Interview with Haux
When Haux takes the stage at The Middle East Upstairs, he fills the room with an introspective, emotional presence. A self-proclaimed “singer/songwhisperer”, you have to hold onto every syllable that he sings; each one has a weight to it, a sincerity that can’t be missed. And it doesn’t just stop at the music. He is a true artist in countless ways, thoughtfully crafting all outlets of his self-expression.
When asked about the start of his creative journey, he explains how he liked the idea of his identity being somewhat mysterious. “I always wanted that level of anonymity. In the beginning, the whole project was more of like, I just wanted to create something that no one would know it was me.” Taking on the enigma of Haux as opposed to his real name Woodson Black, he has established an aura of intrigue. It’s fitting, especially with the reflective feeling of his music. “I wanted to find a name that meant something to me but that also was super ambiguous. So I chose Haux because it’s part of my mom’s maiden name, which is Michaux - it’s an old French family name. I shortened it and changed the pronunciation.”
But here in Boston, people might know him by his given name. Although currently on an international tour, this is a special show for him, the closest to his home in the Berkshires and even closer to his former college of Northeastern University. “It’s great because family can come to the show,” he says. “And then also, I lived here for 3 years and these were my old stomping grounds. It feels awesome to come back and feel nostalgic.” Even the venue has a particular significance for him. “Last time I was here I saw Lucy Rose. She’s one of my all-time favorites, and there were maybe, like, 20 people there tops,” he shares. “It was one of those crazy times where you’re just super up close and personal. It’s cool to be back here playing the same venue.”
He’s mainly based in Massachusetts, but has “spent time on and off over the last few years” in London as well, which “feels like a second home” to him. “My version of Massachusetts is way more rural, and, you know, kind of cabin in the woods versus London being a major metropolitan city. And London has so much to offer in terms of art and culture and it’s really kind of the epicenter of all of my favorite artists, so I love it.”
Haux’s tour follows the release of an EP titled 'Something to Remember', a haunting exploration of honest sentiments featuring his signature soundscape of atmospheric minimalism. “I feel like what I usually tell people is that it’s music that makes you happy to be sad,” he says after a moment of thought. And there couldn’t be a better description for the way he evokes such a distinct space within his sounds, a world of melancholy - but one that’s always soothing, beautiful. How does that sound come about? “I would say that I put a lot of limitations on myself when I’m recording because it somehow makes things easier to deal with,” he explains. “So I’ve only worked with very specific instruments and plugins and sounds. I focus on the things that I’m good at, and I think that’s why I’ve created this kind of music. And I think it also represents my personality.”
Each song on 'Something to Remember' is a different place to escape to, almost as if you can feel the walls of the room in which he created them. If there were a standout, though, he would choose the closing track. “Each one means a lot to me in different ways,” he reflects. “I think ‘Arrows’ has been the most impactful for me recently. It’s the only song that I wrote, like, 3 years ago. All of the other songs were written within the last year or so. ‘Arrows’ was much before, and it was about a friend of mine and us taking a road trip across the United States, and the things I was thinking about.”
Surprisingly, he avoided drawing from modern influences during the writing process for the EP. “I try not to listen to any artists that I like. I usually listen to classical music because it’s, like, I can’t copy classical music. And when I’m listening to, say, Ben Howard, or Lucy Rose, I end up writing like them without meaning to. It just happens naturally,” he reveals. And when it comes to actually writing, it’s pretty straightforward and instinctive for him. “It’s usually a progression on an instrument, and then I just start singing. That’s it.”
Haux’s prior EP 'All We’ve Known' features mostly soft guitar laid out underneath layers of swirling chords and gentle vocals. However, he has expanded his sound palette more on his recent record, including piano as well as many new textures of synths. “I got a piano, so I was playing a lot more piano, so that’s kind of why. And I kind of got sick of just doing guitar-leading stuff and wanted to try other things. I’ve been working on a ton of instrument-based but not as much electronic elements - all instrument-based, but all samples. I’m exploring my sound even more.” And by the way his music manages to contain complexity and simplicity at the same time, it has a depth that begs to be explored.
Despite this evolution, one thing that hasn’t changed is the feature of a female voice in most of the songs. “I’ve always loved the female voice, and just collaborating with a female. That was the way ‘Homegrown’ happened, and ‘Toulouse’, and those were the first two songs that really started Haux. I was working with my friend Emily, and it just felt so natural, and I loved shaping her vocal and making it work in the context. It is an interesting dynamic, and it’s something that feels really natural to Haux.”
Sometimes, the songs need a transformation before they take their final form. “[My production process] is usually about 2 weeks to a month and a half per song, I would say. It starts off with a loop, and then I build off of the loop. I record vocals, figure out which sounds I want, which ones fit…and then sometimes I get really bored and I strip everything away and redo it. ‘Touch’ was that way, ‘Heartbeat’ was that way. They were pretty much different songs instrumentally until the last week I had them, and then I changed them a lot,” he reveals.
When it comes to his album artwork and music videos, they’re just as captivating as the music itself. But what fans of his music alone might not know is that these visuals are an inherent part of his artistic expression as both a photographer and filmmaker. And in fact, it was his music that he chose to be more private about while growing up. “I think photography came when I was like 14 or 15, I started shooting films, and then I had always written songs before that, you know, just in my bedroom. I didn’t share them with anyone. Not even my mom. So I didn’t share my music until I was like 18 or 19. I was much more open about my photography before that.”
His love for visuals adds another dimension to his image as Haux, serving as another piece of an artistic whole. “I don’t really think of [photography/film and music] separately, honestly. It’s just about expressing myself. There’s a lot of similarities in terms of creating a photo and going on an exploration of the way you’re feeling and trying to see what comes, and trying to let it be as natural as possible. They really just go hand in hand, they both inspire each other.” He relies on this passion to visually represent his music, too. “I think a lot about it. I approach the visual side as if it’s a short film, for each music video. So, drafting a narrative, and then trying to figure out the storyboard and how it’s going to be shot, and where I want to shoot it…I’d say it’s very intuitive,” he describes. Is there a visual that he thinks could represent his music as a whole? “I think the ‘All We’ve Known’ artwork. I like that color a lot. It’s very soft. It’s like a moss, a moss green…maybe that.”
One of his most recent visual projects was a short film, titled "Something to Remember" alongside his EP. “[It’s] about loss, and losing someone in your life who you really care about, and trying to remember them not for the bad memories but for the good.” The film highlights the emotional themes illustrated on the EP cover and shown in the “Heartbeat” music video, which display a unique visual of a cold pink box contrasted against a beach, an image he dreamed of. “It happened one night…I woke up in the middle of the night and had a dream about this pink box, and for some reason I was like, I have to figure out some way to express this in a story. I loved the man-made, artificial feeling of this pink box in the middle of this very pastoral, natural environment. I kind of just ran with it and I was going through things at the time that led me into thinking about loss and how it represents us, and talking about the good and the bad sides of it. So that was something I really worked on for a long time. I’m not sure what the next one will be, they kind of just come up as life happens. But that was the main focus this last year.” What exactly does the box symbolize for him? “It’s the representation of either the loss that you feel towards someone, or it is that person.”
And Haux’s creative output definitely isn’t ending here. “I’ve been working on new songs, and I should have a full-length record next year. It’s super exciting! I’m really, really happy,” he says. Whatever art he has to share in the future, it’s clear that it will evoke even more sincere thoughts, questions, and feelings in his listeners and viewers.
Watch our Haux concert-experience video featuring Rosie Carney and Henry Jamison at the Boston show 6/14/18.
"Something to Remember" short film:
"Heartbeat" music video:
Follow us for more:
indie music undercurrents.
instagram + twitter: @waevlength