The Wood Brothers have been making music together for the last twelve years. Their new album, One Drop of Truth is the most fun they have had in the studio, or rather multiple studios, in a long time. Oliver Wood, who is reluctant to call himself a storyteller, likes to think of their music as gospel music—the kind of music that is hopeful. No stranger to writing about darkness though, Wood finds hope in those dark places, and the songs they have written for the record are ambiguous enough to resonate universally. Live for Live Music spoke with Oliver Wood about metaphors, hopefulness, and growing up. Check out the interview below as well as the group’s touring plans for the next few months!
L4LM: How did you and your brother get to really start playing together?
Oliver Wood: Well, we got to playing together as teenagers. There was a small window of about two years where we were both proficient enough as musicians to play together. We had a four-track recorder. We would jam in the garage—kid kind of stuff but we were really into it. That was early on.
I left the house first and went to the East Coast and eventually ended up in the South. I live in Nashville now, but I used to live in Atlanta; I moved there in my early twenties. My brother, when he left home, he moved to the Northeast—first to Boston then to New York. As late teenagers and young men, we completely separated, so when we really started playing together again as The Wood Brothers, or rather started thinking about creating The Wood Brothers, that was another fifteen years down the road.
What happened was, I had a band in Atlanta the whole time called King Johnson. Chris had Medeski, Martin & Wood. We toured around as well and never had the success that Medeski, Martin & Wood had, but we worked hard. That’s where I learned how to do what I do now. It was after my brother and I became fully formed musicians that we started playing together.
L4LM: What was it like when you and Chris played together for the first time professionally after having gone separate ways?
OW: Medeski, Martin & Wood and King Johnson did a co-bill where we opened for Medeski, Martin & Wood. Keeping in mind that we hadn’t actually played music together in years, we had grown apart as brothers really. We were living in different parts of the country, we had different friends and different musical circles, so when we had this show together, it was a big reunion.
Chris asked me to sit in, and I played a few songs with them. It just felt so natural to stand next to him and to play with him, and I just fit right in—it was so comfortable. It opened our eyes. Chris says, “It’s like looking in a mirror.” We had the same instincts. It wasn’t just about the music at this point, it was about growing up. We had grown apart as brothers, but we had also grown up and gotten rid of our baggage and competitiveness and all the other things brothers might have.
Medeski, Martin & Wood with Oliver Wood – Lincoln Theatre – Raleigh, NC – 3/6/2007
[Video: greg tincher]
L4LM: And that show led to The Wood Brothers?
Oliver Wood: Well, then we started making an effort. Whenever we could get together, we would play and start writing some things, and that just gradually led to The Wood Brothers as a fun side project. It evolved slowly and gradually but surely into a bigger enterprise where we started playing shows, made an album, and got a record deal. So we are on our 12th year of The Wood Brothers.
L4LM: So, you established yourselves as individual musicians, each wrote a different story, and then the music brought you back together.
OW: Yeah. It’s kind of neat. We went out, had our own experiences, and got our own life lessons and music lessons by just living out in the world and playing music. We formed these personalities that were also musical personalities. Anytime you combine musical personalities, you get new recipes for things, and that’s what we felt like we were doing.
L4LM: You’ve said the new record One Drop of Truth was the most fun you ever have had making an album and that it is the most “Wood Brothers” album you have ever put out. What makes this album so authentically “Wood Brothers?”
OW: Partly, just the older you get as a person, you mature and learn and grow and become more of yourself. I think that as a musical unit, we are just discovering more and more what we sound like and what feels good and authentic. You eventually just understand who you are and you get more comfortable with yourself. In a musical way, that also happens to a band, so I think just doing it for a while and working together, we have learned how to be us within the band and as a band.
The reason the album was so fun to do was the way we did it. We produced it ourselves, and we spread out the process over a year. After we wrote a song, we recorded it not too long after we wrote it—as opposed to compiling all the songs and recording it over a two- or three-week time. We took our time and felt no pressure to make or record an album, so we went in there and focused on the song. We gave each song our attention for a couple days and then came back to it. That process felt much less stressful and much less of a compromise than recording it all in a few weeks. In this case, each song got its own attention and love.
L4LM: For the song “Strange As It Seems”, was it purposefully ambiguous? The lyrics feel like they can pertain to any type of relationship.
OW: Very intentional. I think that song was inspired by an idea: What if you could approach your romantic life in a dream? Like, you get all dressed up to go meet somebody, and you go to bed and encounter someone in a dream world. So then, the question is why do you want to do that? Is it someone who is dead? Is it someone who actually exists? Is it someone who you already know? It’s very ambiguous, but I saw it in very visual terms.
I imagine it to be some weird cool movie abstract, where I imagine someone actually doing that—a fully clothed person getting in bed, which is an image from the song, and turning off the light. Instead of going out on the town, you are going into this dream world that you prepare yourself for. This is the first song that I have written that came with visuals, and we are conceiving of a video for it, which I am very excited about.
L4LM: With the political climate and overall sense of hopelessness felt by many, do you think some of that energy went into some of the songs you put on this album?
Oliver Wood: Yeah I think so, though not consciously—speaking for me, and, of course, I am not the only one who wrote music and words for this; we all collaborated quite a bit. I know that whatever you are going through in your life, whether it is personal or you see it unfold in the world, that stuff seeps in.
We have a lot of metaphors on this album that have to do with water, whether it’s a flood or a hurricane or an overflowing river, teardrops, the One Drop Of Truth title. Some of the things about water make for great metaphors because it is such a life-giving thing, but it is also such a powerful thing that you can’t control. It can often make you feel a loss of control, especially if you are talking about a flood or a storm. We literally saw that this past year in the world with the crazy hurricane season we had. Figuratively, we have political hurricanes and storms and upheaval that have stressed a lot of people out too. The literal and the figurative tend to seep in there.
L4LM: Do you guys consider yourself storytellers?
OW: Storytellers, I never felt like storytellers like a John Prine or somebody that I think is a master like Randy Newman, I never thought of that. I guess I don’t know what other kind of music there is. I am really a fan of the ambiguous side of things, and I love mythology. I feel like mythology and religion and everyday stuff is all tied together in some intricate way. I consider it more like gospel music in a way that it’s hopeful. Even the songs that have darkness to them are hopeful.
L4LM: When I think of The Woods Brothers music—and I used the word storytelling, but its the whole vibe—it feels like something you should gather for.
OW: I like that. I like songs and I like how music in general connects. That is what music if for: to connect the disconnected parts of us, with each other and ourselves. I think that is what is happening subconsciously a lot. I want to write something somewhat universal that connects people. Even if it is a dark and scary thing, if everyone can relate to it in their own way, then we have connected.
L4LM: You guys are heading west starting in Phoenix?
OW: Yes. We are going to the West Coast, and then I think we’ll come back east eventually. I don’t think we have done much of the Midwest since last spring, so it looks like we have a few eastern dates and a lot of midwestern dates coming in the spring. The festivals will start up in the late spring too.
With The Wood Brothers tour recently started, you can check out the band’s upcoming dates below!
Upcoming Wood Brothers Tour Dates
Feb 22 – Belly Up – Solana Beach, CA
Feb 23 – The Fonda Theatre – Los Angeles, CA
Feb 24 – The Fillmore – San Francisco, CA
Feb 25 – The Fillmore – San Francisco, CA
Feb 27 – Kate Buchanan Room – Arcata, CA
Feb 28 – Southern Oregon University @ Music Recital Hall – Ashland, OR
Mar 01 – Crystal Ballroom – Portland, OR
Mar 02 – Neptune – Seattle, WA
Mar 03 – Neptune – Seattle, WA
Mar 15 – Iron City – Birmingham, AL
Mar 16 – Robert Kirk Walker Theatre – Chattanooga, TN
Mar 17 – Ryman Auditorium – Nashville, TN
Apr 11 – First Avenue – Minneapolis, MN
Apr 12 – Majestic Theatre – Madison, WI
Apr 13 – Vic Theatre – Chicago, IL
Apr 14 – Vic Theatre – Chicago, IL
Apr 15 – The Pageant – Saint Louis, MO
Apr 17 – Taft Ballroom – Cincinnati, OH
Apr 18 – The Ark – Ann Arbor, MI
Apr 19 – The Vogue – Indianapolis, IN
Apr 20 – Bijou Theater – Knoxville, TN
Apr 21 – Songsmith Gathering – Brevard, NC
Apr 22 – Tuck Fest 2018 – Charlotte, NC
May 19 – Dominion RiverRock Festival – Richmond, VA
May 24 – Pop’s Farm – Axton, VA
May 25 – Red Rocks Amphitheater supporting Devil Makes Three – Morrison, CO
May 26 – Rooster Walk 10 – Martinsville, VA
May 27 – DelFest 2018 – Cumberland, MD
Jun 21 – Telluride Bluegrass Festival – Telluride, CO
Jun 23 – Funhouse Fest – Williamsburg, VA
Jun 29 – Wolf Trap – Vienna, VA
Jul 08 – High Sierra Music Festival – Quincy, CA
Jul 20 – Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival – Oak Hill, NY
Oct 13 – Hillberry Festival – Eureka Springs, AR