Dollars To Pounds: Othello Woolf

September 11, 2009

Othello Woolf is an awesome name. He could be the romantic hero of a trashy, bodice-ripping novel, the kind that has Fabio on the cover, his lustrous mane rippling manfully in the breeze. And Woolf is a romantic hero of sorts, but one with considerably less-stupid hair. A solo soul man he stalks the streets of London, weaving woozy funk into sentimental songs, hitching weird new noises to vintage emotions. Here is an exclusive track called Deep Water which sounds like a subaquatic Steely Dan. I asked Mr Woolf the big questions like whether he prefers Laurence Fishburne to Nicole Kidman.

Download: Othello Woolf, "Deep Water"

So you’ve remixed Golden Silvers, are you buddies?
I've only met Gwil properly once or twice and not the other guys. XL [Golden Silver's label] played them some of my recordings, that's how we were introduced. I get the feeling we both come from an angle of putting traditional songcraft at the forefront of making music - perhaps a dying breed with the overly cut-and-paste nature of many synth-infused tracks these days.

You made your live debut at Golden Silver’s club night, Bronze Club. How was that?

The first show was great. There's a true sense of freedom on stage to express yourself - something that's much harder in everyday life. Like when you're on the tube and no one speaks to strangers because it's just not the done thing to do. It would take more courage to do that than it does to get on stage and perform. On my recordings I play all of the instruments but live that's obviously not possible so I'm joined by a backing band, they're incredible. You can expect a party vibe and lots of movement, the songs really come alive.

Who's better: Othello as played by Laurence Fishburne or Virginia Woolf as played by Nicole Kidman?
Can't say as I've never seen either film. Though I can say I never liked Nicole Kidman until I saw her in Dogville - a great performance.

London has a long tradition of what you might call "white boy soul," from Ian Dury to Mr Hudson. Why do you think that is?
I guess the honesty and passion of soul music seems exotic when you grow up in a city like London which I wouldn't say is typical of those attributes. What does white boy soul mean though? Pretty much all pop music when traced back to its roots is derived from the patterns and stylistics used by black rhythm and blues players. So it seems like a lazy definition. Either way, I'm as much into artists or bands like The Smiths, Dylan, Steely Dan, Hercules and Love Affair, Joy Division as I'm into Sly and The Family Stone, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye etc. For me "soul" is about singing from the heart not the head, so in that sense I would consider myself a soul artist of some sorts.

Where do you stand on the great auto-tune debate?
I love how Kanye West has used auto-tune across the whole of 808s & Heartbreak—its sound is so well integrated into the record, the way it gives the vocals a kind of whiny paranoia. And it's progressive because it enables him to sing, opening new creative doors. But I don't like how auto-tune has almost become a standard for pop-music over the last decade, because it saps the life out of a vocal in many cases and actually saps creativity. You won't hear auto-tune on any of my records, that's for sure. That said, I just remixed a Golden Silvers song called "Please Venus" and I've used an auto-tune type effect there because it felt right for the overall sound.

There's a theory that a lot of bands coming through now have in R&B influence because they grew up in the ’90s when that sound exploded around the globe. What do you think about that?
Perhaps that's the case but I can't see it as an obvious trend myself. At least in this country it still seems that bands such as Oasis and The Libertines are casting a long shadow over many new bands coming through. Personally I wouldn't say I'm at all influenced by ’90s R&B except the odd gem here and there. The most exciting music in the 90s for me was hip-hop—it felt like a golden era. I only started listening to more guitar-based music towards the end of the ’90s. And looking back there's only a handful of non-hip-hop ’90s albums that stand out for me, like Jeff Buckley's Grace and Dylan's Time Out Of Mind.

What are you working on at the moment?
My first single "Stand" will be coming out in the new year, limited edition 500 white vinyl on a label called Young & Lost. That should be a precursor to my first album which I've already finished recording and it's been mixed by a guy in New York called Chris Moore who did the mix on the last couple of TV On The Radio albums. Aside from that I'll be playing live around London in the coming months then looking to tour early 2010!

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Dollars To Pounds
Posted: September 11, 2009
Dollars To Pounds: Othello Woolf