It wasn’t all that long ago that Daniel Woolhouse was working as a teaching assistant at a Deptford primary school in South East London. Spending his days having poster paint thrown in his beard by miniature human beings, and his nights hunched over a laptop and four-track in his living room, Deptford Goth quickly became Daniel Woolhouse’s full time passion, and he soon packed in his job at the school accordingly. What followed was ‘Life After Defo’, a beautifully precarious debut that spent much of the time tentatively edging around its own pockets of silence. Tensioned carefully between sparse, open production, and diving headfirst into a sea of bleeding textured sonics, it was also one of the stand-out records of 2013.
“It was pretty surprising to be honest,” says Daniel of the sudden success enjoyed by his debut as Deptford Goth, and the first full-length album he had ever made as a musician. “It gave me a confidence boost, but then I still went through stages of crisis and just wanting to not do it. I kind of presumed that wouldn’t happen [this time around], because I know it doesn’t really matter. It’s one entity within everything else that’s going on.”
Calling this second album ‘Songs’ is a bit like calling canapés and a six-course banquet followed by cheese and wine ‘dinner’, but then again Daniel Woolhouse is forever underselling himself. Stripping back the ideas behind ‘Life After Defo’ to barer bones still, ‘Songs’ is a blank canvas that does basically what it says on the tin, describing the contents in the simplest terms possible. ‘Songs’ is an album of songs, then? “I ‘spose most albums are,” laughs Daniel quietly.
“Those songs are the record,” he adds. “’Songs’ is sort of clean without necessarily having any associations. It doesn’t lead you anywhere apart from into the record.” As you’d expect, ‘Songs’ is an insular, inward-looking endeavour. While ‘Life After Defo’ had a kind of enjoyable bracing coldness to it, like getting brain-freeze on a lonely, blustery walk through the city, ‘Songs’ is warmer and more spacious.
“Any snobbishness within music should be avoided.”
— Daniel Woolhouse
Daniel Woolhouse isn’t one to give it the big chatter about anything. He doesn’t see his music as bringing anything conceptual or clanging to the table, either. “It’s not asking any grandiose questions from a conceptual angle or anything,” he says, “but I guess if people are interested, that’s a nice thing, it’s a sign it hasn’t been a waste of time.” The traditional lyrical mirroring that crops up in ‘Do Exist’ and ‘The Lovers’ – two singular, powerful forces of songwriting – Daniel simply calls “something I automatically do without really thinking about it” – and he adds, laughing “also it means you don’t have to write as many lyrics.”
As self-deprecating as Deptford Goth might be, ‘Songs’ isn’t an album defined by self-doubt. Since his first EP, ‘Youth II’, Daniel Woolhouse’s voice has been tentatively making its way further up the mix, partly thanks to the encouragement from friends – “go on!” demonstrates Daniel, complete with a fist pump. On ‘Songs’ he is at his most prominent yet. “They’re gradually creeping up,” laughs Daniel. “I think maybe the reality of what I was doing…” he starts. “I’m maybe more accepting that [my vocals] are a key part of this. Regardless of how I feel listening to my own voice, I have to kind of just go with it. I felt like it was the right time to bring it up a tiny bit more, rather than having it bleed in.”
There is less washy haze for Deptford Goth to retreat into. “The first record, [‘Life After Defo’], I think is minimal,” explains Daniel. “There’s way too much sonically going on in a lot of points [though], which, when you come to mix something, can be a bit of a nightmare. I had in mind…” he pauses. “Actually, there doesn’t need to be layer upon layer of things doing the same thing. I was concentrating more on separate, distinct elements rather than a wave of stuff that would just wash over.” This time around, Daniel felt freer to experiment, too. “I’ve been more open to going with an idea and seeing it through rather than just discarding it,” he nods, “which I think resulted in more straight-up songs.”
Much of ‘Songs’ is built from sonic experimentation, but comes from traditional, almost folky foundations. Despite this, when Deptford Goth first entered the public consciousness, he was hailed as a honory member of South London’s rabble of experimental R&B peddlers. Perhaps it was because he lived in Peckham. Maybe it was down to James Blake and How To Dress Well setting a whole new tone for electronic music. Either way, Daniel doesn’t really see himself as fitting within that movement.
“I do get a lot of questions about R&B and stuff,” says Daniel, “and I don’t really know - I listen to it on the radio. This hasn’t been made from that place. I think labels are generated depending on the contemporary phrases that are being thrown around, and they get stuck on things,” he goes on. “They can be really problematic.”
“I’m not militantly saying no genre - ‘Oh god, don’t label me’ - but I think it can be detrimental to a lot of music,” adds Daniel, more assertively. “Any snobbishness within music should be avoided. [It’s] some form of elitism; cite your references, what do you know about that area of music. Not a lot, you know? I’ve always thought I’m just making songs,” he says, returning to the thinking behind his album title.
"Getting other musicians in takes away some of the anxiety that comes with doing this job."
— Daniel Woolhouse
Deptford Goth is obsessed with making songs. Sometimes it can border on taking over everything else, and Daniel frequently refers back to having to remind himself that it matters, but it’s not everything. At times, he says, he had to step back from the record. ‘Loop’, he explains, is a song about precisely that. “I got sort of lost inside the record and what I was doing,” he says. “I took a few weeks of not doing anything and then looked at it again a bit more philosophically. I thought, it’s not everything; I should be in control of it. Otherwise you get to the stage where you’ve got parts of music that you’re working on going through your head constantly,” he adds. “You’re slightly distracted all the time, thinking suddenly, ‘Oh shit I’ve got to go, I’ve just got a great way to solve that problem, I need to do it now’. That urgency can become a little bit controlling.”
Looking ahead, Deptford Goth has his first live show of this album cycle at London’s ICA, and it’s fast approaching. He’s nervous, he admits readily. “It’s been a year since I did a show, and certain doubts creep back in, unknowns.” This time round, though, Daniel is filled with the kind of nerves that he can channel. “Now things are in motion it’s an excited nervousness rather than ‘Oh shit, I don’t want to do it. I’m working with a couple of musicians so it’ll be me and two other people on stage as a permanent line-up. Getting other musicians in takes away some of the anxiety that comes with doing this job,” he adds. “I’m trying to embrace the scenario a bit more rather than trying to just get through it.”
Daniel Woolhouse doesn’t seem to have a single inkling when it comes to how extraordinarily good his music is, but, like ‘Songs’, he seems to be less self-doubting; more willing to believe that his way is the right one. While his debut was one that revelled in loneliness, the follow-up celebrates love. Getting married and moving to out of London to Margate does that, even to the most dedicated Deptford goth.
“Sea air,” he smiles. “I go down to the penny machines, I like that repetition, that process. When you’ve run out of money you have to leave.” He’s being slightly tongue-in-cheek, but escaping the claustrophobia of the city mayhem has moved Deptford Goth into a different mindset. “I think I had more room to reflect on things. There’s a lot of sky, there’s a lot of sea,” he ponders. “I know it’s really cliche, but you can sort of readjust things a little bit easier. You can just get on with your own thing, and work to your own clock a little bit, rather than that crazy London world. You feel less obligated to go and do stuff, you know, ‘I can’t come to your night, I’m going down the arcade,’” he laughs. “It’s more peaceful.”
Taken from the November issue of DIY, out now. Deptford Goth’s new album ‘Songs’ is out now via 37 Adventures.