JJ72’s Hilary Woods On Finding Her Own Voice

Leaving music, parenthood, depression, and her path back to the arts...

There was a time – no too long ago, either – when JJ72 would be mentioned in the same press inches as Coldplay and Muse.

Yet the Irish group were always that little bit too difficult, that little bit too obscure, to gain full mainstream acceptance.

Those who paid attention, though, were enraptured: the band's cult following had incredible dedication, and still persists in pockets of the internet.

Bass player Hilary Woods joined JJ72 as a teenager, thrust into the spotlight and expected to simply get on with it. At the age of just 22 she departed the band, hung up her bass and embarked on what could loosely be termed ordinary life.

Except nothing is every really ordinary. Hilary Woods is set to make her return to music this summer, with the ethereal shoegaze of new EP 'Heartbox' marking the arrival of a potent new voice.

Here she writes for Clash about her brush with fame, her departure from the music industry, and her long – and sometimes painful – path back to creativity.

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The path to finding my own artistic voice has been long and winding. After four years of relentless touring with JJ72, I left the band at twenty two and within a year I became a mother. Life at home in my rented one-bed flat in the north inner city couldn’t have been any more different to life on the road headlining festivals in Japan and across the UK. Basking in the joy and discovery of parenthood, there were many moments of pure bliss; my baby’s beauty astounded me and it was very liberating to have someone else to put first. There were also many new things to adjust to. Having left the band, I was no longer on a monthly retainer from Columbia records, which meant signing on down at the local dole office ‘til I found a solution, it was humbling. And having already left the father of my child, the reality of being a single parent seemed at the best of times, overwhelming.

In retrospect however, giving birth to my daughter acted as a kind of catalyst to giving birth to my own mojo. I started to chip away at paintings I’d fashion on home-made canvasses made from old bedsheets, and began working in charcoal. I then enrolled in fine art college, dropped out, found another course, met new friends, lost some, avoided toddler groups, took pills for depression, read some books, started to tinker on the piano. College life helped. It helped me feel in some way productive and introduced me to artists such as Wong Kar-Wai and Chris Marker whom I probably would never have encountered if I hadn’t studied film. It was also a time when my appetite to write music began to take root. I started listening to Jon Hopkins, Vincent Gallo, Sibylle Baier. And then my dad died.

An amazing piano player, and the manager of an old cinema in London before we all came along, he filled the house with Elvis and John McCormick. He was also a very fit mountaineer so when his “one month to live” diagnosis came, it was a real shock. Whenever I rang home long after he’d passed away, somewhere in me waited for him to stop playing what felt like a prank and actually pick up the phone. On the upside, his legacy (a healthy ‘fuck it’ attitude), his great sense of humour and zest for life continue to inspire me daily, particularly when the feeling of vulnerability and the sense of feeling exposed sets in at the cusp of releasing new material.

In 2014 I made my first EP called 'Night' and launched it as part of the Tiger Dublin Fringe Festival. A four track record exploring things that grow in the dark, we recorded it like nomads – lugging my musical equipment around the city to wherever we could find the space and silence to record. My follow up EP 'Heartbox' will be released this coming 18th July on seven inch vinyl. I’m excited about this one, because a lot of work went into exploring electronics and extracting its sound world and I feel it's been an important learning curve to my present process in the making of an album.

My new tracks are preoccupied with wonder, stillness, secrets, worship, aloneness, and romance. 'Bathing' is like a daydream, orbiting around that feeling of having to wait forever. It was a song written from a very particular sensation I used to experience as a kid. That feeling of waiting for that missing piece of the jigsaw to help it all make sense. I decided to have giraffes in the video because they’re exquisitely beautiful and lend the track a prehistoric feel. 'Sabbath' is the second track to be released from the EP. It is a reworking of an earlier version of the song which I really wanted to revisit and recapture live, the way I’d play it with my friends in the rehearsal room. And finally 'Heartbox' will be the third track released; it’s an upbeat dance track driven by dark lyrics about the quest of housing one’s heart.

It feels good to be making music, and to be sharing it with you.

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'Heartbox' is out now.

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