It’s okay if you’ve forgotten who Hilary Woods is. She stepped away from the game for a while. Back in 1999, she joined a band playing bass, at the age of seventeen. There was naturally somewhat of a learning curve, since she knew all of three notes when first starting out. But by eighteen and nineteen she was touring around the UK, Europe, the US, and Japan. That band was JJ72.
JJ72 was a Dublin-based alternative rock band that saw the bright lights in the big city before record label disputes caused them to split by 2006. But Woods had cut loose a few years earlier in 2003 after the release of their second LP, I to Sky. When TGA asked why she decided to leave the band at the seeming height of their success, she suggested that it was time for her to go. “I’d given it a lot and I’d arrive at a place where I just wanted to pursue my own thing.”
“The years together were spent constantly touring,” she continued, “we saw more of each other than anyone else. It was quite intense, as being in a band is.”
Rather than immediately following up with a solo career, Woods slowed down and changed directions. She then had a daughter and went to university where she studied painting—at least at first. “But after being given a bit of a wall to find myself on, I felt I’d done a lot of exploratory stuff before I got to fine art school,” she said. “I think I was looking for more instruction.” It wasn’t long before she switched to English Literature and Film Studies because it “felt nurturing in a way I’d been looking for.”
Doing an arts degree inspired Woods, and she bounced off the ideas she encountered in school. “I loved Steinbeck and Dostoyevsky and Chris Marker and Wim Wenders,” she said, “and the list of writers and filmmakers who continue to inspire me is endless.”
By her late twenties, Woods began to record songs without much in the way of fanfare. In 2014, she released the EP, Night, a four track debut that she released along with an experimental film of the same name. The film was shown at the Tiger Dublin Fringe Festival. Afterwards, she played a few underground gigs in Dublin, London, Paris, and Berlin.
Visuals are an integral component to Woods’ solo work. She had a direct hand in the concept of the video for Sabbath, from her latest EP, Heartbox. Rather than following a traditional narrative structure, the video traces the mood of the song. It begins with Woods somewhere in the countryside, her coy face partially hidden by tufts of pampas grass moving in the breeze. A piano circles and weaves around a Woods’ whispery voice. Synths float and linger in the atmosphere. For those expecting the rambunctious indie rock of JJ72, Woods’ solo work is a plunge into Nordic waters.
At around the halfway point, the pace quickens. The video shifts from day to night, rural to urban. It’s dark, a back alley in the city center somewhere. A wood block skips around the propulsive beat of a tom drum, which Woods thwacks with aplomb. Her voice harkens back to feathery power of Enya, but more clipped, modern, and unpredictable.
These meditative tracks are the result of Woods’ method. “I usually start off with a feeling, atmosphere or particular mood,” she explains; “and go from there, building chords, words, sounds. If it feels like I’ve successfully made something that feels whole then I might hit the red button.”
Heartbox was released on June 10th through the UK independent label Blood Orange. Woods is now in the process of making an LP. Though she was mum on the details, aside from assuring TGA that she will afterwards go on tour, it is certain that the sound and look of this next album will be unmistakably hers.
Stephen M. Tomic