doldrums is escaping from the air conditioned nightmare on his new album
Electronic musician Airick Woodhead is emerging from behind his laptop with a dark but danceable new album.
With the release of his second album, electronic musician Doldrums (aka Airick Woodhead) says he's done hiding behind his computer screen. "The internet is really here to stay," Woodhead said when we discussed what he'd learned since he began his career posting fake band pages to MySpace in an attempt to troll the online music community. "I used to be a luddite but I'm repenting. We have these tools now, we shouldn't be using them to cast smoke screens." On Woodhead's debut album, Lesser Evil, he collaged a wide array of trippy instrumentals, exploring a unique and disorienting sonic world via the cracked screen of his Macbook. With The Air Conditioned Nightmare, his sophomore album scheduled for release this April, he takes a decidedly more narrative approach made possible by a newly stable recording environment and his current home at the iconic Sub Pop Records. The album is best characterised as restless. Dark and danceable, the anxiety-provoking beats are tempered by Woodhead's androgynous voice. He bills the result as a twisted "road trip record" through the 40s New York of the 1945 Henry Miller novel by the same name. We caught up with Doldrums to talk about growing up during Canada's alternative music renaissance, the male singing voice, and what makes a great album.
How did your career begin?
I've been surrounded by musicians my entire life. My dad was a musician and I traveled around with him throughout my childhood. I went to festivals, and I got a lot of exposure to African and folk music. Then I started making tape collages in my dad's basement when I was 14. I think that process, more than anything else, is what Doldrums has come out of. And Canada at the time was a really exciting place for independent music. I followed my nose to Montreal, because that's where a lot of similarly minded people were, and I fell in love with all of the bands on Arbutus Records. Artists like Grimes, Blue Hawaii, Sean Nicholas Savage, and Tonstartssbandht. Then Arbutus put out my first record.
You've got a really unusual singing voice...
People tell me I have a weird, androgynous voice, but in my head I sound like a man. I think that having a little bit of femininity and tenderness in your voice as a man is a turnoff for many Americans. A man's voice is supposed to be this deep, primal growl — the rock and roll voice. But what happened to the tenor voice? In Japanese culture you have all of these male protagonists who are not macho, they're sensitive. I'm much more into that.
What different references did you bring together for this album?
A lot of the ideas came from contemporary techno. But I don't use them in a way that professes to have integrity. I don't really know how to make techno. I'm going about it from a layman's perspective. The guys who make actual techno are so tuned-in, they're like jedis.
You've said that anxiety is your "default state." How does that impact the type of music that you make?
Music for me is more of an escape from anxiety and problems. But I can say that a lot of my favorite music does have an anxious or downright scary feeling; I loved The Liars' records — they were a big influence when I was starting out — and the Wu-Tang Clan totally has that too.
How has your process evolved from Lesser Evil to Air Conditioned Nightmare?
Lesser Evil was basically a no-resource album. It was just me and a laptop. For Air Conditioned Nightmare it was the opposite. I had a bunch of songs that I'd been playing live, and I took time off to just finish it all. That's why I think it has a much better consistency to it. It's more focused.
There's definitely more of a narrative in this album.
I think I make a lot of music because I set myself up to do new things. The trick is getting it all to be homogeneous. So if you're hearing a consistent narrative or character or world, that's a good thing because that's what any good album should do. But it's not like I'm whispering subliminal messages in the background.
How have you changed as an artist since your last album?
On my last record, and in the work before that, I was just playing with people's perspectives. I was making fake band pages and putting up lots of shit on the internet, just fucking with the system. But now I think it's really important as a musician, or as a person or as an anything, to try to have honesty and transparency.
Text Clarke Rudick
Photography Coey Kerr