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Interview: The Wood Brothers’ Oliver Wood on new album, UK fans and songwriting

We spoke to the Americana three-piece band’s frontman during their recent UK tour.

The Wood Brothers
Credit: Alysse Gafkjenn

Brothers Oliver and Chris Wood grew up listening to American roots music, but they had separate musical careers for 15 years before forming their current band The Wood Brothers with multi-instrumentalist Jano Rix.

The trio released their debut album, Ways Not To Lose, back in 2006 and have since become one of the most popular and beloved acts on the Americana scene. Earlier this year they released their latest album, One Drop Of Truth, which showed off their diverse influences and styles as well as their harmonies and unusual lyrics.

I spoke to Oliver Wood during the band’s recent UK tour to discuss the latest album, UK fans and their songwriting process.

How’s the tour been?
So far so good! We’ve been in Glasgow, we’ve been in Gateshead and then last night we played in London at Bush Hall, and did a lovely show.

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Do you find UK fans react differently compared to other places you’ve played?
Well, honestly we have not toured very much in the UK. We come to Europe about once a year but mostly Germany and the Netherlands, so we have not done a lot of UK play yet. I think when we played in some of the smaller towns less people knew us and we expected that. It was a pleasant surprise last night to play in London and have a full room of people that not only appreciated the music but actually knew some of the music and sang along with us. That was a little bit more like we’re used to in the States, where we just have an established fan base and they sing along with us and it feels familiar. So that was nice. But any time you come to a new place, you have new fans to win over and it’s a little less familiar, so we’ve had some of both in the UK.

Your latest album One Drop Of Truth came out in the UK earlier this year – can you tell us more about that?
Well, it’s the second album we have produced on our own with our own record label and without using an outside producer or record label. So we’ve become a little more independent and we’ve really enjoyed that. So this specific record we actually took a bit of time to make, and we spread it out and we just had fun writing one song at a time and then recording it. It was not a way that we’ve made records before, it was kind of new for us. So it was really a joy to make it that way and have each song be its own recording session and get its own individual attention. It made for a more eclectic record and something that we enjoyed making and still enjoy listening to.

Was that eclectic quality something you consciously wanted to explore with this record? Or did it evolve out of the recording and writing process?
Yeah, that was relatively conscious. You know, traditionally most of us when we make albums, most artists write a whole bunch of songs and get all their material together and then record it all at once in the space of a few weeks. That’s how we’ve done it in the past. And so oftentimes your album sounds a little more homogeneous because you’ve recorded it all in the same place and in the same time. So I think we planned on having much more variety by recording at different times in different places with different people. And, you know, you have different moods and sounds and different things are happening in the world, even. So all of those things affected the music and the writing and the recording. And we were happy to create it that way.

Were there any songs on the album that were particularly easy or difficult to write?
I can’t think of any that were actually difficult, but I will say there were certain songs that were in a very early stage when we recorded them. Laughin’ or Crying was one that we were just sort of testing out and we played it one time in the studio and happened to record it, and happened to be the final version. That’s kind of rare actually. With a new song oftentimes you run through it several times, so that one came quite easily. But in a way they all came somewhat easily. I will say some of the songs, though, were written over the course of a year. So in that regard some of the songs were more arduous in terms of actually finishing the writing and lyrics and stuff. But I think what we try to do in the studio is capture some sort of spontaneity and have a plan, but also not be attached to it. So whatever happens, that’s the magic thing that we can’t control and we just let that happen.

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Do you have a typical writing process? Or does it vary depending on the song?
Varied. You know, when we write music oftentimes we just put ourselves in a room and we just improvise music and listen to each other and really just jam. And we’ll save all these ideas and then some of those ideas evolve into songs where we later add lyrics and changes and things. So that’s our general method but some songs are written the other way, where the lyrics come first and we’re looking for music and some songs evolve together, lyrics and music. There’s no really one system that we use, but we have a lot of ways. Sometimes we just like to put on a record that we like and we play along to the record. For instance Happiness Jones, I think we were listening to a Bill Withers record and we just started playing along with it and it evolved into our own version of Bill Withers, and later on some strange lyrics came.

You played The Long Road Festival as part of this tour. Do you find there’s a difference between festival crowds and those at other shows you’ve played?
Well you know, it varies. I feel like we have not played a lot of European festivals, but I think they’re very similar to festivals in the US. As far as our approach to a festival, I mean generally the atmosphere depends on the festival. Like sometimes a folk festival might be a bit more mellow atmosphere where people are sitting on blankets, and in that case we might get away with playing some subtle music. But other times people are standing and dancing and drinking and partying, and then a less subtle approach is called for and we just rock out [laughs]. And it really varies from any festival to festival or country to country, just depending on the atmosphere of the specific festival.

What song do you wish you’d written?
This may be a little bit obscure, but it’s called Please Send Me Someone To Love, and it’s by Percy Mayfield. I think it’s maybe the greatest song ever written.

What’s next for the band? I saw you were building a studio and working on new music…
Yeah, we have new music that we’re working on, we have a studio space that we’re very excited about. It’s new to us, so it gives us a home base for really getting creative and working on things, and I think we’ll approach our next record in a similar way and do so very independently and at our own pace. And now that we have our own space we’re very excited about that.

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