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Step Right Up: Heather Woods Broderick

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Interview with Heather Woods Broderick.

“Many times I see things, whether it’s a passing scene out of a window, or a combination of colours on a wall, that conjure up memories for me. So sometimes I use these images to help depict or frame a feeling.”

— Heather Woods Broderick

Words: Mark Carry

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Glider’ is the highly anticipated sophomore full-length –and follow-up to the formidable 2009 solo debut ‘From The Ground’ – from gifted multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter, Heather Woods Broderick. The Brooklyn-based and Portland-raised musician has long been synonymous with some of the most breath-taking musical explorations of recent times, having closely collaborated with Portand’s Horse Feathers, Danish group Efterklang and is currently an integral member in U.S singer-songwriter Sharon Van Etten’s band.

The nine immaculate sonic creations captured on ‘Glider’ unfolds a fragile beauty and striking emotional depth that inhabits an ethereal dimension from the opening dream-like atmosphere of ‘Up In The Pine’ to the closing country gem ‘All For A Love’. ‘Glider’s bewitching sonic canvas possesses a transient quality with each song cycle capturing a myriad of fleeting moments. The gorgeous vocal harmonies, pristine production and rich instrumentation serves the fitting backdrop for Broderick’s deeply affecting songs to flourish. For example, ‘Mama Shelter’ evolves into an infectious dub-infused groove which is masterfully inter-woven with Broderick’s richly soulful vocal delivery. The piano-based ballads of ‘Fall Hard’ (which could be taken from Marissa Nadler’s latest record ‘July’), ‘The Sentiments’ and the album’s title-rack ‘Glider’ serve the album’s most poignant and soul-stirring moments as the rich tapestry of vocal harmonies and piano notes drift majestically in the ether.

A Call For Distance’ epitomises the evocative production masterfully dotted across ‘Glider’ as timeless dreamwave sounds of This Mortal Coil and Cocteau Twins comes to the fore. The joyous sounds of ‘All For A Love’ with its jazz leanings (thanks in part to David Allred’s trumpet part) contains gorgeous clean guitar tones, upbeat harmonies and warm percussion akin to a marvelous sunset on a summer’s night. “There is a lot to live for” is a lyric that resonates powerfully and marks the album’s over-arching theme of perseverance through life’s difficulties and therein the strength to find one’s inner voice.

‘Glider’ is available now on Western Vinyl.

http://heatherwoodsbroderick.com/
http://westernvinyl.com/

Interview with Heather Woods Broderick.

Congratulations on your sublime new record ‘Glider’. The album is nothing short of staggering where the nine sonic creations unfold a fragile beauty and striking emotional depth that leaves the listener utterly dumbfounded. Rather than a record being a snapshot in a moment of time, ‘Glider’ possesses a transient quality with each song cycle capturing a myriad of fleeting moments culled from a long period of time. Can you please talk me through the songs of ‘Glider’ and discuss the themes to ‘Glider’ and your aims from the outset?

Heather Woods Broderick: Thank you very much; I’m really happy to hear you’re enjoying the record. Most of the songs on ‘Glider’ are reflections of experiences I’ve had, or close friends or family have had. The songs were written over about a two-year period, but reference events spanning a substantial period of time in my life. The title track is the only song I wrote prior to moving to Brooklyn in the fall of 2011. Many years had passed since I released ‘From the Ground’ when I really began writing the material for ‘Glider’. I think I’d grown as a musician after playing with so many different projects, and also as a person after so much travel around the world. ‘From the Ground’ was my first attempt to write any songs with words, so there were a lot of things I wanted to do differently when writing ‘Glider’. I like to create an atmospheric landscape for songs to live in. For ‘Glider’, I still wanted this to play an important role in the sound of the record, but I spent more time fully forming songs and writing lyrics. I think all of the songs on the record are pretty self-explanatory in a lyrical sense since they are all based on real events and emotions, but I do like to utilize a bit of metaphor in songwriting to help paint a picture an allow for more imagination. Many times I see things, whether it’s a passing scene out of a window, or a combination of colours on a wall, that conjure up memories for me. So sometimes I use these images to help depict or frame a feeling.

The range of sounds masterfully sculpted across the record is something that sets ‘Glider’ apart from your formidable debut full-length ‘From The Ground’ where this time around all songs are vocal-based, reflecting a song-writing masterclass in full bloom. Please take me back to the recording sessions and the wonderful cast of musicians you were joined by, not least your brother Peter and the wonderful David Allred among several others.

HWB: Every song on the record started out as a poorly self-recorded demo. I knew that I wanted to go into the studio having all of the material prepared, so I spent a lot of time with the demos – working with the structure and arrangements of the songs. I had all the vocal ideas worked out on demos, and knew the guitar sounds I wanted to go for, etc. When it finally came time to go into the studio I asked a few friends to be a part of the process. I spent five days at Type Foundry studio, working with engineer Adam Selzer, in Portland, OR where I recorded all of my basic tracks and vocals, and also tracked 2 of the songs (Wyoming + All for a Love) live as a three-piece. During these sessions Dave Depper played bass, Peter Broderick played Drums, Birger Olsen came in to lay down the guitar solo on ‘All for a Love’, and Eric Early played some hammond on ‘Desert’. All phenomenal musicians; I was lucky to have them join me on the songs. After the five days at Type Foundry, Peter and I took all those tracks out to a home studio he has on the Oregon Coast called The Sparkle. We spent a couple of weeks out there doing the rest of the overdubs. David Allred also came out and added some upright bass and trumpet during this time. We worked with the songs a lot during this phase, filling out the arrangements more, doing all of the post production, and then mixing the record here as well.

Aesthetically, ‘Glider’ is such a triumph and revelation. The piano-based ballads such as the heartwrenching title-track, ‘Fall Hard’ and ‘The Sentiments’ are beautifully inter-woven with ethereal dreamwave creations like ‘A Call For Distance’ and stunning folk gems like ‘Desert’ and ‘All For A Love’. I wonder was it ever difficult to decide on a certain style or version of a particular song, Heather? Did any of these songs undergo a dramatic transformation (or mutation!) from your original sketch of a song to its final recorded entity? For example, I can imagine a song such as ‘A Call For Distance’ is such a thrill to perform and record with your band?

HWB: I find it almost impossible to go back and drastically change the structure or lyrics of a song once I’ve written it. So for the most part, the songs are really similar to the demos. I wasn’t really going for any particular style or anything when I was writing. ‘A Call for Distance’ was sort of my labour of love on the record. I used a lot of delays through the process of writing these songs, and I think this one in particular was really inspired by what I was hearing as I went. I had an electric guitar with a delay pedal, a vocal mic, and a basic logic setup, so I could play and listen back while writing. I wouldn’t even know how to replicate some of the sounds from the demos on this song, so we ended up flying in some of the demo tracks. I have yet to perform this one live with a band, but I really look forward to doing that, and figuring out some version of it that works in a band setting. Some fun developments did happen during the recording process though. For example, Dave Depper’s bass playing on ‘Mama Shelter’ ended up being a huge influence to the path of that song took. He came up with this dub/reggae bass part in the chorus’ that we loved, so we sort of played on that theme while adding the other instrumentation. It fit in really well with the chorus echo and space echo machines that we were using with all the other tracks as well.

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The art of collaboration has been a trusted constant in your musical path, from Horse Feathers to Efterklang and Sharon Van Etten. I would love for you to share your feelings on music as being the great collaborative art. I can imagine the sum of these experiences and journeys with all these special souls makes for such an inspiring and rewarding journey. What are the memories you most cherish from these particular collaborations?

HWB: I have been very lucky to play with so many talented musicians, and collaborating with other artists is something that I’ll always have an interest in doing, musically and beyond. I love learning other peoples’ songs as well as writing parts to accompany others’ music. I find a lot of pleasure in practice and repetition. It’s a very different experience playing with different people. Everyone approaches music in their own way, and I find that really interesting. I go through phases of wanting to work on music that’s much more structured or technical, and wanting to throw out all the rules and just play loud rock music. It’s all rewarding in different ways. I loved being able to play cello in Horse Feathers – something I haven’t done with any of the other bands I’ve played in since, at least in a live setting. I have particularly fond memories of traveling with Efterklang to places I’d never been, and haven’t been since. They were really special people to make music with. I was late in the game in hearing Sharon’s music, but I’m so glad I did. I still remember the first time we sat in my living room and sang together – a moment I’ll never forget.

Coming from a musical family – both your parents are musicians and you began piano lessons at the young age of eight – music has always been in your life. I would love if you could reflect on pivotal moments that occurred during your musical upbringing that you feel helped you in a significant way? I can only imagine you and your brother at home must have been playing music together, almost on a constant basis?

HWB: There was definitely a lot of music going on in my house growing up. My parents both played guitar and always spun records after dinner. My older brother Noah played saxophone and also electric in a grunge rock band. I took piano lessons for years, and then quit for about a year when I was 15 or 16. Probably typical of that age and not wanting to be told what to do. I came back around to it though. I found some classical pieces that I really fell in love with and contemporary bands that I heard classical crossover with (everything from Rachels to various math rock bands), and it made me excited to keep practicing, and to be able to apply what I’d learned to making music with people. My brother Peter started taking suzuki violin lessons when he was really young, but we never really played together until I was 18 or 19. We started playing in a band together then, and also went to the same school for a brief period and would write and perform pieces together for composition classes and recitals. My parents were always really supportive of whatever I wanted to do with music, and I’m sure their support encouraged me to go down my own musical path.

The tender lament ‘Desert’ is one of the album’s (many) defining moments. I love this sense of a travelogue that flickers in and out during many of your songs. The imagery and poetic prose
conjured up on ‘Desert’ resonates powerfully. Please talk me through this song and your memories of writing ‘Desert’.

HWB: ‘Desert’ was one of the later songs I wrote for the record. I was on a break from touring and trying to spend some quiet time at home with my guitar in Brooklyn. I wrote the song in one afternoon in my living room there. I had recently been playing a lot of music with my dear friend and fellow musician Alela Diane in support of her record ‘About Farewell’. I was playing second guitar along with her and had been messing around with some of those finger picking patterns. The core of the lyrics are based around a conversation that I’d recently had with a former boyfriend that had left me feeling unresolved. It was also late winter in New York, and the imagery is embedded in observations of the season.

I feel the empowering piano ballads contained on ‘Glider’ serve the vital pulse to this remarkable album, reminiscent of Marissa Nadler, Grouper’s ‘Ruins’ LP and indeed, Sharon Van Etten. It feels as if these songs represent some of the earliest written songs that helped shape the rest of the record. I love the ethereal dimension the piano-based works inhabit, creating in turn, utterly transcendent moments.

HWB: Those are all lovely ladies to mention, thank you. ‘Glider‘ was the earliest track written for the record, and was written while I was still living in Berlin before moving to Brooklyn. ‘The Sentiments’ was written somewhere in the middle of that two year writing period, and ‘Fall Hard’ was actually the last song I wrote for the record. Maybe it’s appropriate that they are scattered like they are throughout the record in a sense; I hadn’t thought about that.

What records do you find yourself coming back to, time and time again? Please discuss any books/gigs/music/films you have been most impressed with lately?

HWB: My musical tastes really vary. On the classic side, I always go back to records by Kate Wolf, Neil Young, and Springsteen. These are all records I grew up listening to. I don’t think I’ll ever tire of Dawn Upshaw performing Henryk Górecki’s Symphony no. 3, Rachmaninoff’s piano concerto no. 2, or any Chet Baker record. I also love a lot of new indie bands, jazz, ambient – the list could really go on forever. I think the most memorable performances I’ve seen in the last few years was Antony and the Johnson’s performing Swanlights at Radio City Music Hall. I love seeing dance performances. ‘Drift’ by Cindy Van Acker, and a piece titled ‘Leading Light’ by Suniti Dernovsek are two of my favorites I’ve seen in the last year. I recently read ‘Light Years’ by James Salter and ‘The Year of Magical Thinking’ by Joan Didion – both beautiful books. I’d highly recommend both.

 


 

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‘Glider’ is available now on Western Vinyl.

http://heatherwoodsbroderick.com/
http://westernvinyl.com/

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