Interview: Writing, Recording, & Touring With Chris Wood of THE WOOD BROTHERS

"I've seen him playing some old cheap guitar

But he could play on pots and pans

You never heard a soul so pure and true

It's flowing right out of his hands"

"Postcards from Hell", Loaded

First and foremost – The Wood Brothers are masterful musicians, rather than masters at a single instrument. While bassist and younger Wood brother Chris plays the harmonica, Jano Rix focuses on percussion, keys, and the percussive acoustic guitar. They join guitarist and older Wood brother Oliver in having soulful, unique vocals that perfectly blend together.

In December of last year, some friends and I joined a packed house at the beautiful Paramount Theater, where the city of Austin greeted the band with snow for the first time in years. “I mean, we just finished up shows in Wyoming and Utah,” Oliver joked. “Go figure.” While most locals were trying to understand what was falling from the sky, those in attendance were treated to an incredible set-list, including staples "Sing About It", "Postcards from Hell", and "Keep Me Around", as well as a Texas-flavored unplugged cover of "Ain’t No More Cane". When the band kicked it into high gear for “Snake Eyes”, it was the first time I’d seen the seating-only Paramount crowd entirely on its feet.

As a bonus, the trio previewed its then-upcoming album, One Drop of Truth, by performing pre-released single "River Takes the Town", which was recorded the day after Hurricane Harvey tore through Houston. Oliver gave a heartfelt tribute to those affected before diving into the song, which hit home for many when Wood repeated “and the rain keeps coming” throughout the chorus.

Earlier this year, I was able to catch up with Chris Wood regarding the band’s roots, influences, and latest developments prior to the release of One Drop of Truth, which hit the shelves early last month.

Congratulations on the new album – I love what's been released so far. The first two singles ("River Takes the Town" and "Happiness Jones") from One Drop of Truth exhibit quite different styles, yet both offer dynamic lyrics and musical compositions. Is there an underlying theme to this album? How does the development of One Drop of Truth differ from the previous five albums?

We decided to record each song as soon as it was written instead of waiting to finish all of them and record everything in one, overwhelming session. This was the biggest difference in our process this time around. It allowed us to give each song our full attention and then set the recordings aside for a few weeks as we worked on other songs or toured. This space helped give us perspective on the music and what it needed. The theme developed organically. There are many images of water, storms and searching for truth and happiness amidst the chaos. There is a feeling that we don’t have any control over most of what happens in our lives. All we can really do is pay attention and trust what comes next.

Could you briefly describe growing up in Boulder? What sparked your musical interests and pursuit in the industry?

Boulder was a pleasant place to grow up, but it felt like the kind of place you had to get out of in order to do what we wanted to do. It didn’t have the musical and creative energy of other bigger cities in other parts of the country. However, I was lucky to have a couple very important mentors early on that prepared me to pursue a career in music.

What was it like initially pursuing music separate from your brother? What drove you to work together after years apart in other cities? Why settle on Nashville?

My brother is a little older and left the house before I did. I felt driven to go to New York City and become a professional musician. Once I got there I became involved in the Downtown music scene and formed Medeski Martin & Wood (MMW). After 15 years, my brother’s band (King Johnson) and MMW played a double bill and Oliver sat in during the MMW set. The musical connection was undeniable. That experience planted a seed that eventually became The Wood Brothers. After a few years on the road, The Wood Brothers became the main focus for both of us, so we decided to both move to Nashville. Nashville was a desirable place for us because it was a home base for so much of the music industry as well as countless musicians and writers.

After seeing a live show, it's easy to see hints of The Band - who are some of the band's musical inspirations/influences?

The Band is one of our influences - especially after our experiences playing with Levon Helm in his last years. Also Ray Charles, JB Lenoir, John Prine, Mississippi John Hurt, Jimmy Reed, The Beatles, BB King, The Rolling Stones, Sly Stone, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, Muddy Waters, Sister Rosetta Tharp, Beck, Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, Tom Petty, Jonny Cash, Charles Mingus, Pink Floyd, The Eagles, Steve Winwood, Steve Miller, The Everly Brothers…just to name a few.

With the band made up of three formerly independent musicians, could you touch on the songwriting process and responsibilities?

There are no rules and we approach it every which way. Sometimes we improvise together to come up with interesting seeds for future songs. We each write lyrics. Some music is born out of lyrics and vice versa. Some lyrics are born out of mediocre music that gets scrapped and replaced. Imagine a messy artists studio with paint spills everywhere and canvases scattered about. Unfinished paintings are on the floor and sketch books are lying around open with the pages ripped’s chaos! But little by little, finished works emerge.

You’ve toured with a number of big acts in addition to playing solo shows - how do those experiences differ from a performance and touring standpoint?

An opening set for a bigger band is not the place for a musical journey you would ideally give your own fans. You don’t have the time, and you’re playing for a bunch of people who are mostly there to see the next band. You want to give them an engaging performance that gets right to the point. You want to give them something they can relate to but something that contrasts the headliner.

Finally - where did you learn those dance moves?

I never “learned” any dance moves...but I do love to move to music!

Proof that Chris does in fact love to move to music (Paramount Theatre, December 2017)

Prior to One Drop of Truth, The Wood Brothers’ two most recent studio albums cracked Billboard’s US Folk chart’s top 10. Cheers to making it three in a row this year.

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