Composer, vocalist, multi-instrumentalist and loop artist Johnny McFadzean is The Woods. While his debut EP was crafted in 2015, the first taste of the next iteration of The Woods has just arrived in the form of ‘Armchair Expert’. We found out more.
Generally downtempo, chilled, ethereal stuff.
First up, tell us bit about yourself - what led you all to starting The Woods?
I grew up on a farm in a beautiful part of the world in Scotland called Galloway, and I’ve had music going about in my head for as long as I can remember. I used to be the annoying wee brat whistling constantly. I’m still whistling, but in The Woods I’ve now got a few more things to make a noise with! Growing up in the countryside, The Woods was always an escape where you could be alone with your imagination, and that’s how music feels to me.
Who did you take inspiration from?
Everything. Like everything. I’ve got pretty eclectic music tastes, from experimental jazz and hip-hop to medieval choral music and lots in between. Anything that hooks your ear inspires me. I’ve got a bit of a thing for the antagonism of dissonance, suspension and resolution in music. Sounds a bit pretentious but it’s in music everywhere, and it really gets into my head. Recently been listening to a lot of Connie Constance, Sons of Kemet, Puma Blue, Agnes Obel and Invisible Minds.
As a 10-year-old you toured the world, singing twice at the Sydney Opera House as well as on a BBC Christmas broadcast which necessitated a cover shot for the Radio Times. How did that shape your approach to music and the industry?
I hadn’t heard much classical music before then, and it was a bit random ending up there. After a singing contest in Galloway I somehow got spotted by a scout and ended up with a scholarship to Kings College Choir. Then suddenly my life was music from aged nine.
Looking back it was really intense, pursuit of perfection stuff, but quite amazing. I was really behind most of the guys there technically, so had to rely on my ear to get me through. The work ethic was incredible- hours and hours of practice and performing, and that’s stayed with me (I work really late a lot!).
Over the years I’ve tempered the perfectionist approach, and now that I make my own music prefer the Miles Davis view that a wrong note is determined by the next note you play!
It also showed me a world that places an enormous value on music. I was exposed to over 700 years of creations- from 10th century plainsong to new commissions from composers like Arvo Part and Judith Weir, and it was taken really seriously. Music is really important to lots of people- it can transport you somewhere, help you through bad stuff, and connect strangers.
You’re now a composer, vocalist, multi-instrumentalist and loop artist. In what way do you combine all these talents as The Woods?
As time’s gone on I realised I wanted to make the music that I hear in my head. I’m generally a soloist, but using looping, different instruments and layering has allowed me to get as much of that out of my head and show people what I’m hearing, which is really liberating.
Why the name ‘The Woods’?
When I was deciding whether to take the plunge to focus properly on my own music I was reading a lot of Emerson and Theroux about the significance of nature and the worthiness of the work we do. Everything seemed to come back to The Woods as a place of solace and perpetual youth and it really resonated with me. I like the thought of the music being slightly ambiguous and not being connected just to me- it can grow and evolve in any way. Maybe The Woods will become an orchestra one day- ha!
How would you describe your musical style?
Generally downtempo, chilled, ethereal stuff.
Your latest single is ‘Armchair Expert’. What’s it about?
It’s a wee comment on a time when lots of people told me a career in music was a pipe dream and I’d be mad to quit a ‘good’ job. Lots of people have strong opinions, but they don’t always base them on much experience. I’ll probably make mistakes, but I reckon it’s worth a try.
When did you write it and where did you record it?
I wrote the lyrics a couple of years back and re-worked the music last year. Over the past year I’ve been working out how to produce my own material, so this was the first I recorded at home in my studio. It’s a really basic set-up (almost embarrassingly so!) but I think I’ve worked out how to get what I want out of it.
How does ‘Armchair Expert’ build on your style?
This is the first of a load of new material and it’s the closest I’ve got to communicating the sounds in my head, so I’m really happy with it. I really enjoy building textures, beats and harmonies to weave together, and there’s a fair bit of that going on here.
What are your hopes for ‘Armchair Expert’?
I love playing this live and I’m sure it’ll continue to evolve, but the recording is quite special to me as it feels like a snapshot of what was happening at that moment. It was great fun making the video too (another DIY project), and been cool to see people enjoying it. I don’t linger too much though as I’ve always got my eye on the next tune.
‘Armchair Expert’ was written, recorded and produced entirely by yourself. What challenges did that present?
Working this way’s been perfect for me. Means you can experiment under your own steam without the time pressure of a rented studio, and means you can try unconventional approaches without raised eyebrows. Having said it can get a bit lonely in your bubble, so lately I’ve been doing some new work alongside some really interesting guys, which has been pretty inspiring.
What do fans get at your live shows?
I’m a bit of a one-man band just now- using synths, samplers, guitar, drum machines and vocal layering. It’s pretty exciting weaving the sounds together live, and definitely keeps things interesting. Soundwise, I’m trying to take audiences to a different place, to escape from daily stresses and hear something a bit different. I try to incorporate at least a bit of improvisation into each set too, so each time I play it evolves and will be pretty unique.
Where can we see you live in 2018?
Mid June- Treyarnon Bay, Cornwall. Mid July- Finsbury, London. Sept- Camden Assembly, London
Finally, if you could wish for one thing to happen to the band this year, what would it be?
Keep on going!
Watch the video for ‘Armchair Expert’ on YouTube below. For news and tour dates go to musicfromthewoods.com.