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The Focused Wandering of Heather Woods Broderick

We talk to the songwriter in advance of her gorgeous new record 'Glider,' which is streaming exclusively on Noisey.

by Ryan Leas
Jul 2 2015, 5:14pm


Photo by Dusdin Condren

Though Heather Woods Broderick released her solo debut From The Ground in 2009, you might have seen her more recently as a member of Sharon Van Etten's band, where her presence is crucial—Van Etten was lucky to find someone with a voice beautiful enough to weave in and out of songs beside her own voice onstage. But touring with Van Etten was also just one thing that Broderick's been up to, aside from stints in Efterklang and Horse Feathers, time spent in Brooklyn and Portland, Copenhagen and Berlin.

In the six years between From The Ground and her new album Glider (which Noisey is streaming in full below), Broderick's been to a lot of places and known a lot of people. Having worked on this music bit by bit throughout—Glider's earliest song dates to Fall 2011—the resulting album has a sort of bleary aesthetic, with a tone that can skew melancholic or wistful. It sounds like living life on the road, of the constant passing from one town to another—the way your memories start to become a more convoluted web as a result. Genuinely, Glider is a gorgeous record. Ahead of its release, we met up with Broderick to talk about how she got here.

Continued below.

Noisey: You told earlier me you feel like moving to Brooklyn from Portland is starting over. What do you mean?
Heather Woods Broderick:
I've more or less been traveling for the last six years or so with different projects. I've had a home base somewhere during that time, but I'm never really there, even when I do have a place. From a basic life standpoint...I kind of have to establish myself wherever I'm going to be again. I still want to tour, but it's not like touring my solo project is going to be as rigorous as touring Sharon's project, because she's obviously further along with it than I am. I need to do that, and I also probably kind of need to get a job [Laughs].

It's been six years between your solo records. Was the idea always to get back to a solo career?
I've never really thought about it that much to be honest. I didn't expect anything to happen. I wasn't planning a solo career when I put out that first record; it was just a project I did. I definitely had it in my mind that I wanted to make another record, and it just sort of...you know, time flies, I was just so busy with other projects that I literally never had time to sit down and write. When I moved here I started doing that.

Obviously Sharon's work is great, but has it ever been frustrating being in a backing band while wanting to do solo work?
No, like I said, I wasn't really thinking about a solo career necessarily. And I never play music with other people unless I'm excited by what people are doing. I met Sharon towards the tail end of my time with Efterklang, that's when she was recording Tramp. I had never heard her music before; I had no idea who she was. And she sent me all these demoes she'd been working on and I just fell in love with the demoes. If I hadn't, I wouldn't have started playing with her. I never felt like it was time wasted, or choosing one thing over the other. I guess I felt frustrated at times that I couldn't get more writing done sooner, because I had the project in my head. But never competitive or feeling like I was totally putting myself on the backburner or anything like that.

What's that photo on the album cover?
That's my grandmother. She's about to be 82 now, so it was taken about two years ago at her 80th birthday party. She's standing on her balcony, which overlooks San Pedro Harbor in LA. It was taken on a disposable camera; my brother Peter took that photo. It's almost like she's juxtaposed in there. She's bright, and the surroundings are so dark. Felt like that was more of the vibe of the record.

What's it like working with your sibling so closely on an album like this?
[Laughs] It's funny, when we worked on the last record we had been playing in a bunch of bands together, spending a lot of time together, and we were both younger then obviously. I feel like it was a lot more tense and harder to do it back then. This time it was really fun. I was really prepared; I knew what I wanted to go for with the sound of the record. I think it's always easier to work with someone if they have a clear idea of what they want.

Do you like being on the road the way you are, always touring and living in different places?
I think so. I think I would've quite by now if I didn't like it. It's overwhelming sometimes, for sure. I definitely have started to feel the effects of it, like sitting all the time in traveling and flying. That stuff gets harder the longer you do it.

Does the addiction of it wear off? Does it start to feel more just like a day job?

Yeah, I definitely feel like playing in bands has been my job for a while now. But...when I think about other jobs that I could be doing or other jobs people do, I still feel lucky to do what I do. It's not necessarily, like, riveting around every bend or all super exciting.

People really don't realize how banal a lot of it can be.
It's a lot of repetition. That part of it feels like a job. But it's still pretty fun to be able to travel around with your friends, have little field trips between work.

Do you find that your perception of time and relationships is totally altered compared to before you lived that way?
I think so, yeah. I'm home for ten days, and it feels like a long time. Relationships, yeah, well, you can't really have long-lasting ones.

Do the songs on Glider chronicle living that way for those years between the solo records?
A lot of them are. They all have to do with my life or lives of people I'm close to and the experiences they've had or whatever.

The video for "Wyoming" is gorgeous. I think that's my favorite song on the album.
That song was written about reconnecting with an old friend, which happened a number of years ago now, but was just one of those experiences that stuck with me. I set that story in a metaphorical landscape of Wyoming. I think when I wrote it I was actually in the United States driving around on tour, and there's a lot of nothing. A lot of time to look out the window and wonder. [Laughs.] It was set in this empty landscape that I was physically in when I wrote the song, recalling this experience I had a few years prior.

Do you think it's a sad record?
I think it sounds melancholic at points. I have always been drawn to minor sounding chord progressions and things like that. For me, anyway, it sounds less sad than my last record [laughs]. There's sadness to it or darkness to it, but I feel like there's still hope in it.

Yeah, it's not a depressive record. That wistfulness and melancholia to it, though, that made me wonder: it seems everyone I talk to who lives this way has a bit of that. It's an easy way to kind of grow old and remain as searching as you might've been when you were younger.
One thing is certain when you live that way, you're always leaving somewhere and usually, in some of those instances, there's going to be emotion attached with leaving, whether because you like this place and wish you could spend more time or because you're in a relationship with someone who lives there. I think as long as you're leaving places, there's always an element of looking back on it and having some emotion around it.

Is it more difficult to sing personal songs you've written, versus, say, a backing band for Sharon?
Sharon has said before that she goes through periods where it's really hard to sing that stuff, because she doesn't want to keep reliving it. I guess I feel more like...it's hard for me to say, actually. I haven't played 375,000 concerts with these songs or however many she's had. [Laughs.] I feel like when I write about stuff, I get it out and my relationship to it is not the same anymore. I'm not actually so tied to that event or that thing. It's a different thing for me. I feel like it wouldn't make me relive it every night, to get up there and do that.

Are you going to make us wait six years for another album?
No. [Laughs.] I've already got half a record's worth of stuff. I don't know how that happened last time. I'm more actively using that as my creative output now.

Ryan Leas is a writer based in New York. Follow him on Twitter.

Pre-order Glider.