Stepping out from the shadows of Deptford Goth, Daniel Woolhouse returns under his own name with new album ‘What’s That Sound?’. We talk eggs, soup, ceramics, cow ears. You know, the usual
Nice as sausages are, you probably don’t need to know how they’re made. There’s a track on ‘What’s That Sound?’, the new album from Daniel Woolhouse, called ‘Tomorrow’s Egg’. It’s a curious title. It’s not alone. We’ll get to ‘Soup For Brains’ and ‘Dreamt I Was A Ceramicist Too’ later, but for now, let’s deal with ‘Tomorrow’s Egg’.
“The title comes from one evening when I chose the egg I was going to have for my breakfast the next morning,” says Woolhouse, clearly unaware he’s talking out loud. “I liked the idea of cracking it open and a new day falling out.”
Which is a lovely idea, but the need to choose it the night before? That’s a bit…what’s the word? So, did it take a while?
“No,” he says, not missing a beat. “It was a quick decision, an egg is an egg.”
Well, we did ask.
Daniel Woolhouse is perhaps better known round these parts as Deptford Goth. He first pinged on our radar back in October 2011 with his debut EP ‘Youth II’, which was followed by two of the most affecting, most fragile albums you’re likely to hear – 2013’s ‘Life After Defo’ and 2014’s ‘Songs’.
While the name Deptford Goth conjured images of brooding back street depravity, what Woolhouse served up was nothing of the sort. His missives are the most twinklingly delicate pop, music that gently cradled low-key R&B and soul flecks along the way. Sure, it was splashed in dark, but it was a nice dark, the sort of stuff turning the lights down low was made for.
This month he makes his return with a new album, ‘What’s That Sound?’, under a new name. Actually, not a new name. His own name. When the new album was announced, there was a headline somewhere that read: “Deptford Goth returns as Daniel Woolhouse”, which seemed a bit odd we suggest, he’s always been Daniel Woolhouse, right?
“It’s true I have,” he laughs. “Releasing the record under my own name seemed like a logical thing to do. Creatively I was moving away from the previous two records, so it felt good to treat that period as a chapter and move on to the next.”
If you line up all the albums and listen to them one at time, it’s a real treat. They hold together as a body of work, as a triptych. From ‘Life After Defo’ and its measured, fractured glimpses of an accomplished songwriter in the making to ‘Songs’, a more confident record, a record that, very simply, does what it says on the tin. The ambition is clear to hear. Has he tried playing all three record back-to-back I wonder.
“No I haven’t,” he exclaims. “It’s interesting, it’s nice to hear actually. I guess it makes sense that they would hang together as a set, because the mind wanders incrementally from one thing to another, so there’s not going to be a sudden jump in style or ideas, there wasn’t a massive gap between the albums or anything.”
So does he feel different now that Daniel Woolhouse is front and centre?
“I think I felt freer to explore new ideas,” he muses. “It seems like I had more of a blank page. The songs aren’t a million miles away from before, but the difference was in the way I approached making the album. It definitely felt like there was a shift.”
During the making of ‘Songs’, the sophomore outing, there was also a shift from the city to the coast. From Peckham to the Kent coast.
“’Songs’ was made half in London and half by the sea,” he says. “So some of the ideas would’ve started in London, but it was all put together and recorded on the coast.”
What prompted the move?
“I felt that I wasn’t using what London has to offer,” says Woolhouse. “I wasn’t venturing out of my bubble. It felt like a waste being there. I was sitting in my flat and walking to the pub, that was pretty much my routine. You can do that anywhere.”
The first two records do sound very urban, whereas ‘What’s That Sound?’ feels much more crashing waves and big skies, a product of his new surroundings. It’s a bigger, bolder record, where before there was a gentle whisper from the shadows, now there’s a shouting from the rooftops.
The new direction has also seen him writing in a different way. Working on his own, Woolhouse visualised the songs as if he was producing a group, or in a band. “I pictured people in their places, and what everyone needed to bring to the song,” he explains. When you dig a little into his past, you discover he studied Fine Art at Wimbledon School Of Art, whose alumni include Jeff Beck, Raymond Briggs and Turner Prize artists Tony Cragg and Peter Doig. Perhaps then little surprise that as a musician he falls back on old visual tricks.
“I was mostly interested in print and sculpture and using them together,” he says. “Was the plan to be an artist? I don’t know if I ever had a plan. I still don’t really. I probably thought I’ll study art and then use it in some way, work in design… I ended up working in a cafe.”
Living in Peckham at the time, he saw an advert for a teaching assistant job just up the road in a Deptford primary school.
“I was sick of making lattes,” he smiles. “I thought, ‘I could do that’, so I applied. I really enjoyed it, kids are funny, but I could never have been a teacher, it’s too tough.”
I wonder how music weaves into all this. Did he live in a musical house as a child?
“Not at all,” he says. “I just got a guitar when I was in my early teens, had some lessons, got a four-track machine and started recording bits and pieces.”
But what prompted him to pick up a guitar?
“I don’t know if it was inspired by anyone in particular,” he says. “I just thought guitars were cool. It’s just a thing kids think isn’t it? Guitars are kind of exciting and shiny and they make a noise. In reality the first guitar I had was a terrible sounding nylon string thing from Argos, it definitely didn’t make me cool.”
What was he recording on the four-track?
“Just nonsense really, whatever came into my head,” he laughs. “My sister had this little Casio keyboard that had a good ‘cello’ setting, which I used to add a bit of sophistication.”
Does he remember the first time he realised music had an deep effect on him?
“I don’t know if I realised it had an effect on me,” he ponders. “It has the power to give you your own space and surround you, let you be on your own with it. It’s cheesy to say, but it’s escapism.”
“From fear, a broken heart, boredom, mundanity, everything.”
And more often than not music is an escape from an incredibly busy mind and very full head, which isn’t uncommon for many creatives. Ideas and thoughts ping around like pinballs, trying to make sense of it all is the release, the escape. Getting it out, as words or drawings, paintings, films, music, whatever, however, is the key. The album title ‘What’s That Sound?’ refers to the racket in Woolhouse’s head. He calls it the “head chatter”.
“It’s just a million things going on and not being able to work out what to do when things get a bit confusing,” he says. “I think I often write about what I don’t understand about what I’m thinking, if that makes sense. You’re trying to articulate something that hasn’t left your head.”
And often it’s the saying it out loud, the expressing of it, that makes it real. It brings these ideas and thoughts to life. Which sort of brings us back to those song titles. ‘Dreamt I Was A Ceramicist Too’?
“It’s just that idea of doing something pure, turning a raw material into something precious,” he says.
But the “Too”, you dreamt your were a ceramicist as well as who?
“Other people,” he says. Simple when you know how.
The title ‘Soup For Brains’, that could be such a great insult.
“It’s not meant as an insult,” he offers, “more a description of myself, when everything is all swishing around in there.”
As we’re wrapping up, a thought pops out, a story. Woolhouse mentions he’s worried about his dog who he had to take to the vet the day before we spoke.
“The vet told me that he was too fat,” he says. “I need to work out how we can get him back in shape. I think I’m gonna give him less of those dried cow ears, that’s his vice.”
What sort of dog is he, we ask.
“He’s a whippet,” says Woolhouse.
A whippet? A fat whippet? The very idea is an image that we are still finding hard to shake.
“I don’t think he’s that fat,” he sighs, “but she’s the professional so I have to take her word for it.”
‘What’s That Sound?’ is released by 37 Adventures