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Coffee House Sessions: The Woods

November 21st, 2016 | by Toby Livsey
Coffee House Sessions: The Woods
Live Reviews

I stumbled into a crowded Mens Bar last Wednesday with a bag full of a books and a brain empty with knowledge relating to the musician about to play. It was this week’s Coffee House gig in the noisy NUSU and I was apparently witnessing, at a very superficial first glance, a Ben Howard-like set with elements of James Blake (though I may have naively concluded this purely from his use of a loop pedal). Many are calling ‘The Woods,’ a misdirectional plurality, which he seems to be comfortable with. As he began his songs my original assumptions seemed to loosely maintain itself, however, after he began to confidently layer them with his trusty loop pedal, gradually adding guitar, vocal, keyboard and at times beat boxing parts, my opinion was reshaped. I agree that this loop pedal technique is nothing new, for Goodness’ sake – bloody Ed Sheeran uses it! However, ‘The Woods’ used it differently as his songs progressed, creating a rich and powerful collage of sound that was not only refreshingly relaxing but also very sure of itself with its choral-like vocal harmonies and well-functioning drum parts that commanded the dynamics of his songs very well. This more idiosyncratic style was most notable in songs such as ‘Curly’ and ‘The Start.’

I approached this musician for an interview shortly after the gig, his name turned out to be ‘Jonny,’ I found this easier to address him with. I began by asking questions I deemed most important and relevant to Jonny’s music career:

Do you think that sweet potato fries will ever be accepted in the way that normal chips are?

I think that’s too contentious to be discussing in a public forum like this.

(I am amused by this response; laughter follows from both of us)

Moving on, where do you see yourself in 5 years? 

This is me for the rest of my life, I sat in quite a boring office job for quite a little while and then really hit this properly (the career in music) about 2 and a half years ago

That is so good; I have a lot of respect for that, a lot of admiration for it. A lot of people lead a very boring life doing what society wants and all that

Yeah I like to have a little more money from the music career obviously as well – that would be great, but if not I’ll just be the poor guy sitting on the street doing music.

I got a bit of James Blake from your performance, is that just because you were using a loop pedal? Maybe that’s a slightly superficial view? 

There maybe is a bit of that because I really dig what he does and I think partly when I was at Uni I got really into Electronica and Hip Hop and stuff like that but I’ve always done classical music, so I used to do a lot of classical singing and then taught myself the guitar but I’ve always liked Electronica and I kind of feel that it (his music) almost kind of meets a bit there in the middle somewhere because a lot of people say ‘oh you’re a folk musician’ and I don’t feel its really quite folk.

I don’t mind being called a folk musician but in my head I don’t feel like I’m doing folk music and I think it always fits that kind of ‘James Blakey place’ where it’s a slightly odd positioning.

What age did you start making up your songs? So you said you’re classically trained? 

Yeah I tried to get away from that (the classical training) when I started a boring job; I basically bought myself a guitar because I never played the guitar at Uni, what a ridiculous waste!

So I bought myself this guitar when I started the job and just taught myself by ear, so actually I couldn’t tell you what the strings are on the guitar, I don’t know any chords to be honest I don’t know, I think I tune it slightly differently as well but not intentionally because basically it just suits my voice and so if my voice was a bit lower one day I’d just tune it down a bit.

So probably in the last 3 years that I was kind of writing my own stuff

You call yourself ‘The Woods,’ – have you spent extended periods of time in woodland area?

Yeah its actually because I was doing an office job and I’ve always done music along the way but I was planning on making it a thing and started reading a lot of (Henry David) Thereau and (Ralph Waldo) Emerson and a lot of its about nature and about what is the worth of doing a job.

And the woods was always quite a common them for these guys and its always been for me a bit of an escapism, where go in the woods and just mess about and whatever when you’re a child.

I just decided that any creative thing that I was going to do was going to be called ‘the Woods’

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