Habitual Bliss: Q&A with Her Habits
Canadian native turned Brooklynite, Joanie Wolkoff, who chills under the moniker, Her Habits, has led a rather interesting life – so what better way to translate those experiences than through song? Joining forces with producer Sanford Livingston, the pair has created a diverse set of rather ‘habit’ forming tracks (I had to) dabbed with elements of synthpop, alternative and R&B. If you’re into unicorns and rainbows (Lisa Frank, are you listening?) with a tinge of sass thrown in, look no further than the Northerner EP. It looks like listeners are going to find a sparkling pot of gold at the end of this debut.
I had the chance to chat with Wolkoff on culture, living in the hipster capital of the world, and of course, those habits we women tend to have.
You have a rather impressive backstory to your life. For those not familiar, can you sum up everything you’ve been through plus what Her Habits embodies for you in three sentences or less?
Here’s my elevator speech à la Tess McGill: I left my beautiful motherland Canada at 19 to run all over the world like a chicken with its head chopped off until settling in Brooklyn, where I got a state-issued barbering license and then proceeded to not cut hair for a living. In the meantime, this music happened so that you could discover it.
Her Habits is about transformation. I wanted these songs to compress all the heavy duty underpinnings of life- thirst, play, uncertainty- into fuel for meaningful partying.
Would you say your experiences diving into multiple cultures influenced the sound of the Northerner EP?
Exposure to cultural diversity on all levels has shaped the way I hear and write music, even if the outcome is barely perceptible much of the time. Non-Western harmony, scale, rhythm and vocality have long been coopted by North American and European musicians. I attended a workshop last month where tabla drum virtuoso Suphala spoke about the vogue of odd counts and polyrhythm in the top 40 realm. Exhibit A: OutKast’s “Hey Ya!” which our lecturer explained has something like an 11/4 time signature. She then demonstrated it on hand crafted drums from India. My mathless brain had exploded, but I could hear what she was describing. I had to go home and ferret through the internet for more odd-count pop hits just to make sure I wasn’t imagining things.
That said, a lot of the instrumentation giving this EP its texture- with the exception of “Dolla Sign” which stayed more or less the same after I wrote it from scratch- are a reflection of producer Sanford Livingston’s ear. In fact, he wrote the instrumental beds for “Two Ships,” “Thing Or Two” and “Slip Away” before I added vocal melodies and lyrics to those three tracks. Sanford’s a Southern transplant in NYC, which I’d say qualifies him as a citizen of the world. Were I to produce an EP on my lonesome, you’d have a strange and far messier animal on your hands.
Being a Brooklyn resident myself for the past 20 years, I’ve never seen so much happening in one place, as it always seems the grass is greener on the other side. What influenced your move to Brooklyn and has it inspired you in more ways than just musically?
For better and for worse, isn’t home where the heart is? Sometimes you follow that tricky organ to a new place, as was the case when I came to Brooklyn almost a decade ago. You start to wonder if a heart transplant was performed on you without your knowledge or consent while you were sleeping on the flight over. During my first couple of years here, I had serious misgivings about my decision to stay. Often, the grass on the other side of the fence- ANY grass- looked like it was carved from candied emeralds compared to the scant employment, gatekeeping and bedbugs I grappled with in my new digs. Only when I wholeheartedly sank my teeth into the good and the bad of Brooklyn did I fall for it head over heels. The same process could’ve come to pass at an auto-mechanical school in Timbuktu for all I know. I became ready to love where I lived.
I hear a lot of elements in your music – from the deliriously perfect synthpop to pop/rock and R&B. Give us a short list of some of your musical influences and who we should be listening to in 2015!
You’re sure nice for saying those nice things! Further delirium for the delirious:
You’ve been chosen as a semi-finalist in the Mountain Dew® Green Label Sound: Open Call contest, which is pretty badass! How did this opportunity come about and where can fans get their vote on?
We were floored that Her Habits placed in the top ten finalists out of 6000 entires. Sanford entered our single “Faster Than Sound” in the contest on a wing and a prayer. Pushing an online vote system is uncharted territory for me. On the one hand, I have a day job in education and there’s no way I’ll ever save $50,000 to make an album at this rate, at least not before my 65th birthday. So winning would be a game changer. On the other hand, I can safely say that folks don’t exactly experience orgasmic bliss every time they read a social media post urging them to get a musician votes so s/he can win cash. I’m touched by the kindness of people who have reached out and voted so far in response to my Facebook entreaty, but at the end of the day I’d way rather have people building an actual relationship with the music than clicking on a ‘vote’ button for it.
(Vote HERE until January 30!!!)
Finally, I want to ask you about your accompanying ‘Her Habits’ booklet, which you created and illustrated yourself. As far as women’s habits go, this is pretty spot on, yet not every woman may agree. How did this idea come about and what was it like surveying those observers?
A shrewd Her Habits supporter suggested and formatted the booklet, and you can’t imagine how hard it was to whittle down the observations I collected in my survey. Alas, “Females touch their mouths when they are choosing between objects set in front of them” didn’t make the cut this time, but stay tuned for round two.
Northerner is available now HERE.
More For You