Doldrums Wants You to Dance
On Burning Man, subverting consumerism, making music for the lolz.
Doldrums’ debut record, Lesser Evil, often feels like it’s in collusion with your mind’s constant struggle to grasp hold of coherent thoughts while deflecting the spiraling volume of mashed up sounds and images that fly at you. Remarkably, from within this musical simulation, Doldrums’ Airick Woodhead still manages to convey intriguing ideas about the state of flux we attempt to ride daily. More importantly, though, he manages to make the record an actual pleasure to immerse yourself in by bringing in a range of melodies that alternately haunt, provoke, and tease from amongst the fabric of tribal rhythms, shuddering samples, and techno beats, the whole thing riding a Bacchanalian undercurrent that is most prominent in Woodhead’s live shows. Having seen Doldrums progress from tiny bars to proper venues over the past year, I caught up with him to see how life on a "real" tour would fit with his creative ambitions amongst other things.
Noisey: How was last night’s Birthdays show for you?
Airick: It was the first show with just the duo—me and my brother—and I feel like by the end of it, the energy was there. I come from a place where you book your own shows, and you might be playing in someone’s basement, so there’s a lot of energy there in the crowd. It’s nice that I’m doing all these tours and stuff, but sometimes I feel it’s alienating audiences, whereas what I’m used to is us.
Having seen you a couple times at tiny shows being intensely free, I wanted know how weird these bigger venue shows are for you?
It really affects me for sure. I’m trying to present chaos and spontaneity, which is contradictory in itself even when you’re playing a show where you really feel that vivaciousness. When you have to mold it and put it out, then that’s hard, but that’s what I’m interested in.
Is it hard to lock the tracks down and freeze them when you’re recording, too?
I don’t think about chaos and spontaneity when I’m recording. It reads more into making a sculpture or something. I’ll sit down and take, like, a Lil Wayne track and a barnyard dance jig, put them on my Traktor, mash them together, and make something new out of them. It’s recording as it’s going, then I’ll go for a walk and sing some lyrics over it, come back and record the vocals and it’s done really fast. That’s more the process for my new stuff. I usually don’t keep working in any particular way for too long, as it’s all project-oriented, but the new stuff is all like that.
Is Doldrums a project that will last a really long time, do you think?
I’m really lucky that Doldrums, at this point, could be any thing. The important thing is just not letting yourself get trapped by your circumstances at all. What I’m all about is growth and change.
Do you not worry that if you get more successful, it might start to cage you a little?
Well, I don’t think I’m going to get that successful that I have to worry about it. I’ll call the next album Doldrums, for sure. I made, like, four albums last year under four different names, you know. I made Phaedra, which is this concept band that’s completely fake. It had all this cool, bullshit aesthetic imagery to make it popular, and a cool music video, and it totally worked. It was really fun. Just a joke.
That’s a really good commitment to a joke.
You’ve got to follow through. I’ve also always released music under Archaeopteryx, which is my tape collage stuff. I want to have a techno pseudonym as well, as I’ve been working on a lot of electronic stuff, but as Sebastian, who runs the Arbutus label, told me: "You walk into a store, there’s like a million types of jam. You just want some jam. So just make one kind of jam.” So I’m just going to make one kind of jam instead of doing all this stuff.
In the first lines of the intro to your record, there are the words “I still feel like a child.” Is that something you think about a lot—trying to recapture childhood freedom?
I think that every artist associates childhood with rampant creativity. Every artist has a song like “I’ve always been a child, or I feel like a kid, I’m not a grown up.” I want to write a song like, “I’ve never been a child.” I feel like I’ve always been the same and everyone was like, “You’re going to grow up one day, things are going to be different," but I’m like, “No. Things just gradually kind of progressed and nothing really changes.”
Were you a really hyperactive child?
No, very subdued. I’m better now that I’ve figured out my energy levels. My energy crisis.
So, is being on tour a good thing for you?
Yeah, it is. I miss my friends a lot. I feel for any aspiring musician or artist, the best thing is to work with the people around you and play for them, as opposed to some ephemeral audience. Everything that I’ve done that I feel good about has been as a result of my closeness to the people around me. Everyone’s getting successful, but I’ll be like, “I just want to jam with my friends.” I really like my life in Montreal, then whenever I stay there for two weeks, I start itching to leave again, as I’m addicted to traveling. I love the flow of fresh ideas that traveling gives you.
Have you had much of a chance to explore the places you end up?
I always make the effort to explore. Even today, just walking around, I went to this print place called No Brow and that reminded me of a lot of Montreal. The silk-screening comic art stuff. It feels so ground level. Small people, making really good images based on their experiences. I just love that concept.
Every city seems to have these really burgeoning creative hubs somewhere.
As we become more globalized, everyone is more and more aware of the importance of breeding grounds for idea and creativity. It’s the life blood of culture. It’s what gets me up every day. Otherwise, the world’s just this weird, cold, sterile thing.
You were previously speaking about how everything online is a big mess of white noise. Do you ever feel that when you put your videos or tracks up now, you’re just adding to it?
Yeah, I try not to contribute to that. I try to let Doldrums be a respite from that. You end up doing the thing you were trying to work against, but if you can use the tools of the enemy against them, subvert them. That contradiction and hypocrisy is kind of what "Lesser Evil," the song, was written about. I’ve always been into Adbusters and stuff like that.
So, I really like the giant cat in your video. Was that your idea or Emily Kai Bock’s?
It was no one’s idea. When we showed up in the desert to make the video, everything was falling apart. We had no money. So we just scrambled together something with some friends of Emily’s and her sister, who went to Burning Man.
You got to go, right? I can imagine that it's the perfect place for you?
It’s so fucking twisted. It’s like 70,000 people on acid who have been doing it for years! The frightening thing is how effective it is. How safe it is and how much it works. It proposes itself as an alternate civilization, but it feels like you’re on Mars with the climate and the way people are acting. It’s scary stuff, but fucking beautiful.
Are you able to fully let go in places like that and not look at it from an outsider point of view?
Yeah, I’ve been doing the festival thing since I was two years old. I always think that dancing to fucking drum circles when I was a kid was my formative rave experience. It’s exactly the same thing. This summer, I’m playing some big, more ravey shows, which I’ll be more excited for.
Definitely better than playing a cold, rainy night in London.
I so want to be able to play bar shows and small shows too, but it’s hard to be able to do both.
I suppose people will get to know what you do a little more soon, which might help?
Well, I hope they expect to be surprised. That’s what I was trying to do.
So eventually it won’t be people standing and just staring?
I’m not used to that. I don’t understand why you would go to a show... I guess for some people, it’s like going to a movie—like, it’s the same thing, but it’s not. Maybe I can help destroy this fucking culture that we build up on consumerism and beer sales. When you look at how much live music is driven by beer sales, it’s fucked. Live music is basically propagated to sell Budweiser, and there’s more to it than that. It can be a really, really good experience for people.