INTERVIEW

Daniel Woolhouse discusses ‘Life After Defo’, his debut album as Deptford Goth.

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As I head to the Strongroom Bar in Shoreditch, to meet Daniel Woolhouse, better known as Deptford Goth, I’m tempted to drop a quip about the south Londoner venturing to the city’s eastern enclave and hipster epicentre. As buzz builds towards the release of his debut album, ‘Life After Defo’, much has been made of his name-checking nom de plume, but he’s sceptical of being cast as a London musician, let alone one that’s confined to one of its constituent boroughs. For a start, he’s not even from Deptford. “I had that name hanging around, and I was putting a track on the Internet and I thought that would be a good name. I kind of had it in mind as a character in a story or something but never actually wrote anything. It conjured up some nice imagery. I live in Peckham but I don’t know if I really see myself as a London-centric or a UK-centric artist.”

Woolhouse sees the capital, then, as an enabler rather than a defining force, its rich cultural tapestry allowing artists to soak up inspirations that hail from far beyond the M25. “You’re probably influenced by the fact that you meet a lot of people who have a lot of diverse tastes in music and you get to listen to a lot of different music, and you can go to see a lot of live music. So it definitely opens doors in that sense compared to if you lived in rural Spain,” he reasons. “It obviously does affect what you make because that’s what making stuff is; you’re processing something and making stuff out of that, but I’m not aware of, really, what that is doing. The stuff I wrote, lyrically, is on a human level rather than a socio-political level. I think that’s kind of a universal thing, anyway – human emotions – geography doesn’t really come in between those.”

In the course of my research I had read that Woolhouse started life as a guitar-strumming singer-songwriter but my sources prove inaccurate and he’s quick to stamp on my neat narrative arc. “I wasn’t really an acoustic artist or anything. I guess I had an acoustic guitar and a Casio keyboard so it was kind of born out of those elements. I liked playing around with tape and stuff.”

So you didn’t set fire to the guitar?

“No, no, there was no transition. I did record stuff with a four track but I never really finished much. I don’t think I ever decided, ‘Oh, I’ll make this type of music’. That’s a difficult thing to think about.”

So where does Deptford see himself fitting in in today’s sonic landscape? The idea that he follows in the footsteps of electronic songwriters such as James Blake and Jamie Woon has been foisted upon Woolhouse but he’s circumspect when it comes to the parameters of an emerging canon. “I don’t think the listener needs to do that to music. It’s normally people who are writing about music that need to do that to tell the listener to listen to it or not to listen to it. There’s the electronic soul tag that gets bandied around. That’s quite vague in a way; a lot of genres are really specific. It’s really restrictive to label something. I guess I just think of myself as a songwriter who uses some live and some electronic elements. I wish I did have a label and I could just say, ‘This is it’. It’s the perennial problem.”

In his nascent career Woolhouse has already worked with Rodaidh McDonald, a producer and engineer whose alumni include The xx and Gil Scott-Heron. “I’d finished the album, basically, and needed someone with another set of ears to come on board and bounce stuff off, and to get the final mix done,” says Woolhouse. “I met Rodaidh and he seemed like a really good guy to help me out, having spent a lot of time alone [with the record], just going, ‘I’ve kind of lost all opinion of this.’ I recorded it at home so it was like, ‘Let’s listen to it really loud through some really good monitors with someone who knows exactly what they’re doing,’ and it helped tie everything together sonically.”

While I’m mindful to avoid the suggestion of an over-arching scene, there is a discernable similarity in the atmosphere of the music of Blake and Woon et al and that of ‘Life After Defo’ – Deptford Goth seems entrenched in the small hours, too. Says Wooldhouse: “I don’t expect someone to have to wait until night time to put the headphones on and listen to the record, but if it works to do that then I’m more than happy for someone to treat it that way.”

Still, I can’t imagine this record being the product of a sunny Tuesday afternoon.

“Well, I used to make everything nocturnally because I’d come home from work, make my tea and then make some music until I thought, ‘Oh, I need to go to bed because I’ve got work tomorrow’, but I think that shifted slightly. I definitely found it odd trying to make stuff during the day because it feels like you maybe should be doing some other stuff, although having said that, a lot of stuff gets decided or written or thought of when you’re doing something else anyway. I can be doing anything and I hold on to that idea or I make a note of it and then come back to it later. Sort of like collecting things throughout the day and then having a look at them at the end.”

We’ve all come to accept the romantic idea of the tortured solo musician, toiling in the studio on a slow descent into mental fragmentation, but Woolhouse is positive about his own experience, despite obvious tracts of lassitude. Over the six months it took him to write and record his album, Woolhouse “definitely went through long periods within that time of being quite downcast about what I was doing”; a time he now acknowledges as a simple case of writer’s block.

“You can’t just think ,‘Oh I’m going to do something,’ and then go and do it,” he says. “Like what I said about doing other stuff – like stuff coming to you while you’re doing something else. It’s quite easy to forget that that’s how it actually works.”

There is also a sense that he sees his Deptford Goth output as a holistic, multi-sensory suite, which he clearly approaches as a labour of love. Indeed, he has been the creative force behind the visions for the three promotional videos thus far and is keen to retain this role. The video of ‘Life After Defo’ was all Woolhouse, recorded at home, a lot like the record it titles. The following promo for ‘Union’ (featuring Woolhouse in front of the camera) was then a joint effort between a few close friends. “I guess it’s just using the resources that are available to you,” he says. “It’s not like I need to control the stuff but it’s something that I just really like doing. So it would seem a bit odd not to do it, because I feel really lucky to be able to. It’s not a hassle, it’s something that I would do even if it wasn’t my songs and someone asked me to do a video,” he says with wide-eyed gusto. “I think it’s important that they’re coherent and that they work together, rather than it just being that someone’s been sent a track and they make a promo for it and then it’s sent back without any cross-pollination – it just looks slick.”

Before all this, Woolhouse was a teaching assistant and he immediately lights up when I ask him about it. “I really loved it but about six months into it I was fairly certain I didn’t want to be a teacher,” he says. “I was quite happy being a teaching assistant but it was a lot of work. The kids were really funny. They’re amazing. It was a primary school. Year one, so 5, 6 year olds. A primary school in Deptford. It was probably one of the best years of my life, as a job, because it’s so unpredictable what a kid’s going to say. There’s no pretense or anything. It makes you stop and laugh.” He grins. “There were some quite funny little chaps that I worked with.”

While his enthusiasm is infectious, his level-headedness is equally impressive. Deptford Goth hasn’t yet polished his live act, and his total lack of complacency and self-conscious desire to entertain is endearing. “I really enjoy doing it but there’s definitely an anxiety attached to it, mostly probably in the sense that you want people to enjoy themselves or have a good time. Someone’s going to buy a few pints and watch this.” When I ask him what kind of reaction he’s expecting, he’s more self-effacing still. “I can’t imagine people dancing. A little shuffle, maybe. Really slow, slow motion.”

As I broach the subject of plans for 2013, Woolhouse perks up once again, and I genuinely sense that the whole process is treated as an adventure. “There’ll be gigs in support of the album and hopefully throughout the rest of the year,” he enthuses. “I’ve never been to America so I’d like to do that. It’d be good to tie that into a sightseeing tour. Definitely some European stuff. I’ve had a few emails from people from places like Sweden, and I haven’t actually been to Sweden.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen out of any of this,” he says. “I like writing songs and if someone says, ‘Oh we’re going to release your record…’” He pauses and reiterates the patience that’s made ‘Life And Defo’, and the substantial pinch of salt he takes with all things Deptford Goth. “You know, I don’t expect to make any money out of this.”

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