When Airick Woodhead’s Doldrums took the stage at a packed Iceland Airwaves show in November, a chance occurrence complemented the set: the Northern Lights made a rare appearance in downtown Reykjavík; visible from the venue windows, the otherworldy green amorphous hue danced across the sky. They seemed the ideal dreamy visual backdrop for Doldrums’ show, where a cacophonous collage of samples, synths and polyrhythms – simultaneously chaotic, hypnotic and danceable – buoyed Woodhead’s androgynous falsetto. The show was a highlight of the festival and the fortuitous lights display also paralleled how Doldrums developed, which began in 2010 as both a visual and musical project. “I was collaging everything, all my favorite childhood VHS collection into this kind of like one big representation of kinda how my memory was. I felt like my memory was going to something,” Woodhead explains via Skype from his home in Montreal. “And so the glitched-out analog manipulations that I was doing were both video and music at the time.”
The son of folk artist David Woodhead and formerly in the band Spiral Beach with his brother Daniel, Airick Woodhead’s visual artistic roots began when he was a kid. “Making ‘zines or just doing collages is like a huge part of a kind of constant continuum of like sucking in culture and spitting it out,” he says. “I think it’s kind of dying out, the ‘zine culture and stuff ‘cause everything’s on the Internet now. But I really try to advocate physical and local culture, like music culture and supporting local stuff.”
After he made a series of 7-inches and a VHS mixtape, London’s No Pain In Pop label took notice and put out Doldrums first EP, Empire Sound, in 2011. Meanwhile, Portishead heard his rendition of their “Chase The Tear” and added it as the B-side to their single.
His just-released debut full-length Lesser Evil first began taking shape on a laptop while Woodhead was attending an artist residency in Banff, BC in the fall of 2011, where he met producer Tony Berg. Afterwards, Berg invited him to Los Angeles where they added more “professional shit on there.” In the live setting, where Woodhead plays with a rotating cast of bandmates, there’s a playful element to his approach (“It almost feels like a DJ battle with our gear”), and both live and on record a freewheeling, no-rules vibe pervades songs such as on “She Is The Wave,” “Egypt” and “Lost In Everyone.” The material touches on a loss of individualism and feeling disconnected from current social interaction modes. “I think that’s something that everyone who has experienced this huge shift in how we interact as humans in the last 10 years is definitely thinking about these things,” he says. “I have a lot of anxiety about stuff and sometimes I just need to disconnect myself and, I don’t know, just get back to reality or something. But it’s not as technology based in a way as just socially, socially based.”
The word “Doldrums” is synonymous with boredom (the name was inspired by Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth), and while there is a jittery, youthful restlessness to Doldrums’ sound, Woodhead asserts his still-developing project is more influenced by, and a reaction to, societal apathy and isolation. “I don’t feel like I’ve defined myself that much. I still think of this album, and to some extent Doldrums in general, as a project that I’m working on, you know. Like I’m exploring certain concepts; maybe not boredom, but definitely sterility or listlessness or like a feeling of emotional exhaustion, like just feeling complete stagnation. And repetition,” he says. “You know, maybe going to the same job everyday and passing the same people on the bus and not really feeling connected to anything and just that kind of alienation. Those are all the feelings that I’m trying to escape, and I’m lucky because Doldrums has been my way to escape that and stay kind of free.”