Starting your musical career with collaborations is a well-worn path. But it’s when a musician steps out and carves their own direction that the real soul of the artist comes to the fore. Woodes, aka Elle Graham, is forging a new way and bringing others along for the ride.
I catch Graham on the phone a few days before Christmas, relaxing with her family in Townsville. She’s relaxed and happy to have a break from a hectic, but exciting year. “I was going to stay in Melbourne for Christmas and my mum was going to join me down there – but I wanted to see my dog… I come back here every year.” With dogs Molly and Olive by her side, she talks about what her 2017 has been like.
“I think one of the main highlights was that I was doing full-time music this year, which I’ve never done before. I’ve always had to factor in a day job. It’s hard getting to that point. I signed with publishing [Universal Music] at the beginning of the year which allowed for me to write more, and then we went to South-By [SXSW] and I guess there was a whole heap of things that pushed the EP back. But in turn I have at least an album’s worth of material – probably more, sitting ready for next year. We did our first headline tour in June/July. That was really exciting cause doing supports prior to that, it felt like it opened a door to a whole new experience of touring where everyone’s there singing along.”
In October and November, Graham joined Paces (aka Mikey Perry), as a guest vocalist on his national tour. It gave her a chance to be seen by a whole new audience and also brought her together with someone that has been there from the start.
“The first ever song that I put out as Woodes was a collaboration with a Townsville producer, and Mikey actually remixed it. I guess it was about three years ago, right at the very beginning. Because of that song going out, I decided that Woodes had an E in it. It was like the night before it went out and I was like, ‘Ok, I have to make up my mind!’ Mikey did a remix of that, so we knew of each other before [the tour], and then we met at Beyond The Valley last New Years. He’s lovely!”
With Perry being a near-veteran of the Australian touring scene after around half a dozen national tours, Graham was grateful for what she’s been learning as she travels with him. “Prioritising your accommodation and your sleep – because you don’t know when you’re actually going to get it. In the past, especially with support slots – you don’t have a lot of budget to work with, but even then I’ve been trying not to stay at friend’s places and getting a room somewhere. It seems so fundamental, but it’s about professionalism.” This extends to how Woodes has been utilising her rider. “We all just weren’t drinking our rider – so we’d have our friends with us in each city! Because we’ve been doing three shows in a row so this year I haven’t been drinking when I perform. It’s been really good. You really don’t need it as a vocalist. It’s nice to see Mikey just have a big fruit juice or coconut water.”
Along with the more high-profile collaborations that Graham has been working on, she released Dots late in 2017 to critical acclaim. This electro-journey crescendos into a majestic and almost operatic pop song that establishes Woodes as a musician that is really connecting with her potential.
The song was born from a bunch of writing sessions she did in Los Angeles, California. “It was my first writing trip in L.A. You’re in these sessions every day with strangers. You don’t really know the people before you go in and I worked with Scott [Effman – Sofia Reyes, Chris Brown, Natalia Jiménez] on one of the last days and we just wished we had more time together. We’re still really good friends and I’ve gone back there to do more songs with him – we’ve actually got two songs on the EP together. We started with this foundation and made an atmosphere out of reversing a bunch of little sounds and then I got onto the mic and just started recording vocal after vocal. I wouldn’t listen to the one before. I could hear where it was going. It started to build this big choir around me. We had this big talk about connection and GPS and how if you want people to know, they can know where you are at all time, which is kind of a scary thought.”
The music video for Dots is also a work of art and the footage sees Elle traversing an almost alien landscape – filmed from a drone, whilst surrounded by strangely lit woodlings.
“When we sent the drones up, I was like, ‘Where are we?’ I didn’t expect all the little valleys to go so long – the shadows in the rocks. I thought it would just look like a set spot. It just kept rolling out into the landscape. We filmed it in Victoria about an hour outside Melbourne!”
The elaborate outfits that Graham and the other creatures wear in the clip also stand out. “I’ve been working in the fashion industry for the last four years and through that, you meet different people and shoot some different designers. I really enjoy doing my own styling for Woodes for most things, but for this, I was working with a designer I’ve been working with all year called Saphire Gaskas. A whole bunch of her stuff is knitted and all the stuff that the woodlings are wearing at the end [are from her]. She’s just been incredible. Each piece is handmade and they’re just one-offs. I’ve worked with Etal quite a few times now as well. They also dressed me for Splendour. You just meet these designers that you share a similar approach or vision with and then you keep going back!”
Graham’s vision for Woodes has developed into something very nature-driven. She feels that Woodes lives in that “outside realm,” but gets the feeling that this is starting to change. We talk about how Woodes might travel into a sci-fi or technology realm over time. Graham treats Woodes as a third person, “I feel like Elle and Woodes are a little bit different.”
Woodes has certainly been connecting the dots in her musical journey as she heads into 2018 with new collaborations (reportedly with Feki and Cosmo’s Midnight) along with an East-coast headline tour in February and March. Her second EP is due out before the tour, so prepare to end your summer with the warm sounds of Woodes’ new tracks.
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