“I’m an only child. I grew up on a national park, and I would make up my own stories. It was just me and my dog, and I would just go out into the bush and find things and invent things and talk to myself a lot, I suppose.”
To understand Elle Graham is to know her love for all things magical. She embraces her love for fantasy and whether it is an elf, a misty forest or a spider’s web, the artist known as Woodes pops them in her artistic arsenal.
The 24 year old producer, singer and songwriter is an Australian artist on the rise since she first came onto the scene in 2015. Most recently supporting internationally renowned electronic artists Asgeir, Sylvan Esso and BORNS – and with the announcement she is billed to play at Splendour in the Grass – this year Graham is solidifying her place as an electronic powerhouse.
Graham started learning how to produce when she was studying at the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA).
“I started in production when I was at VCA and I just had to record demos for assignments and things like that,” she says over coffee and brunch at Sydney’s The Grounds – a regular stop for the Melbourne-based musician who is here to support Sylvan Esso, and rehearse for her first triple j Like a Version cover.
“And then the beats just came naturally… I remember hearing James Blake for the first time. Like [the song] Unlock – I remember being so excited. ‘What’s he doing?’ I needed to figure out how to express having a 5/4 rhythm and then having these beautiful haunting vocals.”
Her music production is constantly being refined and Graham is wowing fans with every new song release as the Townsville-born music maker samples sonics and programs drum beats, layering them up into anthems and taking audiences on mystical journeys.
“Those fantasies have always been there and I think …playing to different crowds and realising the core fans are into fantasy too.”
Inspired by Montaigne and Aurora, Graham through her Woodes persona is conjuring up visual feasts. Costumes, video games, and fantasy television shows are in turn informing the sounds when she’s in the studio as Graham imagines how the songs will play out when performed on stage.
“I love film soundtracks and game soundtracks and things like that so it made sense when you see people being fearless in their creative decisions and also a way of me [asking], ‘Well, how do I dance heaps to this moody, really slow electronic music?'”
“I want to be able to be comfortable on stage and this is also a way of boosting it so that we have that big dance break or we have that moment where in [my song] Rise I’m just like, ‘I can feel my arms rising.’ It’s like the movements are incorporated into it,” she says. “Doing those movements and feeling that way…. building the music with a live show in mind.”
This thoughtful and multi-layered approach means audiences have the chance to engage fully with the show, an opportunity for escapism that Graham says doesn’t have to involve substances or alcohol.
“Music doesn’t have to be about alcohol and escapism in that way. It can also be a totally beautiful different type of escapism,” she says.
“I’ve been to so many shows [as a fan] where I’m being pushed around and everyone is holding drinks and spilling them. It’s just so nice to just sit and watch live music ’cause you love live music.”
Graham is a music lover just as much as she is a music maker, and it is this understanding and embracing of fandom in its purist form that results in a deep connection with her ‘Woodlings.’
In fact, Graham even has her own secret Facebook group who she regularly consults about merchandise, album names and more.
“It’s really special. I think it’s really nice to build something from the ground up. I do it all the time with artists I love. I love being a music listener and a music fan and being a part of something….. I made a secret group on Facebook and shared some of the songs with them before the EP went live. Even though [the group is] small at this point, they’re cool people… it’s definitely like a community. I feel like in time I’ll be running more creative ideas by them. In my demo stages for this next thing, or trying to figure out artwork for t-shirts, they’re the people who maybe wanna buy them…. do a little brainstorm. I get a lot of artwork and things so it’s a place to share those and things like that.”
While Graham has a management and publishing deal, and a long list of collaborators, she is unwavering in the sense that she is the executive producer and brand builder of the artist known as Woodes.
Yet the reality is Graham is not always fully credited with how much work she puts into perfecting her music and her stage show. Not that she minds. Graham is humble and values external input but there is gentle self assuredness that the buck stops with her.
“A lot of the men, I suppose, would be the ones that are mentioned as producing. I’m at a point right now where I’m totally at peace with just listing all of my collaborators. The people will choose how they want to write about it. Whatever. I know that I have executively produced the whole record. I know all the layers, but I have a crew making sure that the project is as perfect as possible.”