Hilary Woods has come in from the cold. Figuratively speaking of course, although there is a definite bite to this September afternoon when Goldenplec meets her in the Twisted Pepper. The years have been good to Ms Woods. She barely looks a day older than her heyday in JJ72 back in 2000. She returned to the scene last year under the moniker The River Cry, releasing an eight-track album of ethereal, piano-led songs.
This time out, with her new EP, ‘Night’, she is releasing it under her own name. Was there any particular reason she is reverting to her own name for this release? “It just seemed natural for me to release it under my own name this time. With the last record, I was dipping my toe back in the water and I kind of liked the idea of going under a project name too. It allowed me to fly under the radar”.
‘Night’ will be launched with a series of three shows at the Smock Alley Theatre from the 18th-20th September as part of the Tiger Dublin Fringe Festival. For a lady who shies somewhat from the limelight this seemed like the perfect move. “I really dig the vibe of the Fringe Festival. I go every year. It’s more my cup of tea. You can stage it whatever way you want – it’s more like an installation than a gig. It embraces the DIY ethic which is very much where I come from”.
The shows will also feature some visuals designed by Woods. Indeed, after leaving JJ72 she did stints in art college in Seville, Spain and courses in fine art at The Slade, London before undertaking a degree in English Literature and a Masters in Philosophy and Film from Trinity College Dublin in 2010, so the shows will allow her to showcase her visual talents too. “It’s very lo-fi”, she says.
‘The River Cry’ was a sparse affair featuring swirling sounds and heavily reverbed, hushed vocals over simple piano. ‘Night’, although quite different, will apparently be more of the same in terms of textures. Live, however, a four-piece band will interpret the songs. “It was a great process to work again with other people. The first album was very much a solitary affair”.
Woods was schooled in piano before she joined JJ72, when she was asked by Mark Greaney to play bass. “Our first gig I just played three notes. It was very humble beginnings!”. She has since go on to teach herself guitar, which features on the new EP. There’s no virtuoso performances on display however. “I find my limitations on an instrument set me free. I’ve turned it into an advantage – there’s nowhere to hide. I like the fact that I’m still learning my instruments. It excites me that I’m getting better at guitar. I’m continually trying to better myself.”
Woods lists Jon Hopkins as one of her influences. It’s an intriguing proposition, Woods working with a producer along the lines of Jon Hopkins – could she produce the Irish version of ‘Diamond Mine’, Hopkins collaboration with King Creosote? “I’d be open to anything that would serve the song. What was beautiful about [Diamond Mine] is that the emotion was augmented by Hopkins”.
So is Woods officially back on the music scene then or this just another in the list of diversions that have occupied her over the last ten years? Not many artists leave a band as well-known as JJ72 and then disappear for ten years until they are practically forgotten, only to then re-emerge as an entirely different kind of artist. “After JJ72 there were a lot of things I said no to and I just said yes to the things that I wanted to do. I wanted to step away from it all for a while. I enjoyed becoming a parent which catapulted me into a totally other universe”. However she could only ignore the nagging voice in the back of her head, telling her she had unfinished business in music, for so long.
“It’s important to realise that there is life outside of it all too”. She may be known for a very small chapter in her life, but Hilary Woods wants to make sure we know there are more chapters to come.