Feb 22, 2023
By Mark Redfern
Photography by Dinomoves and AJ
My Firsts is our email interview series where we ask musicians to tell us about their first life experiences, be it early childhood ones (first word, first concert, etc.) or their first tastes of being a musician (first band, first tour, etc.). For this My Firsts we talk to Benjamin Woods, the main creative force behind England’s The Golden Dregs.
The Golden Dregs released a new album, On Grace & Dignity, earlier this month via 4AD, their first album for the label. It follows 2018’s Lafayette and 2019’s Hope Is For The Hopeless. Woods founded the project in 2013 in Falmouth, a seaside town in his native Cornwall in southest England. Although he’s currently based in South London, in 2020, as the pandemic took hold, Woods lost his day job and had to move back in with his parents in Truro, Cornwall. The only job he could get was on a badly run building site, but that helped influence the new album.
“It was such a bleak winter—waist-deep in mud digging holes and rolling out turf on top of building waste, really grim stuff, which became the backdrop to the stories I was trying to write,” Woods explains.
Such authors and poets as Raymond Carver, Lydia Davis, and Richard Hugo are cited by Woods as influences on the his songwriting on On Grace & Dignity. Woods wrote, recorded, amd produced the album himself, recordings it in his South London home, but also in his childhood bedroom in Truro. Ali Chant (Perfume Genius, Aldous Harding) mixed the album and provided additional production.
Live, the band’s lineup swells to a seven-piece and next month they will embark on their first North American tour.
Read on as Woods talks about an early accident, the first actress he had a crush on, the Dylan song that first inspired him, getting drunk on Budweisers, and the first job that taught him to be charming.
First best friend?
Samuel Dames. We were born on the same street in Mossley, Greater Manchester, and our mums were friends. We only lived there until I was five but me and Samuel have remained friends since. He introduced me to MySpace, 8-track recording, and so much music.
I had two gerbils named Kanger and Roo. I must’ve been around seven. You can’t do much with gerbils. They’re so fast, so whenever I picked them up I’d be terrified of dropping them. They did have these plastic see-through balls, though, which you could put them in so they could run around the living room. Roo didn’t last all that long, I came down one morning to find him completely rigid, stretched out like he was trying to fly. We reckon he had a seizure. And then Kanger lived on a few more years. He even made the move to Cornwall with us when I was nine.
First broken bone?
I’ve never actually broken a bone. Maybe this speaks volumes about the level of risk I take in my life. Although it’s not that I’m not active. My Gran (92) has also never broken a bone, which she attributes to drinking a glass of milk every day. I did once crack my head open. I jumped down the stairs at my parents’ house in a fit of rage aged 13, and cracked my head on a steel-reinforced beam, the corner of which sliced straight into the top of my head, catching an artery of some sort. The blood really pumped out—I didn’t know how bad it was until I caught my reflection in the hallway mirror. Luckily my parents were home and my dad had me in the garden with a tea towel pressed into my head whilst my mum called an ambulance. I remember asking my dad if I was going to die, and his response didn’t fill me with confidence. The paramedic glued me up in the kitchen, and was impressed that I hadn’t fainted.
First time you fell in love?
Summer 2006, in the garden of my parents’ house. I was 14, and a childhood friend came to visit. Our parents had been friends in Manchester, and we had reconnected through the internet. Summer in Cornwall can often be grey and wet, but this week in particular the sky was so blue and the evenings were warm. We got drunk and camped out in the garden. I fell hard! It hung over me for a long time.
First movie you saw in the movie theater?
I’m pretty certain it was the Disney adaptation of Hercules in 1997, so I would have been five. I think we’d recently moved to Bolton, and my sister would have been about six months old at the time, so I was probably taken to placate me. I don’t remember it particularly well. But I do remember going to see The Mask of Zorro when it came out a year later at a multiplex in Greater Manchester and that being the first time that I was like, “Wow cinema is cool!”
First favorite song?
I loved “Hurricane” by Bob Dylan. I didn’t appreciate the political gravitas of the song as a child, sat in the back of the car whilst it played on cassette up front. But I loved the pace of it, and that it was telling a story. And the violin is so powerful.
First actor or actress you had a crush on?
Catherine Zeta-Jones. First in The Mask of Zorro, and then later in Entrapment. I had both on VHS and they got watched a lot. I think my mum identified that I had a crush on her before I did. I was devastated when I found out she was married to some smelly looking old man.
First concert you went to?
I was exposed to live music growing up, but the first concert that I got a ticket for was Nazareth. I had just turned 14, which is the age when you’re “allowed” to go to shows, and I was desperate to go and see a band play, although living in Cornwall there wasn’t a huge deal of choice. The local venue, The Princess Pavilion in Falmouth, was a great old Victorian room with around 500 capacity, and hosts mostly old timers and covers bands (although I would go on to see the likes of Mark Lanegan, The Hold Steady, and The Brian Jonestown Massacre play there). So I’d been keeping an eye on the listings and saw that a rock band called Nazareth were coming through. My dad told me they used to be a pretty big deal and that they were heavy for their time. I was obsessed with Led Zeppelin when I was 14 so was sold. I was probably the youngest person at the show by quite a stretch. The guys on stage seemed ancient but I got a kick out of hearing driving electric guitars coming out of the PA. The experience sort of opened the floodgates for me and I tried to get to as many local shows as I could from that point on.
First time you got drunk?
I think I was 13. My friend Will had a garage we used to go and hang out in, and he had older brothers so there was always a way to get drinks. I was easily pressured into things back then, and drank a load of Budweisers way too fast to keep up with everyone. I was then very sick in the sink. Will’s mum tried to drive me home—I remember freaking out because I thought I was overheating, but turned out the car had heated seats. By the time we’d gotten to my parents house I’d convinced her that actually I was okay, and I went back to Will’s to sleep it off.
First job you had?
I had a paper round for a bit when I was 13, once a week, and used the money to save up for my first drum kit. My first proper job was after college when I was 18. I’d planned on moving to Germany but had a breakup with my reason for moving, so I ended up staying in Cornwall with no real plans whilst most of my friends went off to university. I got a job in a local Thai restaurant as a waiter. I was terrible, and had to wear a stupid uniform. But it gave me some confidence and I learnt to turn on the charm for tips, which I’d like to think still serves me well.
First email address?
Not a great look for a 12-year-old.
First social media account?
There was a fleeting moment where everyone in our school had a Bebo account, must have been around 2006. But it was MySpace that I really got into. It wasn’t hugely popular amongst people in my school in Cornwall, but I had stayed in contact with an old friend (Samuel) from Manchester, and he introduced me to it, and through that I sort of had a network of friends that I felt close to. It was great for music too. I’m so glad that it’s disappeared though, I dread to think what was on my page.
First time you voted?
2010, the year the Tory’s began to claw back control. It was when we ended up with a hung parliament, and Nick Clegg hopped into bed with David Cameron. In the 13 years I’ve been eligible to vote, I’ve never voted for the winning team.
My mum got me to take piano lessons. I did grades up til fourth and then decided that I felt creatively restricted and wanted to learn to play the instrument instead of just learning to pass grades. Which didn’t go particularly well. I then got it in my head that I wanted to play the drums, although I’m not sure where that came from. And my parents (who’d refused to let me learn the bagpipes as a child) didn’t protest.
First recording device?
Samuel Dames brought his Boss hard disk 8-track recorder round to my house one time when we were 13, and he showed me how you could record a guitar part, and then record a bass part, and then add a vocal or another guitar. I was blown away by it. I think this was maybe my introduction to recording. I wanted be able to record myself. I asked my parents for one for Christmas. They cost more than they’d normally spend on a gift, maybe it was a combined birthday present or something. Anyway I got my very own Fostex MR 8 MK II hard disk recorder. It could record up to two simultaneous tracks and had four built in effects. Trouble was I couldn’t really play any instruments well enough to make a decent recording. My friends Chris and Will would come around and we’d try to record covers of Eels songs, or Bob Dylan. I don’t think I even had a guitar tuner back then. But it was a start. I still have it somewhere, I often intend to demo on it but it’s more hassle than opening up my voice notes.
The Golden Dregs Tour Dates:
March 8 – BROOKLYN, NY, USA, Baby’s All Right
March 13-18 – AUSTIN, TX, USA, SXSW
March 23 – LOS ANGELES, CA, USA, Gold Diggers*
March 24-25 – BOISE, ID, Treefort Music Festival
* = w/ Julian Klincewicz
April 6 – LONDON, UK, Village Underground
April 13 – Lille, FRANCE, Le Grande Mix
April 14 – Paris, FRANCE, Hasard Ludique
April 15 – Rotterdam, NETHERLANDS, Motel Mozaique Festival
April 17 – Brussels, BELGIUM, AB Club
April 19 – Copenhagen, DENMARK, Loppen
April 20 – Oslo, NORWAY, Krøsset
April 21 – Stockholm, SWEDEN, Kristallen @ Sodra Teatern
April 23 – Hamburg, GERMANY, Molotow
April 24 – Cologne, GERMANY, Bumann & Sohn
April 25 – Berlin, GERMANY, Urban Spree
May 5 – MARGATE, Great Britain, Elsewhere
May 6 – BRIGHTON, Great Britain, Green Door Store
May 8 – BRISTOL, Great Britain, The Louisiana
May 9 – BIRMINGHAM, Great Britain Hare & Hounds
May 10 – MANCHESTER, Great Britain, Yes Pink Room
May 13 – DUBLIN, IRELAND, Workman’s Club
May 14 – GALWAY, IRELAND, Roisin Dubh
May 16 – GLASGOW, Great Britain, Mono
May 17 – NEWCASTLE, Great Britain, Cluny 2
May 18 – LEEDS, Great Britain, Brudenell Social Club
May 20 – Amsterdam, NETHERLANDS, London Calling @ Paradiso
Aug 3-5 – Haldern, GERMANY, Haldern Pop Festival