Sonic auteur Paul Woodward has certainly travelled a long distance. He cut his teeth within the thriving Finglas music scene of the 1980’s where bands like Aslan, Alien Comfort, The D11 Runners and The Brilliant Trees reigned, to playing live in Moscow, New York and L.A.
Having forged his musical path releasing critically acclaimed power pop with Kick to the Heart and The Marigolds and right up now with the imminent release of his third solo release Hierapolis, Paul discusses and attempts to demystify the process of creating art regardless of genre.
The idea for Hierapolis as a concept album was conceived when Paul and his wife Dorota holidayed in Turkey. They visited the ancient Roman city of the same name which is located seventeen kilometres north of Denizli, a hundred and fifty metres above the Lycos plains.
On returning home to Dublin he couldn’t shake the images of the ruins from his mind. Paul considered that this once great city still held some value in today’s consumerist disposable society. In his imagination a modern day Hierapolis was created along with a second city Cygnus – X7.Within these imagined cities the story of Gustav Robko and The Patterson Council was born.
Paul made the conscious decision to write a concept album not dissimilar to those great bombastic concertos by Yes, Genesis, Utopia and Pink Floyd. In particular Paul cites Yes’ “Tales of topographic oceans and Genesis’–The lamb lies down on Broadway” as major influences.
He felt that he could make a concept album and stay true to his indie roots by incorporating the technologies used to create dance and electronic music. This challenge led him on a journey where he began to source the electronic equipment he needed for Hierapolis.
Becoming somewhat of forager Paul knew he could benefit from the golden rule of the electronics industry Moore’s Law. Intel co-founder George Moore observed that the number of transistors per square inch on integrated circuit boards doubles approximately every 18 months.
A consumerist driven society will always want what is new and here is where an insightful Paul saw an opportunity to purchase powerful equipment at knockdown prices. Paul stated “That just because something is old or perceived as outdated doesn’t mean it loses what it was designed for”.
In the compendium he list 43 different types of electronic equipment he acquired including the following: Roland VS 24 80 Multitrack RecorderKorg, Roland Juno 6 synth, Yamaha cs1x control synthesiser, Electribe er1 Rhythm synthesiser. He also became interested in chip music or 8 bit music and began to accumulate sound cards from antiquated arcade and video games from Atari, Gameboy, and Sega master system among others.
Incorporating musique concrete elements of Stockhausen and Steve Reich with the minimalism of Phillip Glass, the soundscapes of Brian Eno and marrying it to the Teutonic Kraftwerk, the industrial Can and also by distilling the electro synth-pop of The Human League and Dépêche Mode, Paul Woodward has created what he feels is a coherent,
sometimes cinematic piece that rewards the listener over and over again.
But when I asked him to explain the meaning of Hierapolis, Paul said, “At its heart, it was a futuristic dystopian tale where good ultimately triumphs over evil”, but to him,“Hierapolis was much more than this, the concept is fluid, constantly evolving and that at present Hierapolis is a 25 track musical composition with a documentary and a short compendium”.
Consumed by all things Hierapolis, Paul began writing the compositions to convey his dystopian tale. He realised that the approach to this project meant that he needed to change his style somewhat. He discarded all the instruments that he had employed in previous projects and in a sense he had swopped the electric for the electronic. Out went the guitars and in came in its place a dizzy seemingly endless array of gadgets.
A serendipticious moment of clarity arrived when Paul realised that by moving away from traditional instruments he was also free to incorporate different musical structure forms. While still using the strophic form of verse-chorus-versus prevalent in western pop music, he began including other musical forms such as the traditional folk round, mantras, eastern prayer structure, sampling, musique concrete, modal and minimalistic elements in the sound pieces.
In Pauls opinion all art is influenced by other art forms and he freely admits that “The move to electronic formats allowed him to concentrate the composing in terms of architectural infrastructure where each piece was built up block by block until he had something coherent”. He also became somewhat obsessed with the principles of sacred geometry and how in nature, patterns were repeated over and over again.
Paul knew that he could apply this naturally occurring phenomenon to Hierapolis and that he had made the right choice by moving to the electronic method. The repetitive patterns in sacred geometry infuse the meaning behind Hierapolis. One of the objectives behind the album was to create something that was accessible but not disposable.
He wanted to create a work of art that would be listened to “From start to finish, as it was in the seventies. Back then it was almost ceremonial. To me it was a spiritual feeling – everything – the artwork-the smell of the vinyl- the notes inside showing who played what”.
He added that he became obsessed and began listening to everything.”I was a mod and a rocker at the same time, a punk, a ska head, a prog-rocker, a heavy metaller, a folkie; I was into every genre going”. In the compendium accompanying the album, Paul recollects how consumed he became with the bass-line of a song called “Twist and crawl” by English ska combo The Beat. It took him weeks to learn by heart.
When asked if was he aware of a statement by Hazrat Inayat Khan “That there will come a day when music and its philosophy will become the religion of humanity”, Paul replied, “That for him, this conversion happened way back when he was a teenager discovering music for the first time”.
For Paul,” Great songs don’t come out of the ether; rather they are arrived at through a process where it is important to master your craft first”. He is well qualified to offer such an opinion for as the owner of Paul Woodward Studios – a recording and rehearsal space in Dublin – where he has mentored and recorded many an aspiring musician including up and coming Rachel McCormack who had signed to Universal records and The Price Brothers who have got into the final six of 2017’s X-Factor.
With the lead single Synergy it is quite probable that Paul has made the first selfie-video. Paul bought a selfie stick and shot the piece on an Apple 1s4 mobile phone. He handed over the footage to film maker John O’Lafferty for editing and he is more than happy with the result.
Paul is also of the opinion that he has taken Hierapolis as far as he can alone and that there is a need to invite collaborators in to further the project. Ultimately, to him Hierapolis can thrive on multimedia platforms and can be performed in traditional and non-traditional venues. He has musicians lined up to tour and he has film makers and animators at the ready to contribute to a project, of which he is eminently proud of.
To these ears, Hierapolis is indeed a masterpiece and I could not resist enquiring of Paul if he had made a Pet Sounds for the modern age. He just laughed. Paul Woodward, a man consumed by the need to create.