Portishead, Grimes and Peaking Lights. Who else would you like to have on your list of collaborators, and why?
D: Black Dice did a remix of one of my tracks recently and that was like the biggest compliment I could receive. I want to do a track with Caroline from Chairlift. Her voice is beautiful.

AM: How did your DJ Dick Officer project come about, and will you do more under that name? Do you have other side projects you want to concentrate on?
D: Haha, I can’t believe you know about that! I guess it’s up on the SoundCloud. That was the result of a drunken night with Rollie [Cadence Weapon]. My friend Melissa, and Caila from Mozart Sister sang on something. I’ll probably keep collaborating with friends like that but I think I’ll stick with the name doldrums, basically out of convenience

AM: A lot of quite distinct electronic music has emerged from Canada in the last couple of years, from you, Grimes, Purity Ring and others. Would it be fair to call it a scene, or is it more disparate than that? Do you feel connected to these other acts, and who else should we be looking out for?
D: Ya, I’m so proud to be a part of that. A lot of those people are my best friends! And we’ve all worked from the ground up, toured for years playing shitty shows and creating a community where is was possible to be a working musician without a big label and not be just some internet phenomenon.

AM: What album have you listened to most in your lifetime?
D: Probably ‘Amnesiac’ or ‘OK Computer’. Or Sgt. Pepper. They felt like my own personal discoveries, treasures when I was a teenager.

AM: What are you planning to do next now your album’s out?
D: Start on the next one!