Woods: Not Your Everyday Jamband
“We getting closer to the big jam festivals,” Woods guitarist/singer/founder Jeremy Earl said in late 2011, shortly before he started work on his band’s new album Bend Beyond. At the time Earl was talking about his label’s annual Woodsist festival but he could also have said the same thing about the sound on his band’s road-ready record. Earl originally envisioned Woods as a home recording project but over the past seven or eight years the group has grown into one of the most dynamic live acts to emerge from Brooklyn, NY’s DIY underground.
While their early releases were filled with sound-collages and minimalist noise jams, the band’s more recent albums have pushed Woods into more roots-leaning freak folk and psychedelic territories. As they have become more comfortable live, Woods—Earl, multi-instrumentalist Jarvis Taveniere, tape-effects technician G. Lucas Crane and bassist Kevin Morby—have also started to stretch out live; most of their shows now include at least a few pockets of extended improvisation that push past the 15-minute mark. On their most recent studio album Bend Beyond, Earl and Taveniere—the group’s core recording duo—managed to channel that live energy without loosing their more delicate touches. The result is both the band’s best studio album, and the best set of live material. Below, Earl and Taveniere take Jambands.com and Relix through their shared history.
Jarvis, before we jump into Woods’ current tour, let’s talk about your new album Bend Beyond. I heard that you switched things up this time, with Jeremy focusing on songwriting while you assumed more of a traditional producer role. Is that true?
JT: Yeah, that’s exactly what happened. Normally, when we try to write songs together, we get too excited and just bust [these songs] out real quick. The ideas are just flying, and we don’t have that third party person to rein it in—especially since we are recording the album ourselves. So this time I kind of wanted to sit out on the songwriting a little more, and Jeremy was writing a good portion of our songs anyway. I just wanted to make sure every song had the chance to really develop, and then, I could just be the guy that made sure things were in tune and things were sounding ok.
We recorded in Warwick, NY [where Jeremy lives]. I brought all my gear up there to his house. For about two weeks we kind of just hunkered down and did it. Jeremy and I played most of the instruments, and we spent most of that time just getting the bulk of the basics down. Then, [Woods bassist] Kevin Morby came up and recorded a few songs live in the living room. But most of the record Jeremy and I did by ourselves. I knew I was going to focus more on the production value so I wasn’t interested in trying to change things up that drastically as far as personnel goes [with additional musicians]—I knew we’d be changing up a lot of other things this time around [given our new approach].
And given that process, did you road test a lot of this stuff before you started recording it or did you kind of want to create a different dynamic in that sense?
JT: A little bit of both. There were definitely some songs we played out for a while like “Bend Beyond” and others weren’t road tested. It is something we would like to do more in the future though—just kind of develop the songs live.
How did that approach differ from your previous record, Sun and Shade ?
JE: We started Sun and Shade in the summer of 2010. Actually, it was broken into two recording sessions. The main one was in July. Our friend Glen Donaldson from Skygreen Leopards flew out to my place in Warwick, New York from San Francisco. Me, him, and Jarvis kind of locked ourselves in for about a week and recorded pretty much constantly. That was pretty much the main recording session. But before that—that winter—me and Jarvis had the first session and he came up to record a couple of songs and then there was a blizzard. It was a similar situation, but not planned. We were trapped for five days and just recorded. [Laughter.]
I can see where the album’s title comes from.
JE: Definitely, I mean in many ways the Sun and Shade title really fits the record.
Jarvis, for the past few Woods albums, you and Jeremy have recorded the bulk of the records as a duo. Yet, as Woods has moved from a studio project to more of a live band your albums have also reflected your loose, jammy live aesthetic. Did you go into this recording process trying to create more of a live album?
JT: Totally. That being said, a lot of times we just write and record immediately, which was sort of the idea of the whole band. You know, that was kind of the deal: Just to get these ideas out quickly—evolve songs from a nugget of an idea. But we did that so much, so definitely this time we were going for more of a live feel. Even the stuff that was overdubbed, the basics were still the two of us in a room—we had a lot of room ambience going on.
JE: The other guys are more live members but we like to have them track the more jammy tracks.
A few years ago you moved your recording base of operations from Woods’ Bushwick, NY headquarters to Jeremy’s current home studio upstate. How has that change of scenery impacted the band’s recording approach?
JT: Yeah, it’s really just amazing to get so deep into it. You know, I just wake up on his couch and start recording immediately. We’ll have these ideas which are still lingering from the night before when we’re too exhausted to keep going and, I’m like, “Oh, we needed to do that organ thing!” and then just wake up and walk straight to the organ. On our last record we had such minimal equipment that this time I went up a day early and set up everything, and just turned his house into a studio for a good two weeks.
And you came out with an album…
JT: Yeah. And after that we spent about two weeks in Brooklyn, adding overdubs and having friends like Matt Valentine [keyboardist from MV & the EE] put some stuff down on it. But for most of the album, it was me and Jeremy live on the drums.
Jeremy, what inspired you to move back home to Warwick?
JE: I moved back a few years ago. I grew up here, went to high school here. I went to college in Westchester, New York and that’s where I met Jarvis and Lucas [Crane] from the band. Then, I lived in Brooklyn after college for five years at Rear House and started the label there, and I started Woods there. Just a couple of years ago I ended up back in Warwick.
Have you found that being a little bit removed from the city has helped your creative process? Has it helped you dig into the music?
JE: Definitely. I love being in Brooklyn and recording at Rear House, but there are a lot of distractions. Everybody’s got their different distractions and different things going on, so when you get in a sort of closed environment in the woods where not much is really going on downtown, it’s nice to just lock yourself in and concentrate on the record.