As always the case, good artists will fly under the radar, and it’s a job for us here at Sun 13 to do our best in unearthing these gems. Not an easy task, but we do our best.
Where pop-orientated releases in 2021 are concerned, firstly there was Odd Beholder’s Sunny Bay (link below), and continuing in a similar vein, we have Old Man of the Woods; the project of Richmond, VA’s Miranda Elliott.
Following last year’s debut EP, Dissolve, Elliott continues to push forward with the Old Man of the Woods project with her debut album, Votives.
Votives comprises of down-tempo pop splendour that slowly unfurls with repeated listens. Finding a quiet corner and spending time with this record is where the best results are garnered.
From the first note of the sparkly opener, Garden (and later with Hissing), to the hazy lo-fi folk rock cut, Let Me Miss You, and the sleepy-eyed pop combo of Open, Hoping and White Wall, Elliott is both elusive and agile in her explorations within the enclaves of pop. Here, she carves out her own sound and, indeed, her own voice.
It’s minimalism that provides maximum results, confirming that Votives is a release in which those with curious ears should not sleep on.
Having recently moved from her native Richmond to Seattle, we caught up with Elliott just after the release of Votives.
1. Firstly, can you tell us about the history of Old Man of the Woods?
Miranda Elliott: “I’d been writing songs for a long while as a form of journaling, then reached a point a couple years ago where I wanted to share that part of myself. I bought a better mic and an audio interface and started learning Logic and it totally consumed me in the best way. I’d considered the songs I was writing before to be more of sketches – just vocals and piano, uke, or guitar. I’d never been able to build the world around them that I imagined.
“That all changed when I started experimenting with soft synths and effects and the new frontier of music production. I was finally able to make the sounds I heard in my head – it was so empowering. After several months, I decided to release an EP, named the project after a mushroom, and went for it. Bryan Bruchman of Totally Real Records reached out after reading a review from Various Small Flames and it’s all grown from there. It’s really special getting to share my art and have support in doing it – a few years ago I didn’t trust that I’d ever have the courage to be that vulnerable.”
2. Congratulations on your new album, Votives. How’s the reception been so far?
ME: “So surreal! It’s such a rush when friends and strangers reach out about liking it, scrolling through Spotify and seeing the tracks on playlists, reading what blogs have to say about it, hearing the test press on vinyl. I still find it hard to believe that this album left my bedroom sometimes. I recently moved across the country and some new friends put on Votives at a party and I could barely process a room of strangers listening to this crazy intimate thing I made. It’s just wild that this album is living in other people’s homes and ears and hearts now.
“Being this openly sensitive has been so good for me. I spent way too long trying to numb out and be ‘chill’, whatever that means. I have much more love for the version of myself that admits to feeling a lot.”
3. Can you tell us about the writing process behind Votives?
ME: “Votives was written from 2018 to 2021. Listening to it feels a little like watching myself grow up. Falling in love and out of love with everyone and everything. Making mistakes and learning and making them differently and learning. I wrote In the End after breaking up with my first love, Better after a week-long silent retreat and a shit year, Reborn after cancelling my German visa application because the apocalypse had arrived. Hissing is a love song to my mom, Enough is a love song to myself. Everything is a product of reaction or synthesis – songwriting is my way of processing.
“I’ve described the album as a sonic labyrinth guided by a dream because there’s really no other explanation of how it all came together. For months I was building different playlists of different potential albums, then one day I found this fragile balance of my favourites from the past and the present, and it was Votives. I hadn’t known that would be the name of the album or the pillar that held it all together, but the night after I wrote that song, I had this dream that our minds were little churches with votives burning for everyone we’d loved. The next day, the album started falling into place.”
4. I love how the name ‘Old Man of the Woods’ doesn’t align with how your music sounds. Kind of like Destroyer (there are others, too, of course). Is this something you thought about before the naming the project?
ME: “Definitely. Although I would argue that ‘the woods’ fits, I’m very happy to hear that ‘old man’ doesn’t. I found this guy flipping through a field guide up at my dad’s cabin in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I had hoped to find some scientific name adjacent to a raven (my favourite bird) or a rose (my middle name), but everything felt trite and overly feminine, I couldn’t see myself embracing that. Then I found this spiky, scruffy, freaky mushroom and imagined releasing the songs as him and the absurdity was part of what gave me the confidence to do it.
“I was very nervous about showing my friends this side of myself and hiding behind this mushroom provided a false sense of anonymity. I also happened to already respect and adore mushrooms, so on a conceptual level, it worked too. I love that they survive off of decay and feed everyone from it, I love that they allow the forest to communicate with itself, I love everything about them. I’m very happy to be one now.”
5. The track that jumped out at me was Open, Hoping. Do you remember much about writing this one?
ME: “It brings me so much joy hearing that you connect with that one! It’s so blatant and raw – there’s a little part of me that cringes so hard that I wish I’d cut it, but a bigger part that knows it’s an essential weight in the balance of the album. I wrote it after losing my childhood dog, Twinka, in 2019. I’m an only child and she was more like a sister than a pet to me. She introduced me to this fierce, loyal, protective side of myself – I hadn’t realized I was capable of being a caregiver and sustaining life like that. The end happened really fast. She got ill out of nowhere, and she was pretty fragile in general, but this felt different, so my parents hired a dog psychic. I realise this sounds ridiculous, but we loved her and probably would’ve done anything. Twinka told the psychic that she wouldn’t make it this time, but she’d always be around, and she’d follow me anywhere. She passed a couple days later and I was an absolute wreck. I kept hoping she’d appear but there was nothing, just this hole where she used to be. I cried and cried and cried, buckets more than the combined tears for the family and friends I’d lost before.
“Simultaneously, my best friends were moving away and I was still missing my ex, so I was in a hometown where nothing looked or felt the same, stewing in this toxic cocktail of lonely and stuck and lost and guilty for being mad at the creatures I loved for living and dying. I’d been terrified of ghosts before, but the only thing that brought me solace was the hope that someday Twinka might appear.
6. We ask a lot of artists this, what’s your take on social media?
ME: “This might be an unpopular opinion…but I…love it? Of course I recognise why many don’t, and I get lost in the rabbit holes and loops of negative comparison too, but it’s had such a net positive impact on my mental health over this past year. I’ve somehow found myself in this super kind, supportive community of artists (thank you Totally Real Records!) that I never would’ve connected with otherwise. I love seeing what they’re up to and their encouragement means so much to me. It’s inspired me to reach out when I enjoy someone’s set or get really into a song, and sometimes those become cute online friendships, and sometimes even real life ones! I’m not good at approaching strangers so sliding into DMs is much less intimidating.
“That being said, I post infrequently and have a handful of followers, so I know nothing of strategy and probably never will. That’s not my intention with these tools and it’s probably why I like them. I’m happy to have found a way of using Instagram and Twitter that feels genuine and nourishing.”
7. Some fun questions now – do you have any hobbies outside of music?
ME: “Right now I’m in grad school and working, so there isn’t much room left in the day for anything else, but a lot of my hobbies have become entwined with my music practice. I enjoy walking in the woods, listening to birds and water and wind (and sometimes layering those field recordings into songs), taking photos and tiny videos to launch my brain back into a place, making surreal iPad collages (like the album cover of Votives), journaling.
“I’ve also gotten back into live music since that opened back up. Seeing people do their thing on stage is so electric. Seeing people in general is electric, honestly. This is my first big move away from Virginia and I’ve been so surprised at my appetite for connection. I’d become pretty introverted in Richmond, but in Seattle I’m living for these new faces and stories and experiences. It’s been really energizing and refreshing.”
8. When did you last make yourself do something you didn’t want to?
ME: “I’m back in college after five years away and have been emotionally kicking and screaming at the mountains of homework piling up, so, a few hours ago. It’s silly how school seems to bring out this angsty teen in me with no regard for how interested I am in the subject at hand. I genuinely want to learn this, it’s just something about the lack of downtime that pisses me off. It feels like there’s always something I should be doing.”
9. Favourite boxset over the last 18 months
ME: “Although this was more of a virtual Netflix boxset, I did unabashedly watch the full series, and it is ridiculously long…Vampire Diaries. I love high school supernatural shit, and I don’t know what that says about me, but there you have it.”
10. What was the last book you read?
ME: “I’m currently reading bell hooks’ all about love. A dear friend gave it to me a few years back – I still have her note in there, it’s written on a torn piece of a brown paper bag, I’m such a sucker for that. I honestly hadn’t read a word of the book until last month though. I moved to Seattle with a couple suitcases and for some reason it was one of the only books that made the cut. One of those that just whispered ‘it’s time’, you know? It’s incredible. In the first chapter, she defines love ‘as an action rather than a feeling’. That blew my mind. I’d never heard someone talk about love like that, like it’s an intentional choice you make, rather than a fever that takes hold.”
11. How much does the landscape of Richmond, Virginia, influence your music?
ME: “So much! I’m a little sponge. I notice it more now that I’m gone too. Strangely, the environment is much quieter in Seattle. In Votives, I hear Richmond’s hum of bugs, chorus of birds, and rushing of rapids. There’s this noisey brightness that comes in waves, like shimmers of glitter. Some field recordings are legitimately layered into a few tracks, but for the most part, I hear their influence in the synths I choose and the way I expect sound to move. There’s this textural, hissing component to most of what I make, and it’s much more subconscious than intentional. World-building seems to be an exercise in invention and reuse.”
12. What’s next for Old Man of the Woods?
ME: “I want to start playing shows! I need to figure out my live set and what gear and all of that – performance hasn’t been an aspect of my creative process thus far – but I’m eager to experience playing my music for people. I’m so curious about how it’ll translate into the live realm, whether it’ll be danceable, how to make it engaging and submersive. It honestly terrifies me, but that’s how I know it’s the right next step. I’m always cooking up new stuff as well, and I’m excited about that, but I’m not looking to release anything too quickly. I’ve started posting little snippets and sketches and that helps me from feeling like I’m bottling up ideas that need to be free. For now, I think the priority is coaxing Old Man of the Woods out of the bedroom.”
13. Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions. Any last words?
ME: “If anyone is reading this in Seattle, be my friend! And if you aren’t, be my online friend! Or, more importantly, give Votives a listen then decide. There’s a lot of variety to connect with there and it means so much to me when people try it out. It’s streaming everywhere and we have vinyl, gold glitter cassettes, and the cutest mushroom tote bag on Bandcamp (all of which come with a digital download). Thanks for reading and getting to know me better.”
Votives is out now via Totally Real Records. Purchase from Bandcamp.