Interview with Oliver Wood from THE WOOD BROTHERS; Playing Syracuse on 2/23! @thewoodbrothers
New York by-way-of Nashville Blues/Folk group The Wood Brothers are keeping busy and making some great strides in the music world. Never mind that bassist Chris Wood is 1/3 of the mighty Medeski Martin and Wood, The Wood Brothers are a powerful force all on their own.
There is a special magic and sound that comes from family members making music together, especially the fraternal bond. I can’t quite say for certain what Chris and Oliver Wood were like as children but, if it was at all similar to growing up with my own brothers, it probably went from childhood playground aggression to being able to finish each others thoughts without speaking… Imagine that energy transference in the studio and on stage!
Making their way to Syracuse, NY on February 23rd, I caught up with guitar/vocalist Oliver Wood to talk about their music, how tour is going, and what it’s like being on the road and in a band with a sibling. I wonder if they fight over who gets the last Pillsbury biscuit. 😉
G- Hi there and thank you very much for taking the time to speak with Live High Five!
You are currently on an East Coast run that will be finishing up in early March… How have the shows been thus far? Does any particular city stand out as a highlight moment for The Wood Brothers thus far?
O- Well, let’s see. We just got back from the West Coast actually, and we’re headed East after a couple of days off here. But the highlights over the past couple of weeks were… Gosh, all of the big cities on the West Coast were especially good for us this year!
We were in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle, and those were kid of our favorites. We just had great sell out crowds that indicated we had some growth from last year, and we’ve been trying a lot of new music, trying music from our live album that we just released last summer, and we’ve been into some new stuff. So, we’re have a good time!
G- Excellent! And you’ve gone from warm weather to cold weather, so how’s that adjustment been treating you guys?
O- Yeah it’s a little bit of a shocker, but we’ll deal with it.
G- (laughing) Right on! Well, it’ll still probably be a little bit chilly when you come up here in a week and a half or so, but you’ll warm up the crowd so we’re looking forward to it!
Now, you’re obviously brothers and probably grew up arguing and fighting over TV time as siblings often do, but when did you guys sit down and first start making music together?
O- Well, there was a couple of years in there, when we were teenagers… Our ages overlap and I’m 4 years older than Chris, so there were a couple of years overlap when we were teenagers and proficient enough to play together. So, we had a 4-track recorder and we jammed and wrote songs, and you know, just kinda taught each other what it was all about.
That lasted just a short time before we went our separate ways. When we left the house, we went in different directions and got on with different people in different parts of the country, so really, there was a huge rift at that point. We didn’t play much together at all for, I don’t know, a little over 13 years before we seriously sat down and played together. It was well after we established our careers on our own, and it was really fun… It’s been 8 years now since we started The Wood Brothers, and that’s when we really got together and got serious about playing together, and it’s been great!
G- Excellent! Now, and it may be difficult because it’s probably innate, but can you describe the chemistry between the 2 of you when you enter the studio or sit down to write new songs? How would you say the process is similar or differs in comparison to when you’ve performed with other musicians?
O- Well, there was an instance where Chris and I, after years of playing in different bands, our 2 bands played together on the same bill, and I sat in with MMW and Chris and I hadn’t even thought of playing together in so long. But I sat in, and we had such a blast!
And it was just so surprising to us how easy it was and how, what took us years playing with other guys, took us just minutes… We just got up on stage together and immediately we felt like we were looking in the mirror. We were just feeling things the same way and anticipating each other’s thoughts and musical moves and it was just magical… That we’d never appreciated before, so it took us years of seasoning to really understand that. But that’s the way it happened.
So, at that point, we started writing songs together and playing some Blues and it came very easily, and it still does. Not only is there a certain genetic bond, but you also have all these shared experiences of growing up together. You’ve got a lot of the baggage from your parents, and the same memories… Good and bad memories and experiences, and we had so much in common that when we write, it comes very natural to us.
G- Right on. Excellent! So, to talk about the latest record, you are currently touring in support of your release, Live: Volume 2 – Nail and Tooth. As a live record, how did you go about selecting the tracks to include, and have you noticed any fan favorites off of the record thus far?
O- Well, we’re excited because not only did we put out Volume 1 and Volume 2 last year, of the live stuff, but as of a couple of weeks ago, we released it on vinyl as a double live vinyl album.
O- So, they’re both available on vinyl and that’s something we’re really excited about! It just sounds even better and just feels great! But the way we did this is we did a tour last year, and we recorded about 16 shows and we picked our favorite stuff off of those recordings. And it ended up being too much for one album, so we put out two volumes.
Yea, so, crowd favorites? I have no idea. I’ve just sort of already moved on to the next thing which is going to be our next studio album which we’re going to record in March.
G- Awesome! And as a vinyl-phile myself… I’ve spent far too much money and have far too little space for my record collection, but I’m still buying…
G- Tell us about the record! Who released it? Did you release it yourself? Artwork, Numbers? Anything like that?
O- Well, we put it out on a label called Southern Ground Records, and it was released by Southern Ground, as was our previous studio CD, Smoke Ring Halo. And yea, so we’re just happy that we have a label that not only supports our studio efforts but is cool to put out something live and for the fans. People don’t tend to sell a lot of live records and it’s not really a big marketing thing like a normal studio album is. But it’s great for fans and it’s great for people who’ve been with us for a while because when you do a live record, you’re playing songs and some of the songs are older songs from our first record, and those songs have evolved so much over the years.
When Chris and I first started, we were just a duo… Just the 2 of us. And we’ve since added a great drummer, Jano Rix, who sings and plays some keyboards and plays percussion, so it’s really fleshed out the sound. So, a lot of those songs have taken on a whole new sound and it’s kinda cool to now have available for fans an updated version of some of the old songs.
G- Right on. And you’re going to have those available when you come up here so I can buy one, right?
O- Indeed we will.
G- Excellent! I’ll have money in hand and ready for you!
So, for some of our readers who aren’t familiar or just haven’t heard you yet, what should your fans, both old and new, expect of the performances when you guys hit the stage here in Syracuse? Particularly, what should some of the first time listeners expect?
O- Well, you’re going to hear original music. Some call it roots music or Americana music, I don’t really call it anything, but we’re certainly influenced by a lot of rootsy things. And lots of singing, lots of 3-part harmonies… Me and my brother and Jano do most of the singing, and you can expect some really unique percussion playing from Jano. He has a very unique instrument that I won’t mention here.
And we’re going to be trying out some new music, so we’re going to be improvising and winging it, you know, so you can see what we’ve been doing.
G- Very good! Now, would you say that you have a favorite song you have ever written or one that is particularly fun for you to perform live or, to take it a bit further, if you were to offer someone who’d never heard your music 1 song to try and make a new fan, what track would you select and why?
O- Hmmm that’s a tough question, but there’s a song called “One More Day” from our first album that is also on our live album. So, there’s an acoustic version and an electric version, and we’re proud of that song because it kinda translates no matter how you listen. It has a very positive, sort of gospel influence in the song. So, I recommend that one for starters.
G- Awesome! So, just a few more questions for you… Do you have a dream lineup that you would like to see The Wood Brothers a part of in the future or if you could curate such a lineup, say 3 bands in total, all feasible, who would you include on the bill?
O- 3 meaning living and dead? You said feasible, so…
G- Yea feasible would be good… Everyone wants to tour with The Beatles.
O- (laughing) Let’s see… My favorite band right now is called Shovels and Rope. I like Shovels and Rope a lot. Dr. John would be great!
O- And we’ve done some touring already with Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi, but those are some of my favorites, too. Those are some of my close friends and I love their music as well.
G- Excellent. That’s a pretty stealthy lineup and I have a feeling that would be a big one across the board!
O- Yea we were actually on a festival with Dr. John and Derek Trucks, so we got close!
G- I think a lot of people would go to that if you make it happen, so I’ll be on the lookout for it, for sure.
O- So will I!
G- So, that would be a memorable one for me and for yourself but, to date, what would you say is the most memorable show that you have played, or the craziest, or just the most exciting one that you’ve had? Where was it and what was it like?
O- Well, probably my most memorable moment, or moments, was at Levon’s Ramble. Are you familiar with the Ramble?
G- Yes I am!
O- So, we got to play with Levon… That was like a pinnacle! That’s pretty much about as memorable as it gets for me… Just a tiny little place, a small crowd, but he’s one of my heroes… My biggest heroes! To watch him, much less play with him, was incredible!
G- Yeah that sounds like a good one. You’re the first artist I’ve interviewed who’s actually performed there… I feel like I’VE accomplished something today!
G- So, the last question I have for you today… Obviously, music is a big part of many people’s lives. There’re a lot of kids out here picking up guitars and microphones and drumsticks, and tey want to try to do what you guys are doing. They want to tour, they want to record, and they want to become professional musicians. Can you offer any advice to some of the up and comers from your experience that might be able to help them out on their travels?
O- I’ll tell you what… I just feel like, and it’s something we talked a lot about from the stage, too, all the great people who are successful for any length of time do it because they have to do it. It’s not something you want to try to do for money, that’s for sure. And it’s not something that can be fulfilled by all the attention and the lights if you do make money. Money is not the fulfilling part… The fulfilling part is just the act itself, and also the way it connects you with people: Your audience and other musicians. So, those are the really positive things, the things that really leave you with something you can take to the bank. You’re not doing it for any other reason than just loving it. You gotta do it, and it’s worth it.
G- Right on. Well look, on behalf of Live High Five, I just want to say thank you very much for taking the time to speak with us today.
O- My pleasure!
G- Safe travels, have great shows on your way up, and we look forward to seeing the show!
O- Alright Greg. Thank you so much! I’ll see you in about a week!
G- You got it!