Hilary Woods invokes a dancer’s spirit on Sacred Bones debut Colt

FACT Rated is our series digging into the sounds and stories of the most vital breaking artists around right now. This week, Claire Lobenfeld speaks to Hilary Woods whose beautiful Sacred Bones debut, Colt, was released earlier this month.

Before she became a musician, Dublin pianist Hilary Woods wanted to be a dancer. “I devoted an awful lot of time as a child to dance. And I encountered an awful lot of music within the dance studio that I completely fell in love with,” she says. “But dance is incredibly unforgiving. You have to have the right feet and the right back: I have the soul of a dancer, but I’m not sure I have the body of a dancer.”

With her Sacred Bones debut Colt, that spirit seems to ring true. The music is delicate but deeply emotional, harkening back to the melodrama of Angelo Badalamenti’s Twin Peaks score but with a quiet core that does indeed invoke some of the more languid forms of dance. “A lot of things I do artistically is an attempt to get back into the body,” she says. “I love tangible instruments and I also find the piano quite physical.” She mentions that earlier that day, she’d spent an hour playing one chord on the piano and went into “some sort of trance.”

“My heart belongs to writing songs and I’m devoted to that”

Woods grew up with a musical family: her father was also a pianist before he passed away and her brothers were really into heavy music. “I grew up surrounded by a lot of vinyl,” she says. “It was a huge mix of folk music and Irish ballads very heavy metal.” You can hear both these influences on her album. Although Colt is lithe and warm, there is an austerity to its texture that harkens back to the forbidding tones of heavier music.

As a teenager, Woods taught herself the bass and when she finished school was asked to join Dublin alt-rock band JJ72 by frontman Mark Greaney. It was a formative experience, but not one with a lot of autonomy. “I was introduced to this lifestyle that I’d never envisaged for myself really. I did loads of shows for the guts of four years,” she says. “It was a rude awakening, though, going from playing on my own into catapulted into playing in very much a band context. But I wasn’t sharing any of my ideas really within the band.” Although the band were successful and had a major label deal with Columbia Records, Woods “jumped ship” after two albums to pursue her own work.

More a decade after JJ72’s end, Woods found herself with a body of work she wanted to put into the world. A fan of Sacred Bones, she contacted the label with hopes they might want to release her album. “I always felt aesthetically connected to them and their choices and what they released,” she says. “ I subsequently went off and made some very loud and bassy sound design for a theater piece I created, just to almost not be waiting for anybody to get back to me.” But they did, and with some more writing, it resulted in the release of Colt, an unassuming album full of somber allure. “I’d say my heart belongs to writing songs and I’m devoted to that, so every day, I’d give the core of my day to that,” she says. With Colt, it shows.

Claire Lobenfeld is FACT’s Managing Editor.

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