Both Woolright and Matthews were already very experienced musicians prior to I Am Giant’s conception. Woolright was the drummer for the very successful nu-metal band Blindspott, where he received a taste of how big the international music scene was when they played in Indonesia. Matthews played bass for Tadpole and Stylus, and was also a respected producer who knew Woolright from working on Blindspott’s self-titled debut album, and from jamming together in party bands in Auckland.
In 2007, Matthews was giving Woolright weekly guitar lessons and they started writing songs together, soon realising they were both good songwriters and producers. Matthews had a plan to move to London and encouraged Woolright to follow him. Blindspott had recently ended on rather messy terms so he decided to go for it. Matthews headed to London first and crashed with family members while he began building his own studio in a storage space. Woolright followed a couple of months later and rented a room above a pub, where he would pour beer to pay his rent. They met up with another former Blindspott member, Marcus Powell, and briefly created the band Dempsey. While they began writing and recording they struggled to find a singer and eventually disbanded, leading Woolright and Matthews to focus on production in their studio.
In London about 160 people replied to an advert for a singer.
Although they undertook production duties and purportedly worked on remixes for a few big names, including Lily Allen and Coco Sumner (Sting’s daughter), they still wanted to pursue their own band, and continued advertising for a singer. After around 160 applicants, Londoner Ed Martin got in touch after seeing their ad online. There were some obvious musical differences between him and the two New Zealanders; he had been raised on soul and Motown while they came from rock and metal backgrounds. Despite this, they instantly impressed each other: Martin with his vocal abilities and range, Matthews and Woolright with their focus and songwriting skill, and so in 2008 I Am Giant was born.
Fast-forward a couple of months and Martin had moved in above the pub with Woolright. The trio was working 12 hour days, seven days a week in the studio, and soon recorded a debut single, ‘City Limits’. Their standard practice was for Matthews to write the majority of the lyrics and flesh out the musical ideas with Woolright, then bring it to Martin who would play around with the phrasing and melodies. Before they could perform their music live they needed to recruit a guitarist, and 120 more applicants later they settled on Max O’Donnell, another Londoner. This creative process remained more or less consistent throughout I Am Giant’s lifespan with their many iterations of lineups: Matthews remained the main lyric writer and was the driving force behind the music with Woolright. They would then work with a vocalist, and mostly had session guitarists in for recording and touring.
In 2010, O’Donnell was replaced by Aja Timu, a New Zealander who knew Matthews and Woolright as he had performed in both Blindspott and Stylus. In March 2010 they released the City Limits/Neon Sunrise EP which received gold certification, and they sold out the accompanying New Zealand tour. That year they also travelled to Vietnam to play two Tiger Translate parties (sponsored by Tiger Beer), toured Australia and America then returned to Britain and Europe to perform more Quiksilver Ambassador shows, including the Quiksilver Pro Tour in Biarritz, France.
I AM GIANT QUICKLY GATHERED MOMENTUM IN London, in EVERY WAY A BAND WANTS TO.
I Am Giant began playing gigs around London in 2008 and quickly gathered momentum in every way a band wants to: attention from major record labels, a packed out show at the famous Troubadour venue, activity on their social media and a sponsorship deal from Quiksilver. This deal saw them play at a snowboarding festival in La Plagne, France, where they also recorded the music video for ‘City Limits’. The partnership turned out to be a productive one, and subsequently the band had their songs featured on the Quiksilver Euroforce surfing videos, White Lines magazine in Europe as well as the 2009 Kelly Slater film Cloud 9 (footage from which was then used in their music video for ‘Neon Sunrise’). They also gained sponsorship from DC Shoes.
I Am Giant began work on their first full album, The Horrifying Truth, in early 2011. The recording sessions were in Australia between January and April with producer Forrester Savell. They also performed at the Singapore Big Night Out in this time, supporting Slash and Stone Temple Pilots. Through Savell they met the singer from Australian band Dead Letter Circus, Kim Benzie, who visited the studio to say hi to Savell and ended up playing table tennis with I Am Giant and adding some vocals to one of their tracks, ‘Electric Throne’. The two bands stayed in touch and later performed shows together in Australia, New Zealand and the UK. The Horrifying Truth was released in August 2011 with an accompanying Australasian tour.
2012 was a busy year for I Am Giant. Timu left the band, so Matthews, Woolright and Martin recruited session guitarists for their shows and recording that year, and they began writing songs for their next album.
They started the year with another Australiasian tour, played across Asia, supported Slash on his Australian tour, and released The Horrifying Truth in the UK followed by a tour. They finished the year by supporting Shihad for their summer New Zealand tour.
Part of the band’s international success can be attributed to the I Am Giant Army, a very intuitive approach to cultivating a fanbase. The band describes the Army as a street team, where members can help promote I Am Giant’s music and concerts in return for perks such as joining the band backstage, free merchandise and early access to new music. In a 2011 interview with Salient, Woolright explains “... we’ve got this thing where we’ve got people to try promote the record, and the people who have gone hard out have got their name on the inlay, and so we have got about 16 people on there who have gone from diehard fans to actually being our friends.”
In May 2013, the band travelled to France to begin recording their next album, with Michael Triponel and Paul Matthews taking on the guitar parts. Matthews, Woolright and Martin lived in a beach house at Saint-Jean-de-Luz in the southwest, and commuted to the nearby Drop In Music Studio, provided to them by their sponsor DC Shoes. They worked 9-5, six days a week, for eight weeks. The plan was to finish the recording during this time, but their own perfectionism got in the way and so they ended up finishing the album in Matthews’s studio in London. Once again, Forrester Savell produced the record. The finished product, Science And Survival, was finally released in July 2014. It was a very polished but musically heavier follow up to their debut album, and once again they toured extensively to support it. Later in 2014 Ed Martin parted ways from the band and began working on a new rock project called Steinrøys. In a 2017 interview with Radio Burgerfuel, Woolright explained that Martin was still leaning toward poppier vocals while the rest of the band were looking to make heavier rock, even on the verge of metal.
Woolright appeared as a judge on ‘X-Factor NZ’, replacing Willy Moon after he was fired.
I Am Giant recruited another British vocalist in December 2014, Ryan Redman. He recorded two songs with the band, ‘Russian Doll’ and ‘Kiss From A Ghost’, and performed with them for their 2015 shows. During this time, Woolright appeared as a judge on X-Factor New Zealand, replacing Willy Moon after he was fired. The band used this as a platform to perform ‘Kiss From A Ghost’ for its release.
The band decided that Redman wasn’t working out for them as a vocalist, as Woolright explains in the Burgerfuel interview: “It just became very apparent very quickly that he just didn’t want to to really write ... his passion for music wasn’t quite there ... You want a singer that’s going to really want to put their thoughts and ideas into the music.”
I Am Giant had already been booked to play the Wellington Homegrown festival in 2016, which led to Timu rejoining the band, this time on vocals as well as guitar. Matthews and Woolright had been impressed by Timu’s singing ability on backing vocals throughout his time with I Am Giant (which many fans had remarked on), so they decided to play the show with him as the frontman. They were so happy with his performance that they decided to record another album, and spent most of 2016 working on writing this in between other projects. The album was intended to be released in 2017, but with other work going on and Timu being based in Sydney they only released two singles ‘Dead Flower’ and ‘Playing with Fire’. They performed these two with Timu at Homegrown again in 2017.
Finally in March 2018 they released Life in Captivity, and announced that the album and accompanying tour would be the band’s last. The album was much heavier than both their previous ones; Martin had always had a more mainstream, pop-rock sounding voice while Timu certainly wasn’t afraid to bring some metal-style screams to the mix. They played a final New Zealand tour in April 2018, and later announced a European and UK tour over August that would mark the end of the band’s 10-year career.
In late 2017, Woolright embarked on a solo project called Deadbeat, which features him drumming live in a DJ-style set “slammed on top of a feverish rock/hiphop/electronic mashup”. He has since played shows in New Zealand and Bali before moving back to London.
Shelton Woolright - drums
Paul Matthews - bass