Heather Woods Broderick, veteran of several indie and folk acts, has finally returned to center stage with her second solo effort, Glider, and IYS got a chance to talk to her about writing it, recording it, and taking it on the road.
Broderick's credits as a performer include work as a member of Sharon Van Etten's touring band, as well as more obscure groups like Efterklang and Horse Feathers. Glider shows her blending a wide variety of influences, creating soundscapes that alternate between being a platform for her vocals, and incorporating those vocals as another instrument in the open space she creates. She is an artist that creates a mixture that conveys a powerful sense of melancholy.
So Glider comes out next week. Is there any sense of anticipation for you?
HWB: I’m a little anxious about it, ‘cause I’ve been sitting on it for, like… Almost a year and a half now. So I’m excited to finally get it out there and share it with people. But it seems like there’s been some good press coverage and stuff for the things that we’ve released so far, so…
Yeah, everything has seemed pretty well received from what I’ve seen. It’s been six years since From The Ground – what made the time right for a new record from you?
HWB: Well actually I started really intentionally working on writing the songs for this one in the fall of 2011, when I moved to New York from Berlin, I’d been living in Berlin for a couple years leading up to that. I just had come to the end of a period of traveling with this Danish band that I had been working with for a few years, and working on another project of my own was the next thing I wanted to do. So I set a little time aside at that point to start writing some new material for it. Prior to that I just didn’t really have any time, cause I was always out on the road with other bands and stuff.
Can you talk a little about your songwriting process? What goes into it?
HWB: Well it usually starts with writing a melody on a guitar or a piano. Those are the two main tools I use when I’m writing. I usually just find a melody that I like enough to play it over and over again, and then the words sort of... Sometimes I have an idea of what I want to write about, but I don’t usually write the words until I have the music part of it at least started. They sort of come after. And then for this last collection of songs I had started using Logic, just to record little scratch demos of stuff. So I could get everything prepared and arranged to bring into the studio when it was time to finally record them for the record.
One of the defining characteristics of Glider to me as a listener, is that it had a very “wide open space” feel, very big and expansive. As a songwriter, do you create that consciously? How do you go about that?
HWB: I think part of that probably comes from the fact that I sort of... I like all different types of music, but I really enjoy listening to sort of ambient, soundscape type of stuff. So that’s probably my attempt to incorporate some of that feeling into what I do. I also write, y’know, being a female artist and writing songs on the guitar or the piano, it could easily be considered, like a folk type of process or fit into the folk genre. And especially for this record I didn’t really want to go for that sound. So I sort of tried to create these atmospheric landscapes for the songs to live in and fill them out a little bit. And to create a sense of consistency throughout the record.
Can you talk about artists or sounds that have influenced you? Contemporary or otherwise.
HWB: Well I’m fortunate enough to have quite a few friends that make different movie-score type music and different classical based projects and stuff. One record that I’ve listened to a lot over the past few years that’s in that realm is a record by a group called A Winged Victory For The Sullen. It’s a duo of Dustin O’Halloran, who’s a solo pianist and film composer who’s Berlin based, and another gentleman named Adam Wiltzie, who’s American but based in Brussels and has been a part of many different ambient, experimental projects over the years that I’ve sort of followed. So that’s been a record that I’ve really enjoyed listening to. Other contemporary stuff I like… Y’know, Grouper, she writes amazing stuff, let’s see… Bryce Dessner, of The National, does some really amazing classical-based compositions for that world that I enjoy. And older stuff… I listen to a lot of classical music but also artists like Arthur Russell, and things that sort of incorporate that, just, reverb-ed out sound, and play with tape machines, stuff like that, I pull from that stuff too.
It seems you’re splitting the difference between those soundscapes and the folk you were talking about. Even if it’s a conscious decision to move away from the girl-and-a-guitar.
HWB: Yeah I think I do, and part of that is probably that I grew up with parents that were listening to folk music of the time, so that stuff is sort of like ingrained in me. And I grew up also playing classical piano, so that sort of led me into another world there.
How are you planning to translate these songs into a live set?
HWB: Ultimately I’d like to put together like a three piece band or something. I don’t necessarily feel like I need to directly, like, import the sounds from the record or anything. I think I would be interested in just having the people that I’m playing with come up with their live interpretation of those sounds. I’m not gonna travel around the world with a space echo machine and a chorus echo machine and all that stuff, so… [laughing] I think I’ll try and work within my means, and come up with something that has the vibe of the record but maybe isn’t exactly the same.
You don’t mind letting go of that direct composition control, touring with a band?
HWB: No, I don’t think so. What I’ve found with touring, cause I’ve played in so many different bands where maybe I’ve been a part of the recording process, you have to come up with a version of the songs that work with the people you’re bringing out on the road with you. Sometimes you’re limited by the different instruments they can play, or what you can bring on tour, and inevitably the songs end up morphing over time into whatever your live constellation is. And they always sound like the song, but I don’t think they necessarily always sound like the record. Oftentimes they develop and get stronger when you play then live with different people.
Your grandmother is on the cover of the record, right? And your brother recorded with you. Did such a family presence influence the record?
HWB: Well Peter and I have always played a lot of music together, and he’s been a huge part of both of the records I’ve recorded. I don’t know if I ever would have made that first one if he didn’t have a home recording setup and encouraged me to sit down and record those songs. He’s grown a lot as a musician, working in the studio and getting better with recording and stuff over the last year or two. It just makes sense to work together. He’s super talented but I think working with a sibling is also… There’s some things you don’t need to explain so much because your musical background is so intertwined. So family presence is big in that way. And in general family is a really important thing in my life, and I’m fortunate enough to be close with most of my family. They’re all very supportive and play a big part in my life.
So your musical style has some similarities to Sharon Van Etten, who you tour with, but it’s definitely very your own. Do you feel and pressure to separate your style from hers?
HWB: I don’t feel any pressure. I’m not very good at… I never try to write songs that sound like a certain style or any artist that I play with or look up to. I dunno, we have a pretty different... The styles are complimentary and we work well together, but our writing process and sense of melody is different enough to work well when we’re collaborating but sound fairly different when we’re working on our solo projects.
So what was the shooting for the “Wyoming” video like? Can you talk a little about the concept?
HWB: I met a filmmaker at a festival in Oregon a couple years ago called Pickathon that I was playing with Sharon at the time. We met there and sort of bumped into each other a few times, and he started listening to my last record and eventually mentioned that he did music videos and he’d love to do something for me at some point. So after I finished up all the recording, I thought I should see what he does, and I liked the stuff I saw. So we worked together and came up with this concept of shooting on the Oregon cost, and I let him pick the song he wanted to shoot for. He directed it, and another amazingly talented filmmaker from Portland called Edward Davee shot all the film on 16mm. So it took three days to collect all the footage, and we all worked together on getting the final edit.
The video for “Mama Shelter” is very different, it’s an almost continuous take of a dancer. Was that a conscious choice, to go a different direction?
HWB: No, that actually, I was put in touch with the people who made that video through a mutual music friend of mine. It’s a project that they started, this one is the first one that they’ve done. It’s sort of the test, for this thing they want to continue doing, where they find people that are not actual dancers and put them in a space or find a space to shoot in, and just have them interpret what they’re hearing through physical movement. This particular one was at the tail end of a shoot, they do a lot of commercial work as well, and they were in Rio de Janeiro and found this guy that was working on their commercial set just had a way of gliding around to whatever music was on in a room, doing his jobs for the day. So they asked him if he would mind helping them get this project started, so they filmed all that, cut it... He had heard the song “Mama Shelter” and was a fan of that song, so they cut it to that and sent it to me, and I just thought it was really nice. I didn’t really have anything to do with it, but I really enjoy dance and watching dance performances, and thought it was a really cool idea.
“A Call for Distance” was the first single off of Glider. And a seven minute single is kind of an unorthodox choice, especially for the first one. What made you go with it?
HWB: [laughs] Yeah… Actually that was my personal favorite song on the record. It was sort of my big project for it. But I sort of had ruled it out as the first single, or any single, because of its length. But I was talking with the woman who does my press and the label, and we were bouncing ideas back and forth, and they actually suggested that. I questioned it as well, like “Isn’t this a bit much? Will we scare everyone away if the first single is seven minutes long?” but they thought it was a good idea so we went for it, and it seemed to be pretty well received.
So what’s next? You said you’re hitting the road – are you always writing for the next record, too?
HWB: I’m always writing a little. I definitely want to get a record out much, much, sooner after this release… [laughing] I’m not gonna let six years go by again, for sure. So I’ve got like half the material for a new record that I’ve been working on. I’d also like to do an instrumental record at some point. I like writing songs with words, but I’d like to keep my arranging, compositional side, a little more active as well. So I hope to get out on the road in the fall and spring.
Very nice. So we’ve got five more minutes, anything else you want to mention, music or not? Open mic.
HWB: Well there’s one other project that I will have coming out, within the next year hopefully. I’m working in collaboration with a gallery here in New York called Planthouse Gallery, they’re releasing a book called “Home Lens”, with a book of photography, it’s all shots from a piece of property out in the countryside, and it’s being released with a 7” in the back of it. So I wrote one song specifically for that, called “Home Lens”, and the other song is an older track that that’s a B-Side, that I wrote closer to when I put out the first record. So that’s exciting, it’s a different kind of project, and hopefully I’ll have more information on that soon.