“The song is a wee response to all the ‘armchair experts’ who tell you what you can and can’t do, that it’s a terrible idea to step out and take a chance for fear of failing. I don’t mind falling out of trees because it turns out I love climbing them.” Johnny McFadzean, The Woods
Given the convictions behind ‘Armchair Expert’, it’s appropriate that the tune was written, recorded and produced entirely by Johnny McFadzean, aka The Woods. Even the video – a sublime stop-motion short that finds the singer in and out of a red leather armchair surrounded by the detritus of music and life – was a DIY project, setting a brilliant example of what can be achieved under one’s own steam. Of course, you need talent and you need ideas, and Johnny has both in spades, evident in the interweaving layers of warm and ambient vocal (shades of Beirut or C Duncan), and lilting, instrumentally complex dream pop that make ‘Armchair Expert’ such a hypnotic listen.
That composer, vocalist, multi-instrumentalist and loop artist Johnny McFadzean became such a musical polymath is perhaps unsurprising given his singular upbringing. Recognised as a prodigious singing talent as a young child, Johnny was plucked from his home in rural Scotland to join a world-famous choir, leading to what can only be described as several surreal experiences for a 10-year-old, touring the planet and singing twice at the Sydney Opera House as well as on a BBC Christmas broadcast which necessitated a cover shot for the Radio Times!
These remarkable events nurtured a deep love of classical music in young Johnny, whose tastes broadened over the years as he became more aware of alternative music, jazz and electronica. All this has been channelled into Johnny’s solo project, The Woods, where haunting vocals meld with intricate beats and textured harmonies, leading to comparisons with James Blake, Four Tet and Beirut. The Woods’ debut EP was crafted in 2015, gaining airplay on BBC Introducing, 6 Music and Radio Scotland. Since then Johnny has focused on developing and disseminating the project’s unique atmospherics, in terms of both songwriting and production, in the studio and on stage. ‘Armchair Expert’ represents the first taste of The Woods 2.0.
NB: The moniker ‘The Woods’ is a nod to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s writings on nature and self trust. Emerson’s texts were crucial in inspiring Johnny to make music the focal point of his life: “They kind of rewired my brain at a time I needed rewiring,” says the musician.
See The Woods live
Thurs 31 May: Chachacha Vintage, London N10
Sat 16 June: Sunset Sessions, YHA Treyarnon Bay, Cornwall