Interview | Wood Brothers

JamBase favorites The Wood Brothers are out on tour and Oliver Wood recently spoke with Meghan Bender.

By: Meghan Bender

JamBase: Chris’s history is playing Jazz, and your previous work with King Johnson spanning southern blues and funk. Your current collaboration is very folky. How did your paths bring you to Americana?

Oliver Wood: Even though most of what Chris and I did in the past was much different, with him on the jazz size and me on the blues/rock side, I think it goes back to the things that influenced those kinds of. Even though MMW and King Johnson were kind of different, expressions of these things were still coming from the same roots. If you ask any of the guys what kind of stuff they were influenced by, a lot of their biggest influences were field recordings and old blues, old jazz; Charles Mingus, Louis Armstrong, stuff like that from the Jazz side and then gospel music, old folk music, old blues music, even old country music. And then even, maybe more so on the MMW side, they’re getting into African folk music and more traditional folk music. In general, roots music. I think in a lot of ways, Chris and I take our influences and see what turns us on now and put those things together. His musical history mixed with my musical history make this unique sound.

JamBase: How did your and Chris’s upbringing play into your style?

Oliver Wood: Also, when Chris and I were kids our first exposure to live music was listening to our dad play, and our dad would strum the guitar and play folk songs. I don’t think we sound anything like our dad, however, in a way we sort of went on these musical journeys from childhood to middle adult hood and we’ve sort of come back to what our dad was doing in a loose way. I think that’s what happens with musicians a lot, is you take these journeys and you start with something simple and then you go and become technically proficient and you play complicated music and you like to play fast and loud, but then a lot of people just come full circle and you realize “Wow, the simplest stuff is all of my favorite stuff.”

JamBase: Where do you draw inspiration for your lyrics?

Oliver Wood: All over the place. There are so many different ways of writing. Chris I have really learned to collaborate on our writing and often times it’s really personal stuff. We had an album a few years ago called “Loaded” and that was something we were writing and creating during the time that our mom was dying and that whole experience really inspired the music and especially the lyrics. A lot of times it’s real life stuff that happens, some sometimes its more literal than other times, but the lyrical content of the songs comes from actual events. Sometimes they’re not a s serious as that but either way inspiration is easily from real life.

JamBase: To point out a specific song, one of your bigger tunes “Luckiest Man”- what is that one about?

Oliver Wood: Honestly it’s a very old song, it’s actually a pre-Wood Brothers song that I recorded with King Johnson before I even played with Chris. And it’s funny because that song means something different to me now from when it was written a long time ago. At the time I think it came from sort of an unstable time in my life, trying to make the best of it somehow, but I can’t really say specifically what inspired it. Another thing about writing lyrics is sometimes you write something that comes to your mind without writing about a specific thing. Sometimes the emotion comes out, and then the music comes out and you create some kind of musical pattern and the music supplied the moods. I don’t know really what I was writing about but the lyrics just sounded good. A lot of songwriters they’ll write a song and then realize what its about later. In any kind of art I think here a lot of subconscious power that takes over and does the work and then its, in retrospect, that you figure out “it must have been because I was dealing with this situation”

The other thing, is the songs that are always my favorite songs are the ones that are a little bit ambiguous so different people could sort of understand the music different ways, I think that’s the mark of a cool song that it can be interpreted in different way but still, the emotion is strong enough that you can use it for what makes sense for you.

JamBase: Collaborating with Chris: was it something you always knew you would do one day?

Oliver Wood: Surprisingly it didn’t occur to us. We did play a little bit together when we were teenagers. I left the house earlier (I’m four years older) and we kind of went on our own paths and went to different parts of the country and fell in with different people. So for 10 years or more we did that with other people, with other bands, in other circuits... we weren’t connected at all, not just musically but also as brothers, we kind of lost touch with each other for a while. And then at one point our bands played a show together at the same venue and I got up and played with MMW and we just had such a blast and it felt so natural we were like “What were we thinking? We’ve got to do this more often,” and that’s when it started and we just started writing songs together and recording some things. We just got more and more excited about it so that’s kind of how it worked, but it didn’t occur to us for the longest time.

JamBase: Your fan base seems to cross over many different music scenes, based on your wide variety of performances. From private acoustic sessions, to theaters, and festivals; what are your favorite gigs to play?

Oliver Wood: We like to be in the middle somewhere, and have people that are old and young and people who like different kinds of music to come and like this music. What we really like is the variety of it all. Over the past couple of weeks we played a nightclub, a little theater, a singer songwriter cruise called Cayamo and then we played three festivals. I think that the variety of it is what keeps it new and fresh. I like the smaller more intimate setting because you can be a little more musically subtle and have more of a captive audience. That’s probably all of our favorite, but at the same time, sometimes you can play a big theater and the audience can be captive too. Any place where people are really there for the music and not just the party, those are our favorite gigs.

JamBase: How does drummer Jano Rix influence the chemistry of the group? Would you ever add another piece to the puzzle?

Oliver Wood: What’s awesome about Jano is he’s so multi-faceted and so talented. He’s a great person to play music with. He’s a great drummer, but he’s also a great keyboard player. When we tour we don’t carry a keyboard with us other than his melodica, but he’s a great piano player. He’s also a great singer who adds this other dimension to what we do where we have this third beautiful harmony. In the studio he can play piano tracks and my favorite thing is that he’s got this percussion instrument called a Shuitar, which is basically an acoustic guitar that’s been transformed into a percussion instrument. So, we can play acoustically and just stand around one mic and play bluegrass style; he’ll play his shuitar thing which sounds like a mini drum kit almost and its great. He adds a few new dimensions to the group and he’s a huge asset.

JamBase: When you’re writing music together long distance how do you collaborate and bounce ideas off each other? How does the distance influence your song-writing style?

We always collaborate. Somebody will write a song and bring it to the table nearly done and we’ll all sort of finish it up. Or more often than not we start songs from the ground up and work on it while were on the road. We’ll write music and add words later or write words and add music later. And it’s very collaborative. We do it any chance we get, these days you can email things back and forth and when we get a day off on tour we’ll spend some time working on arrangements and music. There’s lots of ways to do it.

JamBase: The Wood Brother’s songs are much more structured than with your previous projects. What was the transition like from playing improv to what you’re doing now?

Oliver Wood: We put out a couple of live albums this summer that showcase that side of what we do a little bit more. That’s the cool thing about this kind of music, there is structure to it, but at the same time the musicianship is what makes up able to deviate from the structure or play a song differently from one night to the next. We definitely leave space in every show for some improv. A guitar solo one night, or a melodica solo the next night, Chris can switch up the bass solo. There’s a balance there, it’s definitely not all about improvisation but I feel like that plays into things a lot and it’s like we’re always having a musical conversation. Each night it’s a different conversation. I like that, it keeps it fresh.

JamBase:Your vocal harmonies are very refined and soulful, how do you train?

Oliver Wood: We’re not trained as singers, but I don’t think training and emotion are necessarily that connected. Nothing against training, but I think our style is just from doing it and practicing and doing it a lot. Just like anything else, if you do it a lot you’ll get good at it and be able to express yourself with it, whether you’re a writer, singer or a painter.

JamBase: Who would your ultimate sit-in be? Someone alive so we can put the intention out there and make it happen!

Oliver Wood: I might have to pick out a few. As far as remaining people who are still around; I’m a die-hard B.B. King fan and Dr. John (“Mac”). Levon Helm would have been top of the list and we actually got to play with Levon a couple of times and I could have quit right there. As far as some of the new stuff that’s out there, I’m a huge fan of a new band called Shovels and Rope. That’s my new favorite band and its just a two piece; and they’re so cool so I hope to get to play with them some time.

JamBase: How do you like to connect to your fans?

It’s nice to meet people, talk to the audience whether it’s during, before or after the show. It’s really nice to be connected. Sometimes we get to go out and sign CDs and whatever, but more importantly its nice to talk to people and get feedback and get to know who are these people that are coming out to see us. It’s cool to have stuff in common with them and get to know them a little bit and see them out at different shows. I think the best thing about touring other than playing the music is just connecting with the people. There’s some neat ways to do that nowadays too, like having contest to have people come hang out with the band before the show or submit artwork. We did a campaign last year that really got us connected to a lot of people. Chris and I did Skype sessions with people where I would do a guitar lesson and Chris would do a bass lesson. It was really fun to connect with people who are fans of the music and realize what you have in common.

JamBase: What are your plans for 2013? New album?

Oliver Wood: Man, we’re excited about it! We’re going to make a new record in March and April to come out at the end of the summer. Always excited about festival season during the summer. We’ve got a really cool west coast tour coming up, as you know. We always love doing the west coast especially in the wintertime when its cold in our where we used to tour in the NE. Now we’re going to be in California, Oregon, Washington, some of our favorite touring is out there. But the new record is the big news that’s what we’re really excited about!

The Wood Brothers Tour Dates :: The Wood Brothers News

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[Published on: 2/1/13]

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