Nestled in the heart of the Melbourne CBD, Elle Graham – better known under her moniker Woodes – stepped slowly into her new studio. Laughing, the producer and singer-songwriter nodded to her new space and its possibilities. Just moving in last week, the nooks and crannies of the open space were already filled with assorted books and production gear, breathing life into the high-rise city studio. Originally hailing from Queensland, the move to Melbourne city was the big reality kick that made Woodes; the determination to make music her sole job burning intensely through the Melbourne music scene.
“Woodes embodies strength without being whimsical.”
“I wanted to move my set up out of my bedroom so I could treat making music as a sort of day job where I come into the city on the tram and come in here. A 9-5 kind of thing.” After trying the home studio set-up, Woodes opted for a collaborative space that she shares with three other musicians. “I need to be making a lot more music doing a lot of collaborations and top line vocals – it’s a nice way to push myself into that zone.” To Elle, Woodes “embodies strength without being whimsical”, and, much like her own demeanour, wanted Woodes to have a power to it. Through the strength of this vision, not only is Woodes providing quality and beautifully diverse records she also produces her own music.
“When I came down to Melbourne and I was collaborating with all these different producers, from the first few deadlines, I realised I had to take it on and do it myself as opposed to finding time to work with other people”. Woodes familiarised herself with program Logic and began experimenting with her sound, despite only having her voice as an instrument in her artillery. “I was recording layers and layers of harmonies and lots of reverb, lots of delay, just things that were for me aesthetically pleasing.” From there, Woodes’ production skills began to flourish; synths and guitars began to appear in her production, interweaving with her vocals. Rather than putting her work up for scrutiny in its early stages, Woodes “pulled back offline and allowed [herself] to figure it out as opposed to just putting out demos to hear feedback.” As Elle noted about Woodes, “I wanted to make sure it was really good.”
Her blossoming catalogue – including newly released ‘Daggers & Knives’ – is proof of Woodes’ driving force and grasp on production, but Elle is still getting comfortable. “It’s always experimentation for me. Navigating probably took 12 months or so to know ‘okay this is how I start a session’; how many tracks I need? This is how I turn on in my studio. The most challenging aspect was that I could hear so vividly what I wanted to sound like – the perfect snare or tone – but the trick is it just takes practice.” But producing her own music means more than just finding the perfect sample, for Woodes it provides a paramount creative freedom. “I wouldn’t do music if I don’t have creative control. It took me a while to find the right management and right team to sort of express that and nurture that I have such a specific vision for this project. It also took me about a year of just finding visual influences and creating demos. It was this thing I was working on and then for me to actually start, to share that with a team or trust that they’re going to answer emails on my behalf or things like that. I wouldn’t do it if someone said, ‘can you please sing this’ and ‘go on that stage and then go on this tour’. I want to know what’s happening and be in the thick of it.”
“I think it’s important to keep doing what you’re doing because that’s what will inspire more people to get on board, like girls in their teens to download Ableton express themselves.”
As the sounds of the city filter in the conversation turns to gender, but the politics of production isn’t something Woodes dwells on extensively. “While there is divide between male and female producers I don’t let myself simmer in it too much. I think it’s important to keep doing what you’re doing because that’s what will inspire more people to get on board, like girls in their teens to download Ableton express themselves.” It’s this expression of self that has been the most rewarding aspects for Woodes, having spent so long pondering the message, there was nothing better than the rallying support of people behind you. “A lot of reviewers are saying the visuals are thought out and you don’t always get that in music reviews. I think that the story I’m trying to tell is its own thing and people are getting that. It’s really rewarding.”
When it comes to that captivating aesthetic of Woodes, it all became apparent organically for the 23-year-old artist. “I never thought I had an aesthetic that was clear, but then through collecting images on things like Tumblr, I started being like ‘oh, that’s a designer I would wear’ and ‘that’s the colour palette I want for a video clip’ and ‘that’s how I want my press shots to look.” Being a graduate of the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA), Woodes was able to build the foundations of her budding music career in an atmosphere lighted with a plethora of driven and motivated individuals.“With art school it’s definitely not about the piece of paper, it’s a way of networking and being in a bubble where everything is good and everything can be tweaked to be made better.”
“Don’t be afraid to let everything unfold naturally, to put in the time and really think about who you want to be as an artist and how you want to deliver that and express that.”
After looking into Brisbane and Sydney for tertiary education options, Woodes stumbled upon the VCA’s open day while she was down in Melbourne recording. “I really loved that there was directors, dancers, musicians and composers all in this one lunch room, and there aren’t many universities in Australia where you have lunch and there’s that networking opportunity.”
Elles’ final bit of advice for upcoming producers highlighted remembering your roots and simply, don’t rush and definitely don’t listen to the haters. “Don’t be afraid to let everything unfold naturally, to put in the time and really think about who you want to be as an artist and how you want to deliver that and express that”. With everyone putting their two cents in these days online, Woodes recommends, “not to read negative reviews or let people get you down. I probably would have stopped a long time ago because people will always try and cut things down, I don’t know why, but it’s worth finding positive people that push you forward.”