It's a little after 8:00 PM on Wednesday, October 5th. It is the first Wednesday of the month, which means Art Walk in downtown Jacksonville. The Coniferous Cafe on West Monroe Street is hosting an event to support the launch of "Nick Name," a local zine. It's drizzling rain outside but inside it's dry and a group of supportive twenty and thirty-somethings are gathered to warmly support the evening's programming.
Part of that programming includes a stripped-down performance by Rania Woodard. A shy and gentle smile is on the face of the 23 year old singer/songwriter as she stands in front of the crowd, most of whom smile back at her affectionally. The crowd of people are not strangers to Woodard's work. They patiently await for her to begin her set and when she does they sway and sing along to her words and melodies.
Woodard plucks the opening notes of "Still," a song she released last year under the moniker LANNDS. Since its release, the song has received a considerable amount of attention in the indie-electronic scene. Woodard's guitar is tuned and her amp is dialed in so that the notes she plays are both haunting and soothing - think the opening notes of Jeff Buckley's cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah."
The music Woodard writes and performs can be summarized using a line by Audrey Horne from Twin Peaks, "God I love this music. Isn't it too dreamy?." It is part shoegaze, part dream pop, and part electronica. Yet it is all heart and the music that Woodard writes comes from a very personal place. When she performs, Woodard stands before her audiences with bold vulnerability.
Woodard moved to Jacksonville from Memphis, Tennessee, a city which by any standards has a strong arts sector. Though she is not a Jacksonville native, she has invested herself in her artistry in an effort to improve the cultural relevance and artistic vibrancy of Northeast Florida. The Murray Hill area resonates strongly with Woodard and she is quick to champion the artists, businesses, and community members who aspire to make their neighborhood an engaging place to live, work, and socialize.
During live performances Woodard is often accompanied by a backing band. She and her band recently conducted a mini East Coast tour, performing in seven cities, including Washington, DC, Baltimore, Maryland, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and New York City, New York. LANNDS is scheduled to release a new EP this fall, titled "Legends." You can currently stream "Hourglass" a single from that album through Soundcloud.
10 Questions with Rania Woodard
Do you have any patterns, routines, or habits when starting a new project
One of my habits, whenever I'm starting a new project, is to make sure the place that I'm working in is very quiet and reserved. I like to have tea and incense burning. That usually helps me to get into the headspace I need.
What have you learned about yourself through your artistic endeavors?
I've learned that I can be a bit stubborn to change. I tend to procrastinate sometimes if I feel like something is a challenge, but I've learned that I can overcome most obstacles if i just stick with it. I've also learned that I'm a little bit of a perfectionist.
How do you define success in what you do?
Success, to me, is all about being happy. Happiness is what matters most of all. I don't think success should be defined by social status. If you're making the work that you want to make, then honestly who cares what anyone thinks?
Describe your personal evolution as a fan of music, and how has the music that you have been exposed to throughout your life influenced the music that you create?
I've always been exposed to a wide range of music. Growing up, my mom would listen to a lot of soul and quiet storm artists like Marvin Gaye, Al Green, and Prince. During my high school days, I listened to a lot of Asking Alexandria, Escape The Fate, and Our Last Night. Now, I'm a huge fan of a Daughter, James Vincent Mcmorrow, and Kanye West. I've taken a lot of influence from the artists I've been a fan of and I've tried to cultivate my own way of making music.
LANNDS is part of the rapidly developing art scene in Murray Hill. What is it that attracted you to Murray Hill and what are some of that neighborhood’s attributes that you feel make it conducive to artists and creative projects?
When I first moved to Jacksonville in late 2012, the Riverside and Murray Hill neighborhoods were the first areas that I was introduced to. I always noticed the art, the people, and the local businesses - all of which made such an impact on me.
A year later, I moved to another area of Jacksonville and I missed being a part of such an art filled world. I love how you can walk into a local coffee shop and know everyone there and the baristas know in advance what you're going to order. I love how you can walk into Five Points and see art that sparks creativity.
There is a level of production that goes into making dreamy indie-pop records that isn’t always present in other genres of music. Atmosphere and sonic textures are combined with alluring and sometimes haunting melodies. During live performances, how do you ensure that you give the audience a set that sounds like your recorded material but also delivers a unique quality that can only be experienced live and in person?
You're definitely right - it's a battle with electronic music to make it sound as good live as it does recorded. What I've learned is to fill some parts with live instrumentation. For instance, to fill a gap, I'll use an actual drummer when performing live instead of digital beats, or maybe I'll substitute guitar where there was electronic synth.
I try to make live performances feel unique. I want to create an experience that will leave people saying, "I really like the record, but live it's even better." I want it to be an amazing experience when people come out to see me play.
You write from the heart, composing lyrics that are personal yet universal. Has writing for you always been an exercise in vulnerability?
Absolutely. Writing from the heart has always been my go to. I write from a place of empathy. As humans, I think we all understand vulnerability, which is why we feel it when we hear songs that come from a sad space. We've all been there. We all can relate.
What do you contribute to LANNDS accomplishment of having over 100,000 plays on Spotify and what most excites you about being a musician in an era when it is easier than ever to distribute and promote material to the masses via online platforms? Additionally, how do you differentiate yourself from other musicians who are also utilizing online platforms to connect to their audiences?
Honestly, it's an amazing feeling. I am so grateful to be able to make music in this day and time and to be able to have the opportunities that I have. I never intended for LANNDS to be where it is today - and for that I'm forever grateful. It excites me to know that even through all the noise, people still listen.
I think it is very important to connect with people. At the end of the day, that's what music is. A connection between people. That's it. Regardless of why you make music, there has to be a connection.
You have to tell the truth if you want to differentiate yourself between the thousands of other artists who are also making amazing music. You have to write what you know. You can't fake it and try to do something that isn't you. It just won't work. You have to let people know, "hey, I'm just like you and here's a song about it."
What are your rehearsals generally like- do you have a set time each week in which you practice or are rehearsals more spontaneous?
Rehearsals are more spontaneous. Whenever I have a show planned or, for instance, a tour, I usually plan practice with the guys according to their schedules. Which speaking of, the guys I create music with are the best.
What would you like to see as an effort to support and grow the city’s creative economy?
I think everything comes and goes in waves and, honestly, I see us in a growing wave right now. I see my friends making amazing art and doing what they want creatively. I see a new wave of artists and creators coming along for the ride, and it's pretty damn beautiful. I think we need to support change and know whatever happens is happening for the greater good. We out here.