Erena Shingade talks to Womb, a Wellington indie-folk sibling trio whose new album was released this month.
When I first heard Wellington’s Womb back in 2016, I listened to the self-titled album ritualistically for months. Charlotte Forrester’s ethereal voice became my private, secret music of nights and dawns, colouring the interface between sleep and waking. Her music came to represent the dipping in and out of self-awareness: the feeling of being borne along by the strange visions of the mind.
The spectral layering of voices which characterises Womb is so evocative of a particular mood and time that it seems wrong to listen to the music at work, in the middle of the day, or among acquaintances. There’s something hallowed about the music, something which makes me want to listen quietly and privately, among soft furnishings. As Charlotte Forrester herself described one of the videos from that first album, Womb’s music is “a magic but untouchable world”.
Womb’s new album, Like Splitting the Head from the Body, is still a magic world, but a different one. Gone are the folky guitar pickings, the exacting consonance; welcomed in are synths, electronic vocal manipulation, and some of the dissonance present in Womb’s live performances. The characteristic vocal layering still marks the music, but the warm, floating space of the first album, the eerie zone of amniotic fluid that Forrester had previously aspired to create, is brought down to earth. It’s less of a dreamscape which makes me want to wallow in my bed looking up at the stars.
But the new album retains something of the bedroom-demo vibe of the debut. Having recorded the outlines of the songs with Rohan Evans at the Wine Cellar in Auckland, Womb then spent months layering the tracks. As Charlotte says, the DIY ethos is part of “the magic of making the album – being able to add bits, to keep on fleshing out a song until it sounds totally different.”
But the biggest change is certainly the addition of Charlotte’s siblings, Haz Forrester and Georgette Brown. Together, the three of them give the band’s name a new sense of authenticity. Forrester is still the main songwriter, but each sibling now incorporates something of their own style: Haz’s interests in electronic sound manipulation, for example, comes through in the single ‘Feeling Like Helium’. Each having their own individual musical interests means that the three feel no need to stay in one genre. “[We] have the room to explore whatever comes up,” Georgette tells me. The music for the new album “just organically happened when we all started doing it together”.
Each of the three have other artistic influences which filter back into the band. Georgette is a full-time visual artist; Haz studies environmental science; Charlotte and Haz do sound pieces for Georgette’s art and give poetic explanations for their music based on the literature they read. According to Charlotte, the first few tracks of the album came about after she spent a week sick in bed and read her way through a stack of books on queer ecology. Those 2016 songs represent “the idea that humans and nature are part of a kind of mesh. It’s like you’re not the same thing as nature – you’re different but you’re made of the same substance.”
Haz expands on this with his science background when he describes the title track of the new album, Like Splitting the Head from the Body as referring to “the boundaries between humans and nature, humans and other humans…The lonely sensation of being forever in a closed body, but the potential in understanding that the body is not just a contained entity.”
Georgette tells me that Like Splitting the Head from the Body came about from a family legend. While they were living in a forest in Australia called Narnia (previously a commune, then home to their family, a horse, some sheep, a few WWOOFers, and a handful of troubled teenagers), a snake appeared on the deck where the children were playing. With the swiftness and power of a matriarch, their mother Keziah took up an axe and struck the snake, splitting the head from the body.
Womb crosses artistic disciplines freely. The band’s logo, drawn by Georgette, manages to evoke new-age spirituality, medieval typography, and Greek mythology all at once. In marrying what they see as the personal and the conceptual, the band take influence from musicians like Björk whose idiosyncratic image is the result of her collaborations across musical genres as well as with diverse fashion designers, artists, photographers and music video directors. Keeping with this vision of interdisciplinary collaboration, Womb’s ideal show line-up would include spoken word artists and actors like Ana Scotney and Gerard Crewdson as well as local bands such as Alexa Casino, Girls Pissing On Girls Pissing, Huge Mutant, and i.rokyo.
The trio have had strong support from the local Wellington music scene right from the beginning. After growing up in Narnia and then in Champaign, a town in Illinois, USA, they moved to Wellington as teenagers. Although they began by making music together at home, Haz and Charlotte credit the community that surrounds their label, Sonorous Circle, with supporting them to play their first gigs. Label co-owners Dick White, Thomas Lambert, and Sean Kelly were there when they were starting out, and have become like family, Charlotte says. In fact, no matter where she travels in the world, it always affirms the kinship she feels to Wellington. “Most of my favourite musicians are from here…condensed into the incredibly small landscape of Te Whanganui-a-Tara.”
Being siblings has helped the development of their music too. The shared histories, mutual understanding, and sense of trust allow them to take risks. Only two years ago, Haz and Charlotte asked Georgette to learn the drums for them, and more recently she began to do backing vocals as well. Perhaps the unselfconscious air of their performances is down to the feeling of having no judgement in rehearsals. “I don’t know if I could feel comfortable in the same way when I jam with other people as I do with Georgette and Hazzy,” Charlotte says. “I just feel like they get what I’m trying to say immediately…[when we’re] crafting sound together.”
And what does Keziah, their mother, make of it all? Sometimes, when they walk past her room late at night in their Aro Valley home, they can hear Womb tracks playing softly. And sometimes she’ll come to their gigs and record them, just so she can replay the set at home again that night, alone, smiling.
The Spinoff’s music content is brought to you by our friends at Spark, a major sponsor of Auckland City Limits. Listen to all the music you love on Spotify Premium, it’s free on all Spark’s Pay Monthly Mobile plans. Sign up and start listening today.
The Bulletin is The Spinoff’s acclaimed daily digest of New Zealand’s most important stories, delivered directly to your inbox each morning.