Name: Heather Woods Broderick
Occupation: Composer, musician
Current Release: Heather Woods Broderick's Domes is out via Dauw.
If you enjoyed this interview with Heather Woods Broderick and would like to keep up to date with her work, visit her official website. She is also on Instagram, Facebook, Soundcloud, and twitter.
Where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play?
Music has been a part of my life for so long that I don’t even necessarily feel like the act of making it comes as an impulse. It’s almost like a steady undercurrent; something that’s always there for me. Sometimes I go weeks without playing any music at all, but seem to come and go quite easily in and out of the practice of it.
When I am working on music I do find that many moods or personal experiences influence what I’m working on.
Recently I did write a song based on a dream I had, for instance. Often times at a concert or performance a lot of images come into my head, so I write them down on a notepad and sometimes they make it into my lyrics. I also really enjoy visual art and nature.
Generally I think all the experiences I have on a daily basis influence the work I make.
For you to get started, do there need to be concrete ideas – or what some have called a 'visualisation' of the finished work? What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?
Usually I just start playing and let the melodies guide me. Over the last few years, I’ve tried to get away from needing to meet some expectation with a finished work. I’m trying to be more in tune with letting things be what they are.
That said, I do sometimes set some sort of basic perimeter as a starting point. For instance, sometimes I pick a tempo to work with if I have the idea I’d like to write something more upbeat, and so on.
Is there a preparation phase for your process? Do you require your tools to be laid out in a particular way, for example, do you need to do 'research' or create 'early versions'?
For me this depends on the project. For instance, I used some fx pedals to process my cello though when I made the music for Domes. So in this case, I would prepare my fx chain and play through an amplifier.
If I’m working on a recording project in protools, songs or pieces might go though many changes or versions on the way to the final one.
Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating? What role do certain foods or stimulants like coffee, lighting, scents, exercise or reading poetry play?
I do have some rituals that I sort of employ for every day. I think consistency with these things ends up folding into my overall mindset and helps with balance and creativity.
In the morning I drink a large jar of water, and coffee. When I’m playing music in my studio I like to have low light if possible and have a candle burning. I like to have a clean, organized space to work in. A less cluttered space leaves more space for my brain and creativity.
I also take a run three times a week in the morning, and participate in a regular Pranayama breathing practice a couple times a week. Exercise and device free / quiet time are important tools for me to get into my creative zone.
What do you start with? How difficult is that first line of text, the first note?
This also depends on the project. The cello music I wrote for Domes is improvisation based. I didn’t have any expectation of this music sounding a certain way, or even necessarily plan to make a record with the material. I found that approaching the starting point in this sort of neutral and exploratory mindset made the process of making the pieces feel very effortless.
I just started playing and enjoyed the sound. I would find a tone or melody that I liked and would just play it over and over again, and slowly build upon it.
When do the lyrics enter the picture? Where do they come from? Do lyrics need to grow together with the music or can they emerge from a place of their own?
When I’m writing lyrics, I generally write them at the same time I’m writing the music. The two sort of go hand in hand and as you say, grow together.
What makes lyrics good in your opinion? What are your own ambitions and challenges in this regard?
As a listener I enjoy all kinds of lyrics, and all kinds of music, too. I like it when lyrics take you on a journey and inspire you to use your own imagination.
Lyrics are the hardest part of writing for me. I think if I was only writing music it would be a faster process for me. I do enjoy the challenge of lyrics though; like putting together little puzzles.
Once you've started, how does the work gradually emerge?
It’s a pretty organic process for me. I try not to force things, because I want it to be enjoyable, so sometimes I can be a bit slow with it.
I think it’s like anything really, you just have to start. Once I have one strong element to go off of, the rest of it comes along.
Many writers have claimed that as soon as they enter into the process, certain aspects of the narrative are out of their hands. Do you like to keep strict control over the process or is there a sense of following things where they lead you?
I would say that I usually have an idea of what I’m trying to covey in a song, whether it be in the lyrics or a mood in the melody. So in some way there are some parameters I suppose.
Sometimes words or images come to mind while I’m working that will sort of steer the song in a direction. Once the song leaves my hands, I’d say the the narrative becomes that of the listener, so it’s there where the content I’ve created can take on even more of a life of its own.
There are many descriptions of the creative state. How would you describe it for you personally? Is there an element of spirituality to what you do?
For me it’s a quiet, reflective, and focused state. As with any practice, it has taken on an importance to me over the years because it’s been with me for so long. We miss each other if we spend too much time apart, and whether I’ll make more music has never been a question for me.
I would say that it’s spiritual in the way that it connects me to other people and ideas, and in the ritualistic nature of creating. It’s a contribution I can make to participate in the bigger picture.
Especially in the digital age, the writing and production process tends towards the infinite. What marks the end of the process? How do you finish a work?
Most of the time I just know when something is done. I definitely have an idea of what I need something to sound, or elements that I know need to be built up or tweaked sonically.
Usually I play things for a friend who I admire musically and have them tell me how they think it sounds, etc before I consider it completely finished. Sometimes I work with an engineer, and in that case it’s a mutual decision.
Once a piece is finished, how important is it for you to let it lie and evaluate it later on? How much improvement and refinement do you personally allow until you're satisfied with a piece? What does this process look like in practise?
I do think it’s easy to get too close to something, so that it’s harder to hear it so objectively after a while. So I like to take breaks from listening to things and then check back in on it. Usually things that need to be refined or revisited will be apparent after I’ve been able to step away for a bit.
With the possibility of these infinite tweaks we can do these days as you describe above, I like to just let it go at a certain point. I get it to a place I’m satisfied with and try not to overdue it in order to keep the humanness in the sound.
I’d rather make more work, than redo the same work until I drive myself crazy.
What's your take on the role and importance of production, including mixing and mastering for you personally? How involved do you get in this?
These days I’m really involved in this process. It’s really fun to get into the production side of things, and mixing is something that you just get better at with time. Sometimes I mix things myself, and other times I have someone else mix it for me.
I aways go to someone else for mastering, but these days I don’t necessarily think it’s always necessary to master a recording if it’s mixed well. It just depends on the material. For Domes, my brother Peter Broderick helped me with some post production and mixing, and D. James Goodwin mastered it.
After finishing a piece or album and releasing something into the world, there can be a sense of emptiness. Can you relate to this – and how do you return to the state of creativity after experiencing it?
I have a lot of other things I enjoy doing outside of music, so I’m not someone that wants to be in the studio creating all day every day.
Since I’m on the slower side with writing and releasing music in comparison to a lot of artists these days, I tend to feel a sense of relief or accomplishment when I finish something and release it into the world.
I like to take a bit of a break if I can, and then get back to it!
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you personally feel as though writing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
There is certainly creativity in all that we do if we want to see it.
The satisfaction I get from creating a piece of music is a different sort that I would get from cooking, or making a cup of coffee, or any of those other projects. I think it’s because music is what I’m passionate about. For me it’s good to have a balance of music and other creative pathways.
Things like cooking are fun for me because the results are more instantaneous, whereas creating a piece of music is a longer, more challenging process for me.