Lightning blonde Northern Soul enigma Psychologist expects you to expect the unexpected with his newest LP, out this summer
Grey wool jumper by James Long and grey denim jeans by Topman.
“It took me a long time to realise that a popstar and a fine artist are essentially the same job, if someone’s doing it well,” Iain Woods says matter-of-factly. It’s a theory that not everyone would agree with, but one that has helped Woods – who makes music under the moniker Psychologist – reconcile training as an artist with his penchant for creating songs. “For a long time, writing lyrics and melodies was just something I did as a hobby after art school,” he says. “I never dreamt of making a career out of it.”
Although he refers to a fixation with punk rock as a teenager, Psychologist finds it hard to pinpoint any particular musical influences, referring instead to a plethora of concept artists. People like Felix Gonzalez Torres, “who made piles of sweets that were the same weight as his friends and called them portraits,” and Cornelia Parker, “who got the SAS to blow up her garden shed.”
These influences certainly impact his concept-heavy, genre-hopping work so far, the 27-year-old says. “I want to make albums with totally different messages,” he says. “Although, I’d like to think my voice unites them in some way.” If you had to put a label on it, call his latest song, “When Particles Collide” funk-inflected Northern Soul.
His 2011 Epidural EP was split into two parts – Waves of OK, and Propeller. The first was about “truth and lies and the difficulty of drawing a line between the two; me being as honest as I can,” Woods explains. “I wanted it to feel soft and cuddly.” The result was a tender and haunting sound that had critics comparing him to James Blake and The XX. His second effort, Propeller, however, quickly put an end to those comparisons. Gritty and harsh, it was full of uneasy electro- pop pounders spotlighting characters from his past: one example is “this guy that used to write death threats on the back of Christmas cards to the nurses where my mum used to work.” Grim.
Woods says fans should anticipate a “big” sound on his next record, out this summer – and to simply “expect the unexpected… It’s fully live and very hip-hoppy. There’s a full band on it, including two French horns, a base trombone, two or three saxophones and a string quintet.” By the sounds of it, Woods is steadily coming out of his shell when it comes to performing live.
Although he is far from shy, when he first started doing gigs in 2011 Woods felt uneasy on stage. “When you record music, you can be present without really being there, like a sound installation almost. But when it came to live shows, the focus was on me. I didn’t want to be the art, I wanted to make the art!” He says. Nowadays, the blonde- almost-white haired Stoke Newingtonian is excited to start performing again, after getting in touch with his inner Sasha Fierce. “I think you can’t fail to have an alter ego for when you’re performing. There are very few people that can be completely be themselves on stage.”
There are times when the pressure gets too much for the Coventry native though, and he sometimes has thoughts of throwing in the towel. “Being a musician is essentially a freelance sort of position; you’re by yourself and there’s a lot of time to mull over stuff,” he says. “There’re definitely times when I’m like: ‘Right, I’m giving this up and moving to the Lake District to be a farmer…’”
Black and white neoprene jumper by Kenzo.
Words: Eleanor Dunne
Photographer: Liam Warwick
Fashion Editor: Madeline Ostlie
Grooming: Jose Quijano using Kiehl’s hair products products and Aespo skin products
Photographic Assistance: Jack Grange
Fashion Assistance: Charlotte Davy