Wood Brothers’ Oliver Wood Talks Life, Regrets, Music, and Asheville

Wood Brothers’ Oliver Wood Talks Life, Regrets, Music, and Asheville image

The Wood Brothers will be featured performers at Pisgah Brewing Company’s upcoming Jam in the Trees August 26 - 27.

Listen to the full interview audio below

Ford:
So it's 2016, that means it's been 10 years since The Wood Brothers released their debut studio album, Ways Not To Lose. The band kind of started off as a side project but has evolved into a bonafide main act. So I was wondering if you could speak a little bit to that journey and evolution with the band from then to now.


Oliver:
Somebody recently told me it takes 10 years to get somewhere playing in a band, and ... Whatever, I think you're always somewhere. But we started out just the 2 of us (brothers Oliver and Chris Wood), and in a way... after 15 years of living in different parts of the country playing music, but with different people and in different circles… putting The Wood Brothers together in the beginning was just a way for us to hang out and get reacquainted and reconnect as brothers after really just growing apart and not seeing each other. And lucky for us, we had music in common and we were able to use that as a way to reconnect.

I don't know if either one of us thought it would ever evolve into such a full-time enterprise, and it has. But the whole progression seemed very natural once we started doing it and once it grew ... It just grew really organically and it feels like it moved really slowly, and it's still growing slowly, and ... I don't know, I just like it. I really like the feeling of that. So it's been great just to expand our horizons together and sort of make a family business out of it.

Ford:
Can you tell us a little bit about ... I mean, there are three of you now. What's it like bringing that third person in? And not only musically, but as you alluded to so much, it is this family business. What's that like, bringing another person into the family?


Oliver:
Well, it's great, really. From a musical standpoint, it really allows us to sonically be more ... Just have more options. Especially with a guy like Jano, who plays multiple instruments and sings and just can do a lot of different things. He has a serious musical voice of his own.

It's just nice to mix that in and it kind of expands us. You know, there are definitely limitations to a duo. And Jano really is like two guys in one. He can play keyboards and drums at the same time, and often does. And he's just rounded out in a really great way.

Also, from a different angle, not just musically, but it is cool to have another brain in there, another soul in there, who can really contribute to what it sounds like. I have heard it said ... You often hear about sibling harmonies and how right they are, but I have heard it said that if you have 2 siblings and then bring a non-sibling into the mix, it gets you a really rich sound vocally. So I like the sound of that saying, whoever said that.

Ford:
With you recently relocating to Nashville, Paradise - the most recent record - is the first one that you've all been able to write and record together living in the same city. How has that been different from past experiences? Do you think it really affected the outcome of this album?


Oliver:
Yeah, well it's the kind of thing that obviously allows much more flexibility in the writing process. But also in the recording process, which in the past has always meant we have a producer and we have to hole up somewhere ... You know. We've done a record in LA, we've done records in New York. So to make a record locally for everyone, where you can go to sleep in your own bed every day...

For that matter, it's also the kind of thing where we bit off a big bite when we decided not only were we going to ... Well, we were going to produce this record ourselves. We've always had a producer to help us. So, you know, it really allowed us to be more ambitious when it came to making the record, but also to add convenience to that. If we needed to practice in my living room or whatever, we can be more casual about it because we all live in the same spot.

Ford:
So were there any challenges that came along with that without a producer as well?


Oliver:
Absolutely, yeah. It's really hard. It's kind of like being a writer or a journalist without an editor. At times you need that outside ear, in our case, to check out what you're doing and give you a different perspective. And as you guys know, you get really close to your work and you can really lose perspective, and it makes it harder to make decisions. You start doubting yourself. And we certainly came across that.

But the thing is, we've all been making records for so long that we're all producers. We know how to make records. And so we've also come to an understanding of what kind of weird psychology goes on when you're doing that, when you're in that creative process. That doesn't mean we've mastered it, by any means, but it does mean we know what to expect and we know when to step away. We know that we need to balance each other out and help each other. So, for us three to produce it was sort of a challenge of something new, but we learned a lot and we also used a lot of our wisdom from years of previous projects to get through it. And it worked out fine.

Ford:
Absolutely, it's a great record. One of the big decisions y'all made as a band for this one is Chris playing electric bass on much of the album for the first time. Maybe you can talk a little bit about the decision to do that and how it influenced the sound. And even more so, I don't know if that's something you guys are taking out on the road, and how that influences your live sound?


Oliver:
Yeah, we do take it out on the road. It kind of was just another angle, you know? A couple years ago, we started thinking, “Man, Jano’s such a great piano player. Let's have him play more keyboards, both live and on the road.” And it just gave us more options without having more people.

And Chris playing electric bass ... I mean, he's always been a great electric player, but I think that The Wood Brothers started out as such an acoustic duo, kind of folk-y idea, the idea being to keep it as simple as possible. And what tends to happen over the years - and it happens to a lot of bands - is that as you grow, you're playing larger venues. And as you play in larger venues, a lot of things that are really subtle don't really go over anymore. When we were playing in little listening rooms, then we could pretty much do anything as quiet or as mellow or as subtle as we wanted to. But then as you play an outside festival, half of that stuff is not going to translate. Part of our decision to add these sonic varieties is to grow into some of those venues.

I think that that's even subconsciously ... Like now, during an interview, I think, "Wow, we really ... That's one reason we did all of this stuff. Chris really needs to rock that electric bass once in a while, because we've got a couple thousand people that want to dance."

So there's that side of it, for sure. But there's also the side of, "Well gosh, Chris is so good at that, why shouldn't we feature it somewhere? It sounds so cool and it's just a different sound." Like any artist, sometimes you're trying to do something you haven't done yet, and that's something we hadn't done yet, so we wanted to try it.

Zach:
I've always wondered, as you grow as an artist, how often do you finish an album, and feel like you want to change something? Or you hear something in it that you might want to play differently? Is that something that you've gotten better at over time, or is that just part of the music making process?


Oliver:
I feel like it's part of the music making process. I think that there's always things. I mean, on any album that I've ever made, I can listen back and hear things and think, “Oh, I wish I hadn't done that.” You know? It's just in the moment. But I've said, "I wish we'd done that a little differently." I think that's normal, I think that's just your life. But at the same time, we don't dwell on that stuff. I think it's normal.

By the same token, I can listen to all of the albums that we've made and feel proud and look at it as part of the process. It's like looking back and seeing that was the path to this, and it was cool, and ... A lot of these things that didn't go as planned were also better than I could ever have imagined them to be. People talk about happy accidents, or whatever. We've had ours.

I think just understanding that you don't really have control over the magical parts of albums is something that comes to you after a while. You just learn to appreciate to appreciate the journey. I listen back to a bunch of that stuff and think, "How did we do that? I could never do that again." And then there's a few things where I think, “Ooh, I don't want to do that again." Just like life itself, really.

Zach:
I've always picked up on themes of angels and God and sin, and also a lot of drinking and singing throughout your music. Is that intentional, or is it just what comes out of you as you sit down to write a song?


Oliver:
Well, I think any inspiration is ... It's hard to say if it's intentional or not. If you get inspired by something, be it you turn ... Your intention is the creative part, I don't know that the specific things that come out of your inspiration are intended. But I think the whole thing about God and angels ... Anything spiritual is sort of a universal thing, it doesn't mean Christian, necessarily, at all. It can if you want it to be ... Where we're coming from, it's meant to be ambiguous.

But a lot of the questions that are raised and that come up during your life have to do with things you don't quite understand. There's all kinds of religion that tries to explain some of those things, but there's always things that are mystical, that you know are there but you can't see, or you know exist but you don't know what they are, you can't really put a name on them, necessarily, or you don't have to. But I think everybody can relate to that on some level, and I think as we get older, we think more of those things than we do writing love songs, or something like that. That doesn't mean we don't have a few of those left in us, but it means ... I feel like, over the years, I've gotten more interested in those kind of questions and those kind of feelings.

Ford:
When you've got a basic idea for a song, or you've got one finished, do you ever know that that might be one that really connects with people, or does it kind of take you getting the music out there and getting the response first to figure that out?


Oliver:
That's a good question. I think sometimes I know, at least when I feel like I've said exactly what I want to say.

Even better, I've said exactly what I've felt, you know what I mean? Those songs you're talking about ... Most of the songs that do that come from things that are real. In other words, they're not just things made up. Postcards From Hell was inspired by a real guy that I know - or, I knew, he passed away, but I knew him really well. And that was completely inspired by this guy. He had a profound impact on my life, so then to take that feeling of what he means to me and put it into a song, that's like ... If it works, that's the ultimate thing. And I can feel if it works.

Ford:
Well, I think as listeners, we can feel that same thing. That's why those songs get the message that they do.


Oliver:
I know what you mean, and I feel like that's probably ... No matter who the songwriter we're talking about, that's probably our favorite songs by them, aside from a few flukes, are the ones that some form that same place. When a writer can really tap into what's going on in their souls and hearts and heads, that's when the good stuff comes out.

Ford:
Piggybacking on that, how much do you all as a band use touring and live audiences when you've got new material, in terms of testing it out and gauging response ... Does that play into it at all?


Oliver:
Well, it's interesting, this latest record, Paradise, is the first time we didn't play any of the songs live til the album came out. So they were never tested on anybody. And in the age of YouTube and stuff, it's just like, "Oh, I don't want to play something before we have it the way we want." It's going to be out there, but that doesn't really matter, that's just the way it is now. But I think we wanted to try that and just see what it would be like, because honestly ... I don't know. I wouldn't want it to be anticlimactic or something when we put a record out, but at the same time, I feel like it would be cool to try it again and do it the other way, too. I'd like to try some new songs out before we ...

Honestly, that goes back to what you're saying about having regrets about the way albums turn out, like pieces of records like we talked about earlier. Those are the kind of things ... Like, after we put a record out, we get better at those songs. We make improvements on them. They might be small subtle things, but they are improvements.

Ford:
Cool. I want to touch a little bit on this little two day festival y'all are playing, Pisgah Brewing Company coming up August 26-27, Jam in the Trees. You sort of touched on it earlier with Chris having to use the electric bass to reach these bigger audiences sometimes, but are there things you guys really like about playing these bigger outdoor festivals? Kind of compare it to the small more intimate venues.


Oliver:
Yeah, there's a certain energy to the outdoor bigger things. There's a certain excitement, and it could be a small festival like that, it could be Bonnaroo, where you're getting ... We did Bonnaroo a few weeks ago, and that's always so exciting because there's all kind of different music going on, and people are there for music.

And, you know, there's something awesome about playing through a giant PA system outside and just dancing and reaching a few thousand people. There's definitely ... That feels good, especially if ... You know, that's kind of hit or miss. We whine and complain sometimes about outdoor festivals because, unlike theater shows, you don't get a sound check most of the time. You just jump up there and you have maybe 20, 30 minutes to make sure everything's on, and then you play. Sometimes the sound is horrendous. And you suffer, you feel like, "Ah, that could have been so much better, blah blah blah." And you have to get used to that. But there's also a certain rawness to it that can be really cool.

Whereas, when we go play a headlining show at a theater, or a club or whatever, we get there early, we do a sound check, it's more of a controlled environment when you're inside. So there's something nice about that and comfortable about that too. But you know, it just feels like the right thing, you know. It's summer, people want to be outside, and rock out. So that's what we do in the summer and it's fun.

Zach:
Is there anywhere that you're going to be trying to go, in terms of Asheville restaurants or establishments, while you're in town?


Oliver:
We always do, if we have time and it works out, we love hanging out in Asheville. We love to love just walk outside the club and find a great restaurant, stuff like that is just ... The city vibe there. We love Asheville. Definitely is way up in the top 5. It's really fun to be there. My fantasy is to come play, next time we play outside of the summertime, I want to do 2 nights and just be in Asheville for two days. That's a goal.

Ford:
You have 8 albums, including a couple of live albums, in the last 10 years. What's next, and do you see the band slowing down at all? Or are you just getting started? What's your thought about that?


Oliver:
I don't see us slowing down for a while.

We're definitely ... It still feels like we're on the upswing, and we're gaining ground. I also feel like we're in a very defined place, and can just do what we're doing, for as long as ... Whatever. We're always writing, and we're already in the early stages of thinking about the next record, and we're just writing tunes for the next record. We hope to do a little recording this winter. So that's definitely up on the schedule, for sure.


Zach:
Will there ever be a Medeski, Scofield, Martin, and Oliver album?


Oliver:
I don't know, it's like the farther along we go, the crazier it is to get everybody together at the same time.

But I do know MMW has a few things, this is their 25th anniversary so I know they're doing a few things. And that would be awesome. It's just hard to do it all. We all wish we could do it all, but we only have so much time, and energy.

Zach:
With reference to your song When I Was Young. We are both in our late twenties. What advice would you give to yourself at this stage in life?


Oliver:
That's a really good question. Let me think about that for a minute.

The piece of advice I would give to myself ... And I heard a thing recently, an interview or some study where somebody interviewed a bunch of senior citizens ... I'm not a senior citizen yet, but this really hit home for me. They asked what they most regretted about their lives, and the number one answer was they wished they hadn't worried so much. And by worry, just like worrying about stuff that never actually happens or stuff you can't control. And I think that's the best thing I've heard in awhile. I just think about all the mental energy that I have wasted on worrying about something that I can't even control or worrying about something that is not even going to happen.

Which, I guess another way of saying that is just being more in the moment and not thinking so much. But that's a big one for me. That's what I would give myself. You guys might not have that problem, but I do.

Note: This interview has been paraphrased and transcribed by Zach Boylston and Ford Willis of Asheville Music Guide

Image Credits: 

Permissions by The Wood Brothers; Kevin Calabro - Publicity, Calabro Music Media

All Photos by Alysse Gafkjen

*No changes were made to the original images*