To use music as a form of therapy is not uncommon. But in the case of Daniel Woodhead, one half of the Toronto electro-folk band Moon King, his songs revealed issues unknown even to himself. “With the newer songs, I found that if I sing them over and over again, eventually the sounds turn into words and they ended up being about things I didn’t even realize at the time.” With hesitation, he observes that “the lyrics are usually a lot darker than you would think, considering the songs — a lot of songs about my family and my brother.” While Woodhead writes all the lyrics, he says that Moon King is “totally a duo,” referring to the band’s other half, Maddy Wilde. The project was conceived last summer, and the two have since put out a 7” and released a few songs online; the debut album is yet to come. However, they’re far from being new to the whole band business.
Since 2003, they’ve been taking Toronto by storm in the folk-pop quartet Spiral Beach, along with Woodhead’s brother Airick (now busy with Doldrums and Phedre) and Dorian Wolf (now very busy with Austra). Sadly, I never got to experience one of the extravagant live shows that Spiral Beach was known for (think Rich Aucoin but more artsy). They were so popular that they got 400 people to take the ferry to Ward’s Island for an all-night show, appeared on MTV Live twice, and toured extensively across North America and Europe. When the band decided to call it quits in December 2009, it was probably “the most positive way to end a band ever.” Woodhead says that with Spiral Beach, it was always just about playing together as a group. “We never really decided what Spiral Beach should sound like. We always just did it. Everything was about those four people playing together. And that’s amazing — that’s really rare.” But as with most people in their early twenties, the members of Spiral Beach needed to figure their shit out. “We decided to make the last record and tour to infinity and then it was like ‘Okay, I guess we’re done.’”
2010 was a dark year for Woodhead, a time he spent soul searching, partly on the streets of NYC, “sleeping wherever, on benches and in parks. After we decided to end Spiral Beach, I was really lost. It was that classic tale of the young guy who doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life.” For a while he just played with various projects and put on shows under his blog moniker Snakes + Ladders. His parents are both artists; his mom does pottery and his dad is folk musician David Woodhead. To grow up in this environment makes musicianship a legitimate career choice, but for Woodhead, it all just so happened. After spending a year and a half wondering whether he wanted to be a musician at all, he finally made a decision and got together with Wilde, whom he has been playing with since they were kids. “I feel like there’s nobody that I really trust more, and we really know how to bounce off each other.”
Though Woodhead emphasizes that Moon King is “totally a duo,” the new project posed a profound change from the collaborative song writing he used to do with his brother Airick in Spiral Beach. “The idea of doing a solo thing was pretty daunting,” he admits. At the moment, Moon King is deep into recording, going for a “dream punk” sound with “lots of electro.”
“Basically, I’m trying to record as much as possible and we’ll carve an album out of that. We’ll probably release a couple more singles or 7” [until the album comes out].” Moon King’s songs take time to unfold. They appear simple and contain the directness of punk but reveal subtle layers that give them more intricacy. “[Our music] is really loud, but I wouldn’t say it’s aggressive. It has harmonies and softness,” Woodhead says. This “softness” he speaks of is not the subtle caressing of Spiral Beach’s dream pop, but rather, a danceable, beat-heavy weaving of entrancing harmonies. And while lyrics like “whenever it’s summertime well I’m dead/all I wanted I forget, things I guess I never had” certainly indicate darkness, the music itself conveys a carefree attitude.
What is most notable about Woodhead and his approach to musicianship is his communal nature. If anything, that is the recurring theme that shines through in the interview. Whether he talks about the Toronto music scene, his motivation for putting on shows, or his own music-making, it’s evident that the collaborative aspect of making and playing music is what he revels in. He wanted to be a writer when he was young and says that “how I express myself is more in the lyrics.” But considering the solitary nature of the writing profession, it’s not surprising that he came back to music after his “literal and figurative wandering” of 2010.
See Moon King at the Great Hall on February 24.
Check out Moon King and friends here: http://snakesplusladders.com/