Over the course their musical careers, Oliver and Chris Wood have grown independently of one another. With Chris gaining notoriety in Medeski Martin and Wood and Oliver doing the same with Tinsley Ellis, the two “reunited” in 2004, joining forces to form The Wood Brothers.
With a new record, Smoke Ring Halo, on Zac Brown’s label, Southern Ground Artists, The Wood Brothers are showing signs of consistent growth and of an ever-strengthening base of supporters.Â Â
Over coffee and juice, one of the brothers Wood, Oliver,Â sat down with Honest Tune to discuss the life and music of their fraternal project.
Honest Tune:You guys grew up together in Colorado, then yâ€™all separated – Chris to New York to do Medeski, Martin and Wood and you to Atlanta with King Johnson. What brought you back together to form the Wood Brothers?
Oliver Wood: It felt like we went different directions around a musical circle and we met on the other side. Â I think what tipped it off in the beginning now was about 10 years ago. I had a band King Johnson and Chris had MMW and we somehow, at some point, worked out where both bands were on the same bill. Â So we actually opened for MMW in the late ’90s.
The bands played together, and it seemed natural. I would sit in with them and it was the first time I had done that. Keep in mind Chris and I hadnâ€™t seen each other nor really been that close…at the show it was just kind of magical and I really gelled with them, and especially Chris. Â We were doing the same thing at the same time â€” there was a chemistry and a psychic kind of comfort. I think thatâ€™s what got us into the idea of â€œwow we really got something.â€
HT: Being brothers, the natural connection is something that canâ€™t be taught. Having that connection betweenthe two of you, how do you describe The Wood Brothers music?
OW: As a genre, I describe it as original roots music. Â A lot of people ask the question with Chris going off and doing the MMW jazz project and me the whole roots Americana route, how do yâ€™all find common ground?Â We really have a lot of the same roots whether it be gospel, jazz, country or blues, thatâ€™s what we draw our inspiration from, the roots stuff, and then we express it in different ways. Â Itâ€™s roots Americana music but its original.
In terms of being brothers, and how that relatesâ€¦I can tell you the music is often influenced by family and by that I mean everything from lyrics to kinds of rootsy music from our dadand his cool record selection. My mother was a poet; from a lyrical standpoint that might have rubbed off, but we write a lot about psychology, of family and growing up.
HT: Iâ€™ve often thought about The Wood Brothers music as having that feeling of “home,” no matter where youâ€™re from…the music just feels like home.
HT: I know on the first record, Ways Not To Lose, a lot of the tunes were old King Johnson tunes revisited and revamped. Outside of those tunes, whatâ€™s the songwriting process like for you guys now that you have thisproject and live so far apart?
OW: Itâ€™s all over the place. Songwriting is such a personal thing. I thinkin the beginning it took us a while to learn how to collaborate and share ideas. We live a thousand miles apart, so we donâ€™t get together casually except when we are on the road.
A lot of times its hard to work on the road but we do it, but we go through these spurts. A lot of times we write entire tunes of our own ideas and say “hey, check this out,” and then rearrange them and put final touches together. Other times we go back and forth; I’ll write a verse, now you write a verse. We also have things where one will write music or we’ll record ditties or grooves or chord progressions, and tuck them away.
We both have notebooks full of lyrical ideas and our phones are full of blips of music. Itâ€™s so easy these days to record a demo and email it off. We have done it every way there is to do it. Itâ€™s become very collaborative in that, no matter who writes the bulk of the song, we finish them together and we agree on all the choices, whether itâ€™s lyrical or music choices.
HT: The Wood Brothers project is still relatively young. Here in the Atlanta area, you guys have recently made these transitions from smaller listening rooms like Eddie’s Attic and the Five Spot to selling out larger venues such as the Variety Playhouse. To what do attribute the jump in success?
OW: I can only attribute it to working year after year, estimating about six years, and we have both been at it for 20 years. I attribute it to word spreading and working hard, and the internet these days is awesome – people spread the word like crazy.
The biggest growth has been in the last six months. We have a new record coming out in August, but before that we havenâ€™t had a record in three years. It’s really amazing how much growth we have had without the new record.
HT: Honest Tune Facebook question: What inspired you most when it comes to making music?
OW: There is all kinds of inspiration. Family now goes to the next generations, and we have our own family now, so you get all kind of glimpses of lifeâ€™s trials and triumphs through family, whether kids, parents, or grandparents.
The biggest reward and what inspires me to keep doing it is when people say to me “your song or your album really got me through a tough time. I can really relate to this song, it really helped me or it gave me some faith and made me happy.”Â I get chills just thinking about that. I might have a terrible night or lousy day, but I get a message from somebody like that, then I know I’m doingthe right thing or on the right path.
So thatâ€™s the most inspiring thing from a spiritual angle, to just know that I’m not just out there getting my ego stroked – this music is helping something and that feels good.
HT: Smoke Ring Halo is the new record, now available at shows and slated for public release on August 2, 2011. Tell us about the album, and how it differs from Ways Not to Lose and Loaded.
OW: The album compares in that it’s real evidence of the evolution of Wood Brothers. For first four five years, Chris and I toured as a duo and although the early albums had drums, they were hired guns.
This last year, we decided we wanted to add a third member and make it more of a band, and have more sonic possibilities. So we added a drummer/percussionist. The idea is the new album is more of a band album. We toured together for a few months before the studio, to make it more of a trio record.
Another difference is we used a different producer. John Medeski produced first two records, which we loved and love working with him and are proud of thoserecords. With his blessing, we wanted to try something different. We were lucky to find Jim Scott in California who has worked on a lot of stuff we like, from Lucinda Williams to Tom Petty to Wilco and the Chili Peppers. Heâ€™s been doing it forever as a mixer and recently, a producer.
We hooked up with him and it was a totally different experience. [It] sounds different than the other records and is nice to have that variety.
HT: The new record is on Zac Brownâ€™s label, Southern Ground. How did you guys hook up?
OW: Whatâ€™s neat about Zac is that he is a fan of a lot of music. And, he really wants to help guys out. I knew some of the guys in his band and got to know Zac and he is great guy and has a great spirit. It feels good to be with an organization with momentum, and itâ€™s nice to be on a team that is pumped up like that.
HT: With a new album and a tour (including some festival dates), whatâ€™s on the horizon for the Wood Brothers?
OW: Iâ€™m just really grateful. I really hope we can keep it going, although over night it would be nice to have a hit song. I really like how it feels to have a slow growing thing – not too reliant on big money – and sort of grow itself at the grass roots level, and I hope that trend continues.
We want to keep doing what we love to do and keep making records. Â Just write more great songs.
For more on The Wood Brothers, log into www.TheWoodBrothers.com