Gia Woods often mentions “The Room.” It’s a sort of liminal term. It can literally denote a recording studio, or function as a synecdoche for the song-making process, or play the role of catchall for the wider music industry.
At 25, Gia has experienced many of The Room’s permutations. The pop musician’s white-hot debut, “Only A Girl,” earned her renown as a musical talent and figure in the queer community when she was just 18. In the six years since, Woods has bided her time. Her first full-length project, Cut Season, came in 2020 and melded pop and alt-rock influences. Heartbreak Country Volume 1 followed the next year and showed a new range, founded closer to dance genre and reflective of an increasing maturity and attention to craft. Production of the second volume is underway.
To try to understand Gia and her career arc I joined her in a room (at least in one of its senses) at her favored studio Su Casa to observe a session and talk with the artist as she ramps up towards her latest and most polished artistic project to date.
Gia arrived in a trench coat and big paned glasses that wrapped around the front of her face. The Orphanage, the production duo Woods works closely with, greeted her in the kitchen of the converted Sherman Oaks home that houses Su Casa. She’s worked with the Orphanage since Cut Season, and enjoys the proactive role she can take in the production process with them. “I feel like that’s when you’re making the purest art,” she said. “It’s really coming from you.”
The studio itself was a square room attached to a recording booth and furnished comfortably with a coffee table and couch. Central production was based on a desk with monitors, keyboards, and wires running off the back and down the wall. The shutters were half-drawn, the lighting remote-controlled. Idle chat flowed while the day’s session loaded to the computer and covered such disparate topics as a potential hack of Gia’s Instagram, Zaire’s plantar fasciitis, and whether a certain early 00s pop star had a live monkey with him when he visited the studio a few months ago, about which there was some disagreement. Here, no detectable high-wire anxiety found in many creative workspaces. “I’m good at bringing in the right people to the room,” Woods told me. It’s a role she takes on herself rather than dispatching to a manager or A&R. “I did that for the first few years of my career, but I’ve worked with so many people that now I know my people.”
The unhurried atmosphere dissolved into the usual hallmarks of a narrowing focus – a squaring of shoulders, leg folds and forward leans, serious brows and direct talk – when the day’s project made its way onto the speaker. From this juncture, their speed was breakneck. The song in question was to be included in Woods’ upcoming project, which is “an extension of the first volume.” “I wanted to keep that world right now,” Gia said. “I started off doing more alternative pop music,” but she comes from a love of dance music, of Madonna. “That’s always been something I’ve wanted to explore more. This is that project for me.”
Archive Jean Paul Gaultier top from Replika. Corset and Bracelets by Graham Cruz. Rings and Earrings by Jack Eller. Guitar by Fender.
Gia’s involvement in the session went beyond supplying lyrics and a voice. She often rose to stand behind Trevor at his monitor and displayed an understanding of production intricacies that appeared to me alchemic. Her technical facility comes from early exposure. “I had this keyboard my dad bought me from Iran, which is where I’m from, and you could do drum loops and record that and add synths and stuff,” Gia explained. “I was basically producing. I just didn’t have the tools – Logic, Ableton, those softwares – to record it into. So I didn’t develop it as much as I probably could have.”
Once in the industry, an atomized creative process was pushed on her. “I stepped back a little bit, for the first few years of my career,” she said. Whether this had to do with personal shyness (“I would be scared to order something at a restaurant – that’s how shy I was”) or other egos in The Room that didn’t necessarily want Gia riffing on piano keys mid-session or making notes on underwhelming pockets of the beat (“Sometimes I felt like I couldn’t do that with certain people”) is up for debate.
But things are different now. Gia’s not currently, as far as I know, scared to order at restaurants, and The Orphanage seem to check their egos at the door. “We love working with Gia!” This, they explain, is because she takes control, brings a vision rather than expecting to be pitched one. The pair recount other sessions starting with artists asking them what they think the artist should do. It’s a reversal of roles, and puts the guys in a weird position, they explained, “because obviously we’re going to aim top 10.” “What are Dua Lipa, Adele, and Justin Bieber doing? Do that!”
That’s never the case with Gia. Still, Woods suspects she suffers from the passive, half-invested pop star stereotype, which is not always misplaced (“sometimes artists step back and let people take over the song. I respect that too – people know what they’re good at”) but is in Gia’s case. “I just love being involved on everything.” “I think a lot of people don’t really realize that about me,” she said. “Maybe that’s my fault, but I think people need to stop assuming.”
About an hour after the rough draft track and vocal files were played for the first time, Woods walked out of the booth having cut about 50 vocal takes for both first verse and pre-chorus, which had taken on several new characteristics pursuant to her conversation with the producers. These discussions occur in a mixed language vernacular that is partially jargon (“double that” “wider?”) part choral as they hum bits of the song across the mic, pinning the right pitch, key, and vocal tone. It was incomprehensible to me, though the forward propulsion is obvious – every idea entertained, concepts executed and dropped at clinical speed, no pause to converse on these points either, an unspoken faith that they’re all seeing, or hearing, the same thing.
It’s worth noting here that Gia’s been in the industry. “Only a Girl,” her debut hit, came six years ago. She’s already made it longer than many in her line of work and is now steadier than ever. “I feel like I’ve really grown into my sound,” she said. She seems content with her career arc thus far; it’s afforded her the opportunity to mature artistically. “If it had continued to go upwards I don’t think I would have really nailed the artistry I see myself living,” Woods explained. “I have so much more to say. At the time, you know, I was younger, I hadn’t lived much. The stuff I would have been writing compared to now? It’s deeper, I understand where I’m at way better than I ever have.”
Rings by Peter Do. Gloves Stylist’s Own.
Beyond the musical benefits of time and space are the personal ones. “I feel like when that happens,” (‘that’ being continued accession to super stardom at a young age) “you can get lost.” “I haven’t. At least yet.” Potentially explanatory here is the fact that Gia grew up in LA and saw the industry’s blemishes before being subject to them. “I’ve seen all the ups and downs,” she said. “It’s a dark ass industry. If you don’t have your blinders on, you’re going to fall apart.”
There’s also the simple truth of age. Gia is just older now. The songs reflect it. “Music has been kind of like my journal,” she said. “I’ve always been pretty blunt with what I’m feeling,” which has been recently impacted by the loss of her father. “When you lose someone that close, it changes you,” Gia explained. “It changed me musically, too. I’m writing from a darker place. Not necessarily depressed, but I feel more. I just feel way more.”
Channeling turmoil into art is what made Gia a star in the first place, and there’s always been something attractive to her about the in the idea of the cohesive, authoritative statement a song can represent. Of “Only a Girl,” for example, Woods said “the fact that it was like: ‘here’s a song that says it all,’ made it easier than having individual face to face conversations. It’s like when you’re on a stage and you’re performing for a crowd versus a tiny group of people in a small room.” “It feels easier to do it all together.”A song also just feels categorically different from a conversation, and Gia is the first to admit that she hasn’t mastered her aversion to the latter. “That side of me still does exist, the part that doesn’t want to talk about my issues with my best friend sitting on her couch,” Woods confessed, “I’d rather just put it in a song.” It’s a slight distancing, just enough: “It’s not directly to someone, it’s to the microphone.” “I think that’s why I’m so good at really opening up when I’m in the room” She sees it as a good thing. “I want to tell the story as authentic as I can.”
Another hour went by and the song was getting close. The light caught in the shades was dimming; Gia had changed the interior bulb-tint to red. Gia and I stepped out onto the Su Casa balcony, which looks off the back of the Santa Monica Mountains into the San Fernando Valley. “This view, it never gets old,” wrapping her trench tight against the breeze. “This is one of my favorite places.”
I asked Woods about whether this was expected – the music, the relationship with colleagues, the studio balcony. Did she see it coming from those pre-record-deal days? “I didn’t even expect the first thing to happen,” Gia smiled, referring to success of “Only A Girl.” “I was just like getting out of high school, hoping it would go great.”
Now she’s clear eye’d about the goal. “I want to be the biggest artist in the world. That’s my goal. I want to touch as many lives as I can.” Gia sees herself in a lineage of queer artists using their platform in the battle of acceptance – it’s more than representation, it’s affirmation for the closeted and confused kid Gia used to be, a reality being lived out by countless today. “I really do want to be a figure for someone,” Gia said. There’s a global lens she takes here. “One of my biggest goals is to go to Iran and be like the first gay person to perform.”
“Sometimes people think we’ve accomplished a lot. That we’ve come so far,” she said. She looked off into the middle distance, ruminative, hand on chin. Then, gesturing out, like trying to scoop something out of the air: “There’s just so much I want to do.”
Archive Jean Paul Gaultier top from Replika. Pants by Alabama Blonde. Corset and Bracelets by Graham Cruz. Rings and Earrings by Jack Eller. Guitar by Fender.
Photographed by: Jason Renaud.
Styled by: Keyan Miao.