Aside from moving into a new apartment and buying some clothes from his neighbourhood Renaissance, few things have changed in Airick Woodhead’s world since being signed to Sub Pop. “I feel a bit more sustainable now,” he tells me on the way to his studio at the Torn Curtain, “there’s definitely been a mentality shift. I can take my time a bit more these days and not have to scramble every month to get by, you know?” Mastermind behind Doldrums—an electro outfit whose DIY sounds have been slowly edging their way into the mainstream since 2010—Woodhead is undeniably on the cusp of something big, his sophomore album The Air Conditioned Nightmare released on April 7th.
Born from dark and isolated spaces, but cultivated in a dance-driven after-hours setting, Doldrums’ new tunes come at you with heavy beats and even heavier lyrics—grand ideas layered over each formulated, yet chaotic track. Taking its title from Henry Miller’s book of the same name, this album is light years away from the world of his debut Lesser Evil, even though the ethos of his sound has remained untouched. “I think the last record sounded a lot more fantastical. It sounded like it was made in a bedroom.” Fleshed out on various tours alongside Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Crystal Castles, Grimes, and Purity Ring with a full, live band – and played to full, live audiences – The Air Conditioned Nightmare is something to behold.
There’s an attitude and a sound that’s bubbled up from the Arbutus label, and an attitude that—even though it might be spreading all over the world right now—that’s at home here.
The Main: The tracks on The Air-Conditioned Nightmare were fleshed out while you were on tour, as opposed to be created on a borrowed Macbook. How do these two processes compare to each other?
Airick: Lesser Evil kind of makes me think about dreams and seclusion, whereas the new one is more of a party record because I have been partying pretty hard [laughs]. Yeah, just both on tour, and in Montreal around the Mile End—different venues and stuff that have been going, DIY spaces and stuff—just making music more for that atmosphere has totally shaped the sound of it; just listening to more electronic music, and more dance music as our lives have kind of shifted towards more…adult partying.
TM: And how does an adult party?
A: I wouldn’t put that in the article [laughs]. For real though, just learning a better sense of what makes me consistently interested in dance music and electronic scene, and the context in which that scene is created: that’s a huge part of it. When you go out to clubs more and go out dancing more, you have a greater understanding of what you want to hear in that kind of situation. There’s definitely a bunch of mellow moments too, like ‘Video Hostage’ or ‘Funeral for Lightning’ are just songs that are more emotionally driven—the stuff I’m talking about doesn’t necessarily need a huge beat behind it.
TM: You decided to begin the album with HOTFOOT, which is a pretty dance-driven song.
A: That one was one of the first ones that we wrote when we were on tour with Grimes in Europe, and it kind of just came out of jams, like on stage, with samples and live drums. I felt like that was one of the first ones that hinted at the direction that the record was going to take. And it kind of summed it up nicely. It said everything I wanted to say right off the bat. It’s a dark, scary, fun place to be. It’s kind of a risky state of mind.
HOTFOOT is talking about a dissent into a dangerous, self-destructive mentality. It kind of takes any idea that you have about your own utopia, your magnetized sense of community and kind of flips that on its head and says ‘look, where are you now if you’re just relying on something that’s desperately fleeting?’ It’s a utopia versus dystopia kind of dichotomy. The lyrics are pretty much about the afterhours scene, and how everything starts off as beautiful and community oriented, and then gradually becomes a place just for drug use, and money, that doesn’t become healthy anymore.
TM: Was the utopia/dystopia dichotomy a theme you were trying to work with from the get-go? Or did each of the songs, individually, kind of group together thematically without you realizing it.
A: The songs just come out of a need to express something, in a moment. It wasn’t really planned. ‘Funeral for Lightning’ is kind of also about letting go of things, and letting things be temporary, and being okay with that. It’s an actual funeral for lightning, so it’s a ‘lightning striking in the dark’ kind of idea—but you’re wearing white! So you’re not mourning. It’s a positive song! So you’re at a funeral for lightning as opposed to banging your head against the wall. ‘Video Hostage’ is kind of a different thing. It’s more about desensitization—I have this image about driving past a body on the side of the road and no one’s stopping. You’re driving by it on loop, on repeat, but you think “ugh, but I don’t feel like stopping.”
TM: How important is chaos in your music?
A: Chaos reigns yo! [Laughs] I actually had an interesting conversation with another interviewer about it; talking about the way that music and branding in general about the ‘Apple’ effect, about effectiveness through minimalism, and you think about technology, and social networking, and all the associated branding tactics, and just how you need something simple and strong to stick out. I totally, totally get why that’s true, but it doesn’t matter to me. I don’t think that music has to be a brand – especially psychedelic music that has deconstructing systems, that’s works within music to sometimes break it down – than having to be a part of it.
So obviously this Doldrums record is not the most psychedelic, antagonistic music, it’s still pretty poppy, but in the things that I like, in the art that I like, freedom is number one. And chaos is freedom.
TM: You took the same route as Henry Miller in his book. Can you elaborate on that?
A: Yeah! It’s just one of those little, psychic coincidences that happened. I was playing a bunch of DIY shows and I actually found that book…like I accidentally stole it from someone’s bathroom at a venue in Atlanta, and it ended up in my backpack and I totally didn’t mean to do it [laughs]. I ended up reading it on that trip as we were driving the exact same route as he was taking, and it took me the exact same time to read it as it took to drive the route, so it’s a weird kind of coincidence.
TM: What’s your take on the Montreal scene?
A: I really admire a few Montrealers who are still here, and I think there’s a longevity to them—it remains to be seen, but I still think they have a longevity here. There’s an attitude and a sound that’s bubbled up from the Arbutus label, and an attitude that—even though it might be spreading all over the world right now—that’s at home here. That attitude and that state of mind will continue to find it’s grounding core among the community where it started—so basically, I have lots of faith for this city, and new bands starting here.
TM: Do you ever get annoyed when people asking you about the Montreal scene?
A: Ah, not so much actually! There isn’t that much of a scene right now…the whole idea is kind of abstract, you know? But when I think about records made here by people who are my friends, then I think it totally exists. I respect that as an ideal—above and beyond the current situation. I totally romanticize the city in the same way as when I first moved here, and it was mainly due to friends of mine who were making records here – like Blue Hawaii, and Pop Winds.
Yeah, it’s pretty phenomenal that people like Grimes and Mac Demarco and Majical Cloudz, and Purity Ring, and Austra, and Suuns, Ought are getting big. I’m really excited about She-Devils – they’re probably my favourite band right now – and a lot of good electronic music being made here too, like more dance oriented stuff.
TM: How important is success to you?
A: It’s such a slippery concept. I think if you can feel good about what you’re doing, on a day-to-day basis, and feel fulfilled by the art that you make is really important. Getting a lot of fans and making a lot of money isn’t something that’s I’ve really done [laughs] or hold in high regards. I think I’ll always just be doing the same thing; maybe not making music, but making art, maybe making films or something.
TM: What kind of films would you want to make?
A: I don’t know, there’s a lot of collage to be done with film that I’d like to explore.
TM: A lot of your work so far seems to be about collage, so it would a kind of organic move.
A: Yeah it’s funny, the way I write is in real-time fragments, and that’s like the ‘Stage One,’ building source material. And then for lyrics I’ll write just one line down, and for sound too I’ll just make one sample or something, and then the second tier of assembling it all is totally collage.
TM: And has that always been your process?
A: Not really actually just for Doldrums—wait no! When I was like fourteen I was making fucking like, tape collages in my dad’s basement. Yeah, I made this half hour track that basically sounds the way that Doldrums sounds now.
TM: Was your dad happy about that?
A: I think I broke some of his stuff.