DRAUDIGA will take you to new worlds.
an interview with songwriter Reesa Wood ahead of Draudiga's new album, PERSEPHONE.
A few months ago I let my evening take unexpected turn after unexpected turn. I met new friends at an art gallery opening, followed them to dinner, and then to Sun Tiki Studios for a set with four bands on the bill. The headlining act was Draudiga, the songwriting project of Cadaverette front-person Reesa Wood.
The venue took on an immediate sense of twang when they started playing - Draudiga leans towards yearny, femme outlaw rock, a classic four-piece set up, occasionally embellished with Wood’s otherworldly work on the synthesizer. It was classic alternative, a slowed down, dusty Lis Phair served with a convivial sense of humor between songs.
Draudiga’s most recent album, Persephone, comes out this week, with an album release celebration at the Aphoadion Theatre on Friday, the 14th. I wanted to ask Reesa a few questions to get a look under the album’s hood, and will let her speak for herself about finding music, leaving fairycore, and putting the best band together for the songs you’re writing right now.
How did you come to song writing?
Was a little weird loner kid who climbed to the top of trees and made up songs for myself, but no one else ever heard them. From my early teens (in the 90s) I idolized and wanted to be Jewel (as one did). My brother taught me a few guitar chords but I never got past learning like one Jewel song- I think the guitar always felt too big and awkward and I kind of never advanced. I had always involved with music in one way or another since early childhood. My brother and I sang in a children's choir. My parents put us all in piano lessons early on, we went to a church where people sang hymns in four part harmony, I played the flute in middle school band, took voice lessons and violin lessons in high school, sang in the high school choir, picked up old time fiddle in college. I think with all the formal music training I somehow got the idea that I had to be better at an instrument and be able to read music well before I could even consider "composing" my own songs. I was on the fence between going to college for music or art... when I told my grandfather I wanted to study music he told me I didn't have any musical talent, and stupidly, I believed him, so I went to art school. In retrospect I’m super glad I didn't go to school for music.
When I was still in grad school for painting I saw The Punk Singer (a movie about Kathleen Hanna and Bikini Kill) at this independent movie theater in Providence, and I knew deep down I was supposed to be singing in a punk band. I got an electric guitar for my 30th birthday and I started messing around with cowboy chords and trying to make songs. Shortly after my friend JT Puiia from my job at an art supply store and I started a band in Portland with some other great dudes (one of which who helped me start Draudiga as a band, Alex Merrill). We were called Burr. I really sucked at guitar then but I could sort of write songs and that was a pretty great trial by fire. There were 3 guitars in the band so I was convinced no one could hear my guitar anyways.
What was your intention when Draudiga got started? What did you want out of the project?
I started Draudiga after Burr broke up - I was really sad about it and so I wanted to do something by myself so that I wasn't reliant on anyone else. Initially I wanted to do a sort of Grimes-like thing and I spent a long time teaching myself logic and recording and writing stuff by building layers in the DAW. I put out the first EP with the help of my friend JT from Burr, who recorded and mixed the record- it was mainly me singing and layering guitar loops.
I created this whole concept for that album about caves, the oracle at Delphi, and these alien priest figures that I believe are connected to our realm. That's why its called Paranormal Romance ~ being in love with mystery and spirit.
Then during covid I wrote a whole new set of songs which I was going to record myself, but at the last minute I decided I wanted to get a band to help me go in and make the record at Acadia Recording Company. I felt that it was time to lean on the gifts of others to bring these songs to life.
I remembered that several months previously Caleb (Coulthard, our lead guitarist) had reached out after hearing the EP and said if I ever wanted a guitarist he was the guy. So I reached out to him, as well as my old Burr bandmate Alex Merrill, who then found Greg (Murphy), our drummer. So we went and made that record in fall 2021 after only 2 months of rehearsal (phosphorescence), and it was so fun playing together we decided to be a band.
They're really great about taking the songs I write and translating them to a fuller, electrified sound. Caleb in specific with his gretschs, telecasters and frankenguitars really transforms them into something more twangy and rocking than I could do on my own, while still preserving the original feel, which I really love. My mom is from Texas and I really identify with that part of my heritage.
What qualities do you look for in collaborators?
I think additionally I want collaborators to do their own thing, I'm still new at playing my songs with others, so they write their own parts and I do think they naturally "get" the songs. Im lucky to have such gifted musicians who want to participate in my vision. Caleb is great at translating my songs with his unique country twang, Greg Murphy is a really sensitive and precise drummer, and Alex who's on the record is a talented, renegade wild man on the bass. We are currently playing with David Yearwood, a classically trained upright bassist who now brings a whole new dynamic to the low end.
When I saw Draudiga live, something about the vibe reminded me of this movie, Gas Food Lodging, about a mother and her two daughters trying to build a life for themselves in the desert in New Mexico. It made me curious: (A) have you ever seen that movie and (B) where do you want this music to take listeners?
I haven't! I just watched the trailer and now I want to see it. Kinda reminds me of this other 90s film “Anywhere But Here" with Natalie Portman , where she's a teenager and her and her mom move across the country to make a new life in LA. My family moved around all the time when I was a kid and while it was really hard there was also a heightened sense of the magic of the unknown and its potential and I think thats why I was drawn to that film. But also, because my family has roots in the american west and I also lived in Appalachia as a child, I feel really connected to the the mystique found in the hollows and mountains, the hill country, the haunted landscapes portrayed in film. Like every other nerd I love twin peaks and Caleb is a huge film buff, him and Greg are huge David lynch fans.
This is actually a really good question. I think I’m still trying to figure out what I want listeners to feel. The writing process is really intuitive and I’m really just writing for myself, to externalize my emotions and soothe myself, like I don’t know, lullabies.
I guess I want people to connect with the emotional truth of the songs, I’m not a super literal storyteller. I want to portray an emotional space. I do want people to go to the dream space, the liminal reality where connections are not logical but are felt. I'm really into films and imagery and sound that feels magical and mysterious and supernatural, I suppose because those spaces are rich and limitless, timeless.
You’ve got a new album dropping soon, Persephone, who’s a classic character. Was this inspiration/relationship a chicken or egg situation?
After I had the set of songs I realized that I was basically describing a journey and return from the underworld in terms of my personal life. Persephone is the natural archetype for that concept. I’m also really inspired by poisonous plant medicines and their spiritual/emotional properties. I have worked with and grown belladonna and henbane and mandrake, who are powerful allies in times of difficulty, and personally I can say that working with belladonna flower essence gave me the courage make some very tough decisions that I needed to make in my life. So with the album title persephone I am trying to honor that.
What are some ideas, musical and emotional, that informed the writing of this album?
Someone called our music fairycore once. I think that term applies more to the album Phosphorescence than this current one that is more twangy/country inflected. On that album I was spending a lot of time thinking about witches and myth and talking to spirits in the swamp behind my house, the dream world etc. I was going through an intense Kate Bush phase at the time.
On this new album I’m writing about having the strength to leave a fucked up relationship, petty drunken "love" affairs, attempting a witchcraft exorcism of the past, being alone and trying to feel engaged with the natural world instead of being trapped inside ones own fucked-up-skewed-reality head, and then ultimately finding real love and even writing love songs to a human for the first time.
I was influenced in this time a lot by Dead Moon and their country project Range Rats (thanks Caleb), Adrienne Lenker's songwriting, also I love Marissa Nadler who sounds like she belongs on the Twin Peaks soundtrack. I taught myself how to fingerpick on the guitar over the last year and that influenced a lot of the sound on the record. The synths are gone and Calebs guitar really shines on this record. It’s also probably relevant that over the course of writing this album, I relapsed and got sober for the second time.
What changed about the songs between writing, recording, and now performing the tracks on Persephone?
The songs start really quiet, just me and the guitar. When the band does their magic, the songs become much bigger and more dynamic, they get more bite. I like to take a two tiered approach to performing the songs. I equally love both rocking them with the band and performing them on my own in a quiet setting just with my guitar. There is a different sensitivity and intimacy there that I crave, but I also love amplified rock n roll and being backed up by a killer band, playing with drums... In the studio its fun to pick through the "wall of noise" so to speak, to really refine the songs dynamically, and also (because I'm a singer this is important to me) to be able to tease out the vocal subtleties that you can't really hear in a live setting. Todd Hutchisen from Acadia has been our studio wizard for the last two records and I trust his instincts implicitly.
Any favorites in your new batch of songs?
I think Sodom and Gomorrah is the breakthrough song on the album, it’s where I want to go next. Todd Hutchisen plays pedal steel on it, and damn, that is a smooth sound.
How can people keep up with Draudiga?
Draudiga is leaving instagram soon, so be sure to sign up for their newsletter, and catch them at the Aphoadion Theatre on Friday, October 14th.