Doldrums singer Airick Woodhead is distracted when he takes a call from the Straight on a Friday afternoon, and for good reason. He is at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, about to sound-check for the second-biggest audience of his fledgling career. (The biggest? Five thousand people for a 4 a.m. show in Rennes, France.) Fledgling not because he is new to the scene—he first started a band, Spiral Beach, with his brother when he was 13—but because one gets the distinct idea when talking to him that he knows exactly what he’s doing, and he’s not going anywhere.
Woodhead is polite but very youthful, and it comes out in everything he says. The world is his oyster and he knows it. Nonetheless, his energy is balanced with the distinct wisdom that can only be described as street smarts: this kid has been around.
Doldrums, featuring Woodhead’s androgynous vocals atop a soundscape of ethereal, sometimes strange but usually danceable beats, comprises the 23-year-old Torontonian-turned-Montrealer and a revolving group of guests who accompany him on-stage. “I guess I’m kind of a sketchy guy,” he says with a laugh. “I like changing it around to amuse myself.”
He sees the value of having his friends around him, but makes it clear that this is his show. “It helps me to have other musicians that each have their own different flavour to add to what I’m doing and make it more than just about myself,” he explains. “The thing I’m happiest about with Doldrums is that I’ve managed to evade a lot of definition in some ways—I still feel really liberated and free to do what I want and I have no problem putting my foot down and changing stuff around.”
While his music is heavily steeped in the sound of ’90s techno, Woodhead does not consider himself an electronic artist. Most of Doldrums’ songs originate with him improvising on analogue equipment—he doesn’t primarily use laptops or digital music programs like Ableton. “To me that experience is very uncathartic,” he contends. “I used to be a guitar player, and I think of what I’m doing now as still the same thing. I’m still trying to express myself but I’m using samples instead of my guitar.”
Contrary to urban legend, Doldrums’ first full release, Lesser Evil, is not based on a dystopian fantasy that Woodhead dreamed up—his songs are born independently and start with musical ideas, not conceptual ones. “To me the songs are just about specific things that happen to me, or wordplay. If there’s any overarching themes, I find they usually show themselves later, they’re easier to pick out that way,” he says. “Music to me is very much about communication, between the audience but also between me and my friends and the people around me, and that’s where the songs come out of: my experiences and about people I know. And it’s very important to me to keep that going but also not make it trapped by any one configuration.”