Norton Juster's 1961 fantastical, mildly psychedelic children's adventure novel The Phantom Tollbooth follows a listless Milo into a magic-like and pun-filled fantasy land. Milo must avoid The Doldrums, where the bored and listless are trapped into never having fun ever again. Montreal's Airick Woodhead, who released his playful sonic splurge debut Lesser Evil in March, took on the name Doldrums to remind himself never to get stuck there.
"It’s my way to escape those things," he says. "He goes to this place where nothing happens, nothing changes. I thought that’s kind of where I want to escape from."
Doldrums' hallucinatory, acclaimed debut Lesser Evil conjures childlike bursts of abandonment, made up of pop-collages composed by Woodhead, inspired largely by experimental DIY producers Black Dice and Atlas Sound. Those solo compositions get a full-band Doldrums accompaniment at 9 p.m. tonight at the House of Blues with tourmates Crystal Castles.
"When I was 13 I was working on my dad’s computer. He’s a producer and musician. I would just cut up stuff and make collages, basically with whatever material I could find," he says. "Then I started playing in bands. I’ve kind of come full circle."
While Lesser Evil explores a personal kaleidoscope, meticulously spliced and diced and layered and looped, Woodhead says the stage version is "kind of chaotic and volatile."
"I tell (the band), 'I’m just going to do what I do, you guys do what you do, let’s start from there.' It’s not like I give them guitar parts," he says. "I want them to be doing them, not them doing Doldrums. ... That’s really exciting to me. I like there to be a lot of catharsis for everyone."
Lesser Evil was more or less completed a year ago. Woodhead says he's focused largely on the live, touring component, which has influenced his writing of new material — though his songwriting still starts from the same place: "I start with a melody in my head or a lyric, go into my iTunes library and start fucking around."
"I think about Frank Zappa’s idea of the recording triangle — good, fast and cheap," he says. "He said you can only have two. You can have good and fast but it won’t be cheap, or you can have cheap and good but it won’t be fast. You can now kind of have all three, and it’s all new and exciting. It becomes even better than big studio productions of the ’90s or the kind of meticulous '70s stuff. The fact that it’s easy to make music on your own now is very exciting. ... The limitations of a computer are there, just like any medium has its limitations. You’d be hard pressed to get a really good, organic sounding guitar sound from your computer. But the kind of superpowers it gives you, the almost trans-human superpowers are there."
Woodhead says Montreal's expansive, genre-bending music landscape continues to be a source of inspiration.
"It’s a beautiful place with cheap rent and kind of romantic," he says. "A lot of artists move here for that, and a lot of musicians find each other through that. It’s not a scene where we’re competing, or arguing over who sounds better, and artists end up sounding completely different. I feel like I could just stay here and grow and work."