These phases are said to be triggered by a heavy emotional experience such as the loss of a loved one or close friend, the dissolution of a marriage or relationship or by the prospect of facing a terminal illness. It's a theory that has been widely accepted since first being introduced, but one that has been equally debated as well. One reason I think is its one-size-fits-all approach to the individual's mind; let's face it, despite the fact we share certain common traits and behaviors, as individuals we tend to deal with deeply personal manners in our own unique ways. In times of inconsolable grief, there are those who are able to turn that grief into something positive through creative means. This is especially true of Grace Woodroofe, whose growth as a musician has turned out to be an unexpected cathartic experience for the twenty-two year old Perth native.
Woodroofe's own grief stems from the loss of a close personal friend and early supporter Heath Ledger. Back in 2006 when Woodroofe was only sixteen, the acclaimed actor caught wind of a couple of demos she had recently recorded and took them with him back to Los Angeles and got in touch with Ben Harper, who in turn listened to her demos. Soon after, Woodroofe found herself being sponsored to come to Los Angeles and with the help of Harper and a host of other musicians, she developed her musical voice and style and began work on her first proper debut. Two years into the process Ledger died suddenly, leaving Woodroofe crushed.
Nevertheless she soldiered on and completed the album, including a loving tribute she wrote for Ledger, 'H' on the track list. It's a gorgeous piece with a weeping string section draped delicately over Woodroofe's finger picked acoustic accompanied by sombre cellos as she tells in detail how her father reached out to her, "My dad wrote four words on a tiny piece of paper, these are the stages you'll go through/ He said shock, anger and deep sadness/In time acceptance will come too" and her weary response "Well I wish I could fast forward the time/Or for that matter rewind."
It's a touching portrait of a father reaching out in the best way he knows how and of the unforgiving grief consuming Woodroofe. In many ways, the song reads like a page of an open journal as she confesses, "I feel you with me all the time/Your guiding hands lead mine/And I can honestly say, that I think about you every day." It's the kind of entry scrawled late at night when the world is at rest and both the heart and mind are working on overdrive and it's a dignified one: Never once does Woodroofe come across as wallowing in self pity. It's unquestionably one of the most touching moments found on Always Want, but it's far from being the album's central theme: This is a moody album, one that touches on a wide range of emotions from self-doubt and sadness to regret, anger and uncertainty; the musical equivalent of an open journal.
Woodroofe reportedly recorded these songs during early morning hours when the sky was still enveloped by a deep blue blanket of darkness and many of them perfectly capture the kinds of emotions that well up during those lonely hours. On the album's closing track 'You'll Never Find Me,' the piano sounds old and worn, as if it were being played in a downstairs bedroom with a four-track rolling in an upstairs bedroom. Woodroofe achingly admits "So I'll no longer be yours/And you'll no longer be mine/Choose to make your own way/Cause you'll never find me" over the dusty, haunted keys plugging along in the background. It's the kind of sentiment jotted down on a blank page in the dead of the night as the mind races and the heart is sinking further in its despair.
LISTEN // Grace Woodroofe - 'H'
One of the first tracks I heard from Always Want was 'Transformer,' and it's now the third track on the album. After listening to each of these tracks multiple times, I'm still convinced it's the best entry point to Woodroofe's work; the song works the loud-quiet-loud dynamic that the Pixies made so popular, shifting from a rubbery bass, bits of piano, chiming synths and Woodroofe's seductively husky delivery of lines like, "I'm an actress I'm an actor/I'm a full time be whoever" to a chugga-chugga explosion of buzzing guitars and pummeling drums. It's a cynical take on the daily role of playing blank slate to countless expectations.
'Battles' in turn sinks into darker places, telling the story of a middle-aged waitress bitterly struggling to accept the path her life has taken, "I never thought it would turn out like this/ I never thought I would be a middle-aged waitress." The song's schizophrenic, trip-hop influenced beat, fluid bass and horn hits encapsule the rapid emotional deterioration of the protagonist.
Woodroofe has gained a few comparisons to PJ Harvey and Fiona Apple for both her musical and vocal approach, but she never comes across as trying to emulate either and she doesn't stretch out beyond her means throughout the course of the album; she sticks to her strengths and stays within her limits which may sound like an undercooked effort for a debut, but it turns out to be a wise decision and in turn, she leaves the door open for her to up the ante next time around.
It wouldn't be surprising if Woodroofe's backstory raises the question for some as to whether she would have gained the same amount of exposure had her and Ledger never crossed paths. I think it's safe to say that the answer would be yes because Always Want is a wickedly impressive debut and it's clear that Grace Woodroofe is off to a promising start.
Always Want is out now
Worth listening to...
- You'll Never Find Me
- Always Want