Although Woodson Black began releasing music under the name Haux in 2016, everything he’s done up until now has only been preparation for his seminal debut: Violence In A Quiet Mind, which drops on July 17 via Color Study.
A contemplative, impressionistic and emotive record, Violence In A Quiet Mind is an autobiography of sorts for Black’s adolescent years. As a child, a three-generation-long history of substance abuse in his family culminated with the accidental overdose of his aunt. The resulting trauma left a deep impression on the young Black and his family… an impression that lasted for years. Despite Black’s best efforts to suppress it, the confusion and anguish kept creeping into his life. It crept into his art, his relationships and even the way he felt about himself and others.
Yet, Black was able to recognize this after he began working on a set of tunes that directly addressed the experience. A fairly private person, he was hesitant at first to do anything with these songs — he shunned them, he hid them away. But, as time went on, Black began to open up about them, and thus began to open up about his psyche. The major catalyst came when he teamed up with producer Thomas Bartlett, who encouraged Black to lean into the themes. Together, the pair put the finishing touches on this emotional set of tunes… the tunes that make up Violence In A Quiet Mind.
Last week, American Songwriter caught up with Black, who had a lot to say about the two-year journey it took to craft this record. An artist with a keen sense of intuition, Black opened up about the emotional toll that Violence In A Quiet Mind caused and how that toll led to healing. Read our conversation below:
Tell us about this record — when did you start working on it? What inspired it?
It’s definitely one of those “you have your whole life to make your first album” kind of things. I’ve been directly working on it for about two years, but most of the songwriting happened in a span of three or four months. I think a lot of the process was learning how to get to a place where I could write these songs, where I could address these things that I needed to talk about. I really couldn’t write any other songs without writing this record first.
I ended up going to Scotland to record the album, but then I put it on the shelf for a while. I was pretty afraid of what I had written, I was afraid of how personal it was. But, then I met up with Thomas Bartlett and he really took it to a new level, to the place where I wanted it to be. He made it into something I could be proud of.
So, yeah, it was about two years of work. Even though this album is very much a single body of work unto itself, I think all of the songs that I’ve written in the past have skated around the themes I address here. Everything has been leading up to this, both in a good way and a bad way.
You mention that you were “pretty afraid of what [you] have written” — what do you mean by that?
I think that’s a part of my process. I’ll believe in something and feel like I nailed it, and then I lose it and feel like it’s a total piece of shit. Usually, it takes someone else seeing that first feeling that I had for me to start believing in it again. These songs and the messages behind them date back to when I was a kid. Those were times that were really traumatic, I don’t want to think about them anymore. So, I think that having written those songs so specific to that time, I didn’t want to take ownership of them. I wanted it to be this thing in the closet that I never talk about — retreating and hiding is my coping mechanism. But, having someone who I trust and respect say that they believe in it gave me the reassurance that they address what I’m trying to talk about. This is what I need to do to take the next step in my career and my life.
Eventually, I found acceptance. I said “okay, this is what the record is about and I’m going to own it.” I started to talk about it with my manager and my family and it got the point where it became second nature to talk about. It ended up being a really healthy thing for me to do. Me, personally, and my family. We talked about things that we’ve never talked about. Eventually, that made everything much more comfortable.
So, you had hesitations about these songs as you were writing them, but you still wrote them — why is that? Did you make a conscious decision to write them or did it just occur by happenstance?
It was definitely a natural thing. I knew what the album was going to be about once I started writing it, but I couldn’t help myself from wanting it to be about something else. I just had to let this out, I had to do it. So… I guess it was natural to a certain point, but there came a time where it became an almost physical unearthing. I needed to do this in order to move forward with my life. I didn’t think about it a lot, but I had a feeling that it would ultimately be structured around this trauma. I had written “Eight” and that was the first time I touched on the idea of writing from the perspective of a younger-me, an adolescent-me. I was really trying to focus on that time and those experiences, especially in regard to how they’ve shaped me and my present voice.
So, in a very personal way this record was a breakthrough of sorts?
Definitely. Songs have always been a way to work through difficult periods for me. I grew up without talking about my feelings with other people in a meaningful way. I think music was the only thing that allowed me to have certain internal conversations with myself. It allowed me to move past certain feelings, whether it was in my own writing or in other people’s writing. It’s definitely therapeutic. I went to a few therapy sessions as a kid — a real forced-therapy kind of thing — and it just didn’t work. But, music filled that void for me. So, this record has really allowed me to reach a breakthrough. If nothing else, I think it was just taking ownership of my past and talking about the grief, the deaths and the trauma that I experienced growing up. By just talking about it, a weight has been lifted. I no longer carry it with me in the way I did before. I had always felt that if I let go of that weight, I would’ve lost a part of myself, but I’ve learned that it’s actually allowed me to grow. I’m not strapped down by it anymore.
How has that breakthrough impacted your creative process?
As soon as I wrote this record, I really felt able to write in the present in a way I never have before. All of a sudden, it was about what I’ve been going through in relationships and things that I’ve been dealing with recently, as opposed to things I dealt with when I was 8 or 9. That’s such a powerful thing. It’s allowed me to live more in the present.
Even right now — it’s hard for me to be back in my hometown because people know you from when you were a teenager. A lot of their experiences with you are based on those moments from the past, so you’re not really allowed to be the person you are right now. When you’re around people who allow you to operate as you are today, it’s really powerful. That’s kinda what’s happened with my songwriting after I made this record. Of course, there are still moments of relapse where I’m overcome with thoughts about my aunt. But, overall, I feel like I’m in a much different and better place now.
How did you approach arranging these songs to best serve their thematic content?
It’s an incredibly natural process for me. Honestly, it’s something I don’t think about a whole lot. The music, I think, comes first. I usually start with a mood. Once I get it going with a guitar or a piano or something, I start humming and words start coming. Once I get a few words, it becomes something. I get a few lines and it becomes an idea. Once I have that idea, I know exactly what the song is and what it’s going to become. That process can take anywhere between two minutes to two days. Usually, it’s quick though. I think marrying the sound with the theme is the natural part of it. I’m constantly making music that makes me feel good and okay, and a big part of that is focusing on calm music. I actually wrote most of these songs while lying down on my back.
This record clearly has tremendous meaning for you, but you have an audience listening to it as well — what is the significance of sharing your story with your listeners?
It’s incredibly important. I grew up in a pretty open environment with friends who I trusted dearly, but even still there were things that we never talked about. There wasn’t really a space for men to do that in a way that felt like you could still carry your ego in front of people. But, I found much more power in sharing that story, in being open and vulnerable to other people. I find that it’s made me a healthier person overall.
We’re already in a different era of time than 15 years ago when I was an adolescent. I’m so grateful for that. If nothing else, I hope other people find a way to talk about their feelings by listening to this record. At the very least, I hope that they are able to address things that are difficult for them to think about. We have a lot of problems here, but I think that we’re slowly moving to a place where Americans can talk about this stuff more. There’s less uniformity around saving face and not showing your true colors. If I can be a part of that movement, then that would be such a blessing. By helping yourself, you can help other people. That’s what this album is about.
Even using this record as an example — it wouldn’t have been made if it wasn’t for the support from my manager and my family. They helped me make these decisions, they’ve all been a part of my journey moving forward. I’m a solo artist and it seems like a one-man project, but more and more I’m learning that it’s about how many people are behind it, helping me through those moments.
“I found much more power in sharing that story, in being open and vulnerable to other people” — that’s a fantastic sentiment.
Yeah, it really is empowering when you share your story for the first time. It’s empowering to share your negative thoughts… or even your positive ones. When you share with someone, you can walk away going ‘oh my goodness, that felt really good, that allowed me to move forward.’ And, if it didn’t feel good, you feel it pretty much immediately. But, that’s what good friends are for. I hope people don’t think of therapy as something that is a faux pas or makes you weak. We should have people in our lives who we can talk to. We should address situations that are troubling us.
Listen to “Calico” off Haux’s debut record Violence In A Quiet Mind below: