When I spoke with Tai Woodville about her electronic conceptual music project persona, Flight Call, she was bathed in an ethereal pink light, a window frame at her back looking onto a forested landscape. She wore wings in the form of a black kimono-style blouse covered in cranes—red-tinged white feathers draped across her shoulders and arms, a nod to her extradimensional “woman who fell to Earth” character. Around her neck, a dainty north star necklace, Polaris, the compass star, from local Portland celestial jewelry maker Iron Oxide Designs.
Woodville cites inspiration for Flight Call in David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, her love of sci-fi and mysticism, and her own personal visions of other worlds. But Flight Call is more than a music project, for Woodville, she is an embodied persona from the stars, a cosmic visitor with a mission. Her intergalactic name translates both as earthbound bird and cosmic flight by way of yet another space odyssey, Star Wars. “It actually came to me in the middle of watching The Last Jedi, which is fitting—our first female Jedi—and suddenly just the term ‘flight call’ flew through my mind. I had the uncanny confidence that it was a term that meant something and when I Googled it it would be perfect and it was. It’s used to describe the vocalizations that birds make while flying to keep the flock together. It also harkens a call to flight, to some elevated place.”
But this isn’t her first flight, nor is it the first time she’s landed on Earth with musical or written offerings. Woodville was the frontwoman and guitarist in her former indie rock band, Sugar in Wartime (“Out of the Woods,” 2007) where she met her husband and producer Johann Wagner (Sávila, DAN DAN, Orquestra Pacifico Tropical, Siren and the Sea, The Ghost Ease). She writes PARALLAX, Exploring The Architecture of Reality, a top-ranking philosophy blog that explores the architecture of reality, the mysteries of existence and the role of the dreamer in the modern age. Woodville is also the author of two poetry books, “Pollen” and “Her Animal Inheritance,” and has performed live at readings and intentional events.
And the cosmic connections go deeper still. Woodville is literally a starseed hailing from a family of artists and performers. Born and raised in Southern California as the only child of actors Edward Albert (Butterflies Are Free, starring opposite Goldie Hawn) and Kate Woodville (Star Trek), Woodville’s paternal grandfather was actor Eddie Albert (Roman Holiday, Green Acres) and her paternal grandmother was actress and dancer, Margo (Lost Horizon, The Leopard Man). Both her mother and father also played alien characters at one point in their careers. Kate played alien queen Natira on Star Trek: The Original Series, while Edward played Bajoran alien Zayra on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Her grandfather also starred in the 70’s Disney classic, Escape to Witch Mountain, about two orphans who discover their extraterrestrial origins. Quite the stellar background for Woodville's own character to emerge.
“I tried to make an immersive origin story for her, as a persona and as a character. I took one aspect of myself and I zeroed in on it and I made it this alter ego and that's been a really fun experience. It creates a philosophical coherence I never had before as Tai Woodville, the singer-songwriter, because as Walt Whitman said ‘we contain multitudes’ and so I took one of the multitudes and created this aesthetic, a sort of fractal bouquet.”
Flight Call’s website and social media are all pieces of that fractal—topological, branching dimensions, expanding on the album themes. “It’s a multi-modality experience with video logs of her first night on Earth and her experience and observations about humanity and a lot of gorgeous photographs—an epic journey told in several different mediums. The intention was to mirror the epic journey feeling that our own lives have. I always say, ‘every day is a quest,’ because you need to have a hero's journey approach to rally and to have the energy to maintain the optimism needed to survive and to potentially, hopefully thrive.”
To create the illusion of an extraplanetary being, Flight Call drops into the atmosphere wearing space age costuming fabricated by local women clothing designers. Her primary, multi-layer garment is by Becca Joy Design, a Portland-based designer, costumer, seamstress and stylist. It includes a pearlescent mock turtleneck catsuit, a short, asymmetrical holographic rainbow skirt with shoulder pads, and a large kataginu-inspired vestment with broad, wing-like shoulders, gauzy iridescent kimono sleeves and flowing coattails. Flight Call layers the iridescent vestment over a crushed velvet bodysuit in a lustrous champagne tone from Altar. Owner and designer, Cassie Ridgway, says, “Tai's vision is both futuristic but also grounded in earthly elemental opalescent properties. Altar Houseline is proudly USA-made apparel and we love love love doing unique, creative apparel for musicians and artists of all kinds.”
Capturing the aesthetics for the album art, stills, and a HOMEWORLD video vignette, is Portland-based cinematic portrait photographer Andy Batt with cover design by Design Director Patti Bateman, who also had a hand in choosing the album name.
"I had a few different titles in mind as we were recording and producing the album. 'Wingspan’ was one of them but Paul McCartney beat me to it. I was also thinking of ‘Light Years.’ I had a few names kicking around, but ‘Homeworld' was one that I kept coming back to. I'd love to give Patti a shout out here because Patti and I were drinking wine with the Batt team at the now-defunct Secret Society talking about the project and I ran a few of the album ideas by her and she was like, 'Oh, Homeworld. No question! It's all in the name! A whole world!' So, I give her credit because that was a moment where it just felt decided, ‘Of course it is!' I was leaning towards Homeworld already but always doubting myself. The concept of Homeworld is so central to my spirituality and the journey of the Flight Call project."
Flight Call’s HOMEWORLD is an embodiment of three things as Woodville explains it, “in its simplest form, it’s about homecoming, in the sense of coming home to oneself and the idea of a homeworld expands that to the concept of source, of a source dimension that we came from and are animated by and return to. It’s about returning home to Essence which is our truest home, mixing in that idea of soul-retrieval, of calling back all of the higher aspects, which theoretically might be an aligned expression in some alien world or some parallel dimension where things are more advanced, where we haven’t forgotten who we are or there's a little more enlightenment. And then to link into this intergalactic concept of otherworldly souls and memories—like we once knew something better, we once could fly. The idea of connecting up with this original self, this original dimension and bringing that through to our home here, which is obviously our truest most tangible home.”
As any good science fiction fan knows, authentic world-building takes time. And the conception and creation of this album was no different. “I started writing the songs in 2014 and the process was pretty natural because I was exploring a new instrument. I had gotten in a rut with guitar and my husband suggested a new instrument, the OP-1, by Teenage Engineering—a compact, portable, computer keyboard-sized device which allowed me to create and record the demos outside in nature, amid the trees, sky and birdsong. It took several years with a lot of breaks in between. I always refer to it as an alchemical brew that has been simmering, not on the back burner but maybe mid burner, just simmering and distilling like a reduction, and all that time spent will hopefully create that extra potent punch.”
With Flight Call, Woodville approached songwriting not only with a fresh instrument, but in a new way. “I was completely done with writing angsty songs for the time. I really kind of panned back and wanted to challenge myself. I made it an unofficial rule in my mind to not use the second person, to not make it about a relationship, about romantic love, relational love, because that had been the bread and butter of all of my catharsis-based songs. I thought, ‘I just want to feel good when I'm singing and I want it to feel good when I'm listening and when anyone else is listening, ideally. I created this thesis statement for myself, that I was giving my soul the talking stick and it wasn't my broken heart I was writing from or my pain. I sort of thought of it often as a love letter or a love song from my soul to hopefully whoever might be listening in the future.”
HOMEWORLD is a personal compilation of magic spells and secret codes, an exploded starfield of glimmering images that are helpful, healing, disarming, diaphanous, prismatic, piercing, and lyrical. Off-planet synthesizers elevate the earthbound and present vocals, taking the listener on a light-filled, avant-pop journey from inner space to outer space. “I feel like we’re all struggling in the post-modern compartmentalized, colonized, fragmented world. We just long to feel at home in the very place that is our home whether it be the moment, or the world itself, or our bodies, there’s layers of doubt and pain and and we disassociate,” says Woodville.
HOMEWORLD explores those themes of interconnectivity, metamorphosis, liberation from social conditioning, and personal transformation. The opening track and accompanying video for “A Piece of the Map” delivers major Björk-feels, like an electric flower plucked off Vespertine, featuring harpist Sage Fisher of Dolphin Midwives and again on “Chrysalis,” a sort of grown-up lullaby to the self.
Woodville's husband Wagner produced and recorded HOMEWORLD at Pinewave Studio. The electronics he used to recreate and flesh out Woodville's OP-1 demos include Modular Eurorack and 5U synthesizers, Xoxbox, Moog Opus 3, Doepfer Modular Vocoder and various vintage drum machines (TR-808, TR-909, CR-8000). HOMEWORLD got its final engineering elements by Gus Elg at Sky Onion Mastering.
Then came the most important task of assembling the song order. “It took eight months to even figure out the sequence and when I finally felt like it all lined up, it told a story—it felt like the songs just had their ideal place to be and it took a lot of trying each sequence out and rearranging, listening to it for weeks while on walks in nature and feeling like, ‘I'm kind of craving this other song right after that,’ and I just trusted that.”
“A Piece of the Map” is the entrée to HOMEWORLD and Woodville talks about the meaning behind it. “I think everyone holds a piece to the puzzle of life’s mystery. When we pool those pieces, the picture becomes clearer. This song is about our interconnectivity and the interdependence of all life. The relationship between micro and the macro. From a bird’s eye view, chaos is revealed to have patterns that point towards a larger coherence. The album is Flight Call’s puzzle piece, her scrap of the map, offered.”
The video for “A Piece of the Map'' was created in collaboration with Woodville’s longtime friend, Lauren Everett, a Portland-based photographer, filmmaker, community organizer and academic. “Lauren and I have known each other since we were 17, so, for twenty-five years. We met as bright-eyed, fray-edged indie rock teens in Los Angeles and stayed in touch over the years, creating some really fun times and art together in Portland over the past decade since she moved here. She works for the city and she cares about the people of this city, she helps them tell their stories through art and works to improve their circumstances. I admire this woman and what she does so much. I’m so honored she likes making art with me.”
Finding the way home through a dense musical forest and lifting your voice in a busy world means calling on your intuition and resources and Woodville recognizes the local synergies, “My community support has meant the most to me. Chris Young’s feature of “A Piece of the Map” on KINK FM. DJ Serious Moonlight (aka Gina Altamura) featuring it on X-Ray FM’s Intuitive Navigation. Every repost online from a friend…it’s definitely hard as a completely independent artist, and there are some demoralizing days, but ultimately, I’m just so grateful to have the album in the world. Every uplift is tremendously meaningful.”
Woodville also expressed excitement about performing musically for an audience, something she hasn’t done since the pandemic. Flight Call is scheduled to perform a short set around 8 pm at the Honest Jams Podcast and Destination: Universe! summer brunch concert series in Southeast Portland, Oregon on September 24th. The show kicks off at 4 with more details on Flight Call's website.
“It’s this amazing Portland house show series in their beautiful backyard garden. The event is open to the public and free. I’ve been going to these magical shows all summer and they’re really special and intimate. A. Walker Spring (Point Juncture, WA, Sally Ford, Zebra, Bitchin’,) makes free delicious vegan food for all concert goers. It’s the best venue in town, if you ask me, at least during the warm summer months. I’ll be performing right at the Golden Hour if all goes as planned and there’s a lot of exciting performers on the bill including Divers. I’m nervous but I know it will be a fun challenge to bring Flight Call to full, flesh-and-blood embodiment. It will be amazing to sing live again.”
Forthcoming from Flight Call, a lyric booklet which will have a download card featuring a visual odyssey of the album art and plans for a vinyl release of HOMEWORLD. Woodville is already planning a second video.
"My dear, gifted friend Javiera Estrada is a massively talented photographer, visual artist and videographer. She was an invaluable support during the process of editing 'A Piece of the Map.' As someone who's just learning, I'm obsessed with video editing and excited to get into the next music video, which is going to be the title track, 'Homeworld.' We have all this gorgeous video footage from the album art shoot at the Oregon Dunes—this stunning desert landscape that looks like an alien planet. It’s the perfect backdrop for HOMEWORLD."