At first glance, Daniel Woolhouse could be the archetypal east London hipster. We meet in a studio in London’s trendy Shoreditch neighborhood, its interior crammed with battle-weary amps and sticker-laden keyboards, its walls adorned with flyers promoting imminent pop-up gigs and DJ sets. Woolhouse, who records as Deptford Goth is bearded, artfully disheveled, awkwardly shy and deeply self-conscious.
But first impressions can be misleading. Far from being an inveterate east London scenester, Woolhouse has recently fled the capital for the seaside town of Margate 70 miles east and, newly married, is ensconced in quiet domestic bliss. He seems initially wary of discussing his art, but as he relaxes into the interview, he opens up.
Woolhouse’s second album, Songs, blends airy, textured electronics with a singer-songwriter’s sensibility to create something exquisite, humane and gossamer-light. Its songs are discernibly warmer than those on its predecessor, Life After Defo, instead exploring what Woolhouse calls “a connection between the physical self and its surroundings”.
Wondering Sound sat down with Woolhouse to talk sad boys, songwriting as catharsis and the revitalizing properties of the English coast.
The album Songs, and your music in general, tends to be a grower. It’s not in-your-face or immediate. You can listen to it on headphones and find hidden layers, and depths.
That parallels how I go about making the songs. There will be a key element and then I strip it back and add pieces in, trying to retain the subtlety. Certain bits become anchors.
You talk about making music as if you were painting.
That’s true, and if you are making music predominately with computers, you do have that constant visual aid in front of you. It’s far more of a three-dimensional process.
The Observer, writing about you, said, “There have always been sad boys in music”…
There have always been sad boys everywhere!
But there’s an undoubted melancholic, introspective strain in your music. Does it reflect your nature?
Yes, it is a definite character trait of mine. But sometimes people say my music is sad or melancholic, and to me it feels more hopeful or even uplifting. I never think “Oh God, this is a sad song” as I am recording because… that is just the way that I am.
Is making music cathartic for you? Your words sound highly personal, but not in a conventional, confessional singer-songwriter way.
I can find it cathartic, but the lyrics are more a collection of thoughts and images, rather than me saying, “You broke my heart and now I’m crying.” I avoid being so literal.
Have you ever written standalone words — short stories or poetry?
No. Writing a poem is a lot scarier than writing a song. The words are so naked. You haven’t got a catchy little hook in the background to cover things up.
Your music seems to operate in a similar sphere to the likes of the xx, Bon Iver, James Blake and How To Dress Well — fellow sad boys in music. Do you agree?
I see why we get put together, because that is how the media works nowadays: “If you like this, then you will love this.” But they are not people that I listen to. Except for the xx — they express themselves very beautifully but also subtly. Maybe there is a quietness, or stillness, that links our sounds.
You also share intimations of mortality. Your song “Dust” echoes around a spectral chorus: “Soon we will be dust.” Do thoughts of death ever trouble you?
They creep up on you sometimes. We have a finite amount of time. I think I write about life, but to do that you think about everything, which includes death. But I’m not morbid, or obsessed with that sort of thought.
You’re not a goth.
Well, there you go!
In any case, the songs on Songs seem a lot happier and lighter of spirit, than the ones on your debut.
They are! I’ve definitely felt more comfortable with life in general in the last year. I’m much happier. I’m in love, I got married, and now I have someone I know has always got my back. If you are going through a bad period, having someone who is with you all the time to give you a slap, or to talk you through stuff and take off some of the weight, makes all the difference.
Has the move from London to Margate also rebooted your creative headspace?
Yes. Life just feels clearer. I feel I’ve got more room to be in life, rather than being constantly anxious or depressed. Where we live now is quiet and beautiful, and that definitely affects you.
How much difference does living by the sea make? Björk once told me that if she doesn’t see the ocean for a few days, she gets stressed or even panicky.
It’s the reason why we moved — well, and not being able to afford to live in London! The sea has a power to it. It’s like a reset button, a good head-clearer. It gives you back a bit of clarity.
Has the idea of being famous ever appealed to you?
No — it looks like a fucking nightmare, doesn’t it? It doesn’t appeal, and luckily I don’t think it’s anything that is ever going to be a problem for me.