Interview: The Wood Brothers – An Extra Drop Of Truth

For the first time in three years, the Wood Brothers are releasing a new studio record. One Drop Of Truth is their sixth original collected work of folk-rock, jam band and singer-songwriter hits. Recently, we caught up with Oliver and Chris Wood via email…

You traveled down separate musical paths for several years before forming The Wood Brothers. Why did it take so long to discover that a brother band chemistry would bring as much success?

Chris Wood: We never knew it would bring any success. We only knew it was time for us to reconnect as family and collaborate.

Oliver Wood: We needed to go our own ways as teenagers and form our own identities. It ended up being a real advantage because when we got back together we were adults and fully formed artists. We shed some family baggage and competitiveness that causes problems in other brother bands that start at a young age. During our time living and playing apart we actually grew apart too, but music reconnected us. At that point it wasn’t about success, just sharing something we had in common.

Did you have a specific goal in mind, in terms of making album number six stand out in a certain way, amongst the rest of the albums?

OW: We made it a point to make the process much different from previous albums. We spread the recording out over nine months and worked on two songs at a time. It was less stressful to give the songs more attention than they’d get if we recorded them all at once.

CW: It’s common for bands to finish writing more than enough songs for a record, book a studio and then record all the material in one, continuous session. But if you’re self-producing your record it’s better to do a little at a time and take breaks so you can make better decisions. That’s what we did. When we finished a song, we’d rehearse and immediately book a studio to record. But we didn’t know if we were making a demo or recording the actual version for the record. There was no pressure because we knew we could always give it another try. It allowed us to have a playful attitude in the studio and I think that comes across in the music.

What are some of the biggest differences in your roles with The Wood Brothers vs. Medeski, Martin & Wood?

CW: MMW comes from a jazz background. It’s about improvisation and spontaneous reinterpretation of our music. The Wood Brothers comes from a singer/songwriter background.  We write songs and arrange them for a specific impact. The lyrics are very important, but the music has to bring them to life. The biggest difference is how we prepare for a show. With MMW it’s about having a great meal and great wine. We don’t know what’s going to happen so all we can do is experience something that inspires us. With the Wood Brothers there is more planning involved. We sing together and think through our show so that the right songs come at the right time. However, once I’m on stage it all feels the same. It’s all music.

Describe your approach to songwriting lyrically versus instrumentally. A lot of the jams can go in different directions yet many songs follow structure. Tell us about song writing decisions in the studio versus mid-song conferences on stage and figuring out where the jam’s going…

OW: Often our songwriting and performing processes start and end with some kind of jam. In the early stages we spend a lot of time just playing together – improvising and discovering grooves and new ideas that inspire us. We record these jams and use the highlights to inspire lyrics and more structure. Sometimes we have pre-existing lyrics in notebooks and other times we write to the music. By the time a song is ready for the studio there’s usually plenty of structure, but each take is a unique performance and there’s always a searching in the moment that is fresh and unique and hopefully captures some kind of magic. Same thing happens live—each performance is unique, even though some songs have more room for improvisation than others. Songs feel different on different days and we perform them and respond to them differently.

CW: There are notebooks with lyrics, phrases, ideas and scraps that capture the essence of something with potential. Sometimes the words and the music manifest themselves at the same time. Or, we play along with a favorite recording by one of our heroes. Then we turn that off, continue playing and improvise on it until we make it our own. That’s how we come up with “seeds” for new ideas. We may already have lyrics that fit one of these seeds or it may inspire something new. Sometimes we have a song that’s more or less written with a form and music, but the music is merely a “place holder” until something better comes along. We might have a recording of a seed that has the missing ingredient. There are no rules and there’s a lot of trial and error. Sometimes the best thing to do is stop working on a song and put it away for a while. Nobody really knows what makes a song good but we all recognize it when we hear it.

One Drop Of Truth was released last Friday – read our 5* review HERE!

Questions by Scott J. Herman