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Sonic Architects: Introducing Haunt The Woods

Monday, 09 March 2020 Written by Simon Ramsay

Haunt The Woods are ready and willing to treat lovers of progressive, folk-flavoured rock with a gift basket of epic emotional and textural vistas. The Cornish four-piece arrive armed with a grandiose sound that’s as pensive and melancholic as it is raging and explosive.

Poised to make a sizeable splash thanks to their debut album ‘Opaque’, they concoct a highly sophisticated style of music that, while imagining Radiohead, Pink Floyd and Jeff Buckley purging their collective pain together, has no time for any primitive notions of formula or convention.

The first ghostly seeds for Haunt The Woods were planted about four years ago when Jonathan Stafford (guitar and vocals) and Phoenix Elleschild (lead guitar and vocals) got together and started jamming away on their ideas.  Realising they had a special musical chemistry and wanted to take things further, Olly Bignell was originally drafted in as a whistle player before becoming their trusty drummer. When the group’s original bassist left two years ago, Jack Hale was subsequently recruited to complete the line-up and it was all systems go.

On the back of two early EPs, ‘Circle’ and ‘The Line’, the band developed a live show that offers a fittingly visual edge to the cinematic musical soundscapes that can be heard throughout ‘Opaque.’ Recorded at Middle Farm Studios in Newton Abbot with producer Peter Miles, it’s an impressively crafted bow awash with skyscraping vocals, tranquil melodies, spine-tingling four part harmonies and a tug of war between ambient backdrops and tempestuous instrumental swells. We caught up with Hale to discuss crafting ‘Opaque’, how the band and their sound have developed thus far.

What influences inform your sound?

As a collective, we’re into the whole Radiohead vibe. Jon takes a lot of influence from Jeff Buckley as well. Phoenix is a bit off the board and likes progressive rock and metal, which I take a lot of influences from as well.  That’s where we get the progressive vibe from. Olly, he’s more of a folk guy and likes EDM stuff. I used to play in a band that had more of a Red Hot Chili Peppers vibe, a bit more funky. We all have such a different collection of music and that rubs off on our writing. It’s quite hard to place us in a genre because we all bring our own things to the table. There is that alt-rock vibe but Phoenix brings the progressive side.  

How did you develop your musical identity?

Our producer Pete played a massive part in that. He’s an absolute genius.  With our sound there’s obviously lots of delays and reverb, but he also pushed us in the direction of making this big atmospheric soundscape. I’m not hearing anything like that at the moment and obviously it does have a big impact. It’s a bit startling when you first hear the sound of it.

Do you need someone like Pete to crack the whip and discipline you when you’re crafting a song, because it seems like you could go in so many different directions?

For the album we took in about 20 demos, played them to Pete and he was like ‘this and this are the better songs…’ We had the final say but when we were writing Pete would say, ‘I think this song needs to end here or end like this because it will work better.’ He did crack the whip a bit. He’s a good people person and knows how to get the best out of each individual member. He played a big part but we had a lot of freedom in how the songs went and he pushed us to allow our best capabilities to come out on top.  

When you’re writing do you think about how you’re going to pull off those soundscapes live?

We write the songs live and then, when we go to the studio, have fun with it.  The part about recording I enjoyed is that it doesn’t have to be the same as a live show. That’s the beauty of it. If you’re going into the studio to make a song you’re gonna make it the best it can be, but don’t limit yourself to, ‘Oh, we have to play this live.’ Figure it out later. For instance, for the Plymouth Pavilions show we got extra musicians to come and play certain parts we thought needed to be in those songs. Phoenix does quite a lot of looping on his guitar, so it helped fatten out the sound. There are ways around it. 

You’ve already released two EPs. How do the songs on the album mark a progression from those releases?

The album sounds more like the first EP because we did that with Pete. More like the original Haunt The Woods but with the progressive feel added. I’ve also joined the band and brought a new element to the music. We’ve progressed as people and with us all developing as musicians the new music is more technical than the first and second EP. There’s a bit more fun in that sense.     

We did a week in the studio beforehand on pre-production and recorded some rough demos of the tracks we’d chosen with Pete. When it came to the actual recording process most of it was done live. Drums and bass are always done live together because that’s the backbone of any track. If you do it separately it doesn’t quite work, you don’t get the feel. From there it was just building blocks on top. Phoenix and Jon come in and do their thing and build it up.  

Red, on the album, was done entirely live so all of us were in the same room together at the same time. It depended on what the song needed at the point we recorded it, but most of it was done live without a click. With a lot of music you have this click in and it’s a bit repetitive. You don’t get the big emotional swell of depth and feel. Pete decided that we were gonna do it without a click most of the time, or with a rough click, and not pay attention to it. 

Have you had free rein to do whatever you wanted or has anyone tried to encourage you to write simpler, more conventional songs?    

We have free rein to do what we want because, at the end of the day, it’s our music. That’s the nice niche about it as well. Modern music, it’s all short and snappy. We’re taking a bit of the old school vibe, where it’s long and progresses throughout a track as a journey rather than being just a [normal] track.

Two of the standouts on ‘Opaque’ are Supernova and Vultures. What can you say about those?

Supernova was a bit different for us because Jon wrote it all on the piano.  We’ve not done that before so it was fun to experiment with. It’s got the same emotional feel when it becomes massive at the end but it gave Phoenix more space to do his thing. He’s not got to battle anything on the guitar, he’s just got battling with a pianist instead, which gave him room to shine.

Vultures is a track that they wrote years and years ago. It just fitted into the album so we brought it forward. But it’s the only track where we [drop] D tune entirely on all the instruments. That gives it this massive, hard hitting deep feel at the end when all the instruments kick in.

There’s something cinematic and visual about your music and that really informs the videos you’ve made. Who comes up with the ideas for those and what has their impact been?

Our manager is actually a film teacher at Plymouth University, so the music videos are his thing. The video for Supernova was entirely his idea. We just said, ‘Here’s the music, go for it’ and it came out as an absolute beauty. He comes up with the ideas, films them, edits them, the entire lot.  

We had a big impact with one of our old ones, How Long. Supernova’s had a really good impact as well because it’s been on multiple streaming platforms like Facebook. We’re seeing the digital impact back with likes and shares. It’s definitely something that needs doing because I think, in the modern age, people like to see something rather than just listen.       

What’s your approach to performing live and offering an audio visual experience to the audience?

That’s where I come in handy because my background is in lightning. We have a full time front of house engineer, Bruce, and he does all the sound. All the effects are done live, kind of the same as the album, so the audio is as close as it can get. The lights, we’ve got a full time engineer called Martin who I used to work for, we give him the set list and he spends a couple of months programming the lights for the shows. That’s what we’re going to be doing on the tour, so we’ve got 14 days of a full production going with us. 

How would you like to build on that if you begin playing bigger venues and have a bit more money? 

We’ve just got lasers, which is pretty cool. In the long run? Personally, I’d like to start getting some big stage banners and stuff like that to give more of a visual impact. As for the live side of things, there’s been talk of playing to some backing tracks so we can bring in those extra elements from the album that we obviously can’t play live, like pianos. That’s the next step. 

What are your future plans now ‘Opaque’ has been released?

We’re currently writing so the big plan is to record album number two at the end of the year, maybe early next year, once it’s all written, and hopefully hit the festival season quite hard this year. So get the album out there, constantly play shows throughout the year, continue writing and hopefully do another album.

Haunt The Woods' 'Opaque' is out now.

Haunt The Woods Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Mon March 09 2020 - BRISTOL Louisiana
Tue March 10 2020 - SOUTHAMPTON Joiners
Wed March 11 2020 - LONDON Lexington
Thu March 12 2020 - NORWICH UEA Waterfront Studio
Sun March 15 2020 - NORTH SHIELDS Tynemouth Surf Cafe
Mon March 16 2020 - GLASGOW King Tuts
Tue March 17 2020 - MANCHESTER YES (The Basement)
Thu March 19 2020 - LEEDS Oporto
Fri March 20 2020 - CARDIFF Tiny Rebel

Click here to compare & buy Haunt The Woods Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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