Words: Anna Davies
Photography: Jiggery Pokery
Bursting with passion and zeal, Iain Woods is the latest addition to the east end’s vibrant music scene. Since winning the 4Talent music award last year, Woods has performed some mind-blowing gigs around the UK – headlining the George Tavern festival, playing Standon Calling Festival and securing a slot in Dalston’s Land of Kings Festival where he made musical waves in the basement of the Arcola Theatre. Currently performing as Psychologist, the music is hard to bracket but his ultimate aim is to recreate a rave scene. “Raving is like our generation's version of putting on frilly dresses and going rock and rolling,” Woods proclaims, “Dubstep, now, is doing what rock and roll did back in the 50s and my heyday was raves so I want my show to be like a big rave – full of tension.” With Woods as frontman, singing and raising the roof with his insurmountable energy, two backing violinists, and a guy dishing out the background beats – the room quickly becomes rammed with their trip-hoppy sound.
Woods began making music at the age of 9, having persuaded his parents to let him buy a piano with some money he’d earnt from a TV appearance. “I had my piano in our tiny little council flat in Coventry and it was really out of place.” His father’s ambitions for him to become a musician were apparent from a young age – as he encouraged Woods to practise regularly. Initially taught by a deaf piano teacher, Woods quickly learnt that conventional learning methods would not suit him as he was told “you can’t learn classically because you’re shit at maths and so there’s no way you’ll be able to read music – but you’ve got a really good ear.” From then on he would listen to music and then play it back. He still can’t read music. This alternative learning process seems to have dented Woods confidence in his musical abilities. Woods reckons he’ll never call himself a musician; “I feel like I’m a phony. I don’t really like saying I’m a musician because I’m not trained in music” but Emma Goldie, one of the violinists in his band, reassures him - “I’m classically trained in the sense that I’ve had all the training and did the theory side,” she tells him, “but I think you’re more of a musician than me.”
Whilst at sixth form College, Woods would bunk his art classes and sit in the costume cupboard of the schools theatre with his friend Bella (about whom he later wrote a song). They’d sit and smoke weed and Bella would teach him guitar. He then persuaded his dad to buy him an 8-track recorder – “it was really old-school,” he remembers, “you’d press record and play the piano. Then stop. Rewind it back to the beginning and you’d record the drums. Then stop. Rewind it back to record the vocals and so on.” That was his first recording and he made 10 copies of it with him playing all the instruments. Some of the songs were developed for the EP he released in 2008.
On completing his A-Levels, Woods moved to Brighton to begin a four year stint at art school. “I wanted to just do whatever the hell I wanted to do for four years and art school allowed me to do everything – you know - like painting, drawing, photography, and performance and all that kind of stuff and it meant that I didn’t have to pin myself down.” But it was Woods wide array of talents and interests that worried his tutors. At art school he was a nightmare to have a tutorial with, admits Woods, “I’d be like ‘I wanna ski down a mountain, then I wanna put the skies up in a gallery then I wanna write a song about it then I wanna make a film and then display the script from the film, then I’m gonna photograph the script...’” He remembers one tutor in particular telling him that he was going to be “rubbish at everything because you can never hone in on one thing”. She was concerned that Woods had too many ideas and that this would prevent him from doing anything.
To prove that he could, in fact, combine his many and varied passions – Woods began hanging out in the music department of his college and after making friends with some of the technicians he gained access to the incredible equipment that was mostly untouched by the music students. A self-confessed ‘technophobe’ in the first year of university, Woods handed over his Christmas money to a friend Lewis who would then act as his hands. He told Lewis that he didn’t want to touch the computer or the mouse so he’d sit to one side and direct him – telling Lewis exactly how to move the cursor to create the exact sound he wanted. In the second year Woods enrolled on a computer technology course for one of his electives “as a present for Lewis” and realised that it was actually quite simple.
Woods continued his art degree whilst making and producing music alongside but soon became rather disheartened with the art world. “In many ways I felt as though I’d lost the magic of art and the art world because studying something is like seeing behind the scenes, it’s like watching a magician show and then the magician revealing the secrets to his tricks.” This became ever more prevalent when he spent a summer working for the White Cube Gallery in London. Though the experience was incredible - Woods describes it as ‘the best independent art gallery in the world’ - he became disheartened by the “seedy art world and seeing just how much stuff was getting sold for.” He returned to Brighton for his final year and having had “all his beliefs in the art world totally shattered” he started to think about what type of art is accessible to everyone. Looking around his room one day he noticed his CD collection and had an idea. “I started thinking everyone’s got a CD collection and even if you don’t – you’ve got a favourite song and that’s free” and he realised that this was of paramount importance to his artistic and musical ethos. “A light bulb came on and I was like wicked – I can do what I’ve always said I’ve wanted to do – I can release music through a gallery” and so he released his first ever EP as his degree show.
Woods finished his degree and moved to London to set his musical career in motion. He is eager to combine his love for music, photography and poetry, “I’m just like a spoilt brat – I want to do everything, I don’t want to be put in a box.” When asked whether he performs live art shows or gigs, he responds “I don’t know is the answer to that. It really doesn’t matter what it is. If people come up to me after coming to a show or listening to a record and they’re beaming or if they see a photo of mine that they really like then I don’t care what people call it. I guess under a massive umbrella it’s just art.”