An Interview with Oliver Wood of The Wood Brothers

The Wood Brothers (Photo Credit: Alysse Gafkjen)

It was a strong 2018 for brothers Chris and Oliver Wood, along with band-mate Jano Rix.  The trio decided to take a different approach to the recording process for their sixth album, One Drop of Truth, and in doing so, The Wood Brothers presented fans with an amazing record that earned them their first ever Grammy nomination for "Best Americana Album."   Now they head back out on the road for their winter tour, with a two-night headlining run at our very own 9:30 Club, a stop that is highly anticipated. Naming 9:30 as one of his favorite venues to play, Oliver Wood took some time to talk to DC Music Review about how 2018 went and what the Wood Brothers have on the horizon in the new year.

For tickets to the Wood Brothers' two-night stand at the 9:30 Club on January 17 and 18, click here!  

Karin McLaughlin: Well, thanks for taking some time to talk to us. We're really excited to have you guys coming back to DC.

Oliver Wood: Yeah, we're excited too.

KM:  I want to start with, if you could, just a very brief  history of the Wood Brothers and ​related to the band, where you started and where you are now.

The Wood Brothers (Photo Credit & ©: Alysse Gafkjen)
The Wood Brothers (Photo Credit & ©: Alysse Gafkjen)

OW:  Sure - so Chris and I are four years apart, I'm four years older and we played a little bit as teenagers when we were just proficient enough to play together - Chris on the bass and me on guitar.  We used to jam in the garage and stuff like that.  When I left home, I ended up moving out west and going to college for a little while and dropping out and moving to Atlanta with a band.

 Anyway, I ended up in the southern US in Atlanta, and my brother, when he left home, he went north and went to Boston and then ended up in New York.  So while in New York, he started Medeski, Martin & Wood, which a lot of music fans know as an amazing, hard-to-categorize, but instrumental group.  We’re talking literally instrumental, no singing, it was all about music -  jazz and improvised music.  

Meanwhile, I started my own band after playing on the road for a couple years with one of my mentors whose name is Tinsley Ellis, who is also a touring musician and a blues guitar player and gave me my first road gig.  After that, I was inspired to start my own band called King Johnson.  So while Chris was doing Medeski, Martin & Wood and traveling out of the Northeast, I was traveling in the southeast and playing with King Johnson.  Basically, we kind of had completely different paths - we were in different kinds of music, different music scenes, we played different venues, we really grew apart from each other, not just musically, but also personally.  We just had new circles that we were in and carved our own paths.  Eventually our two bands did a show together.  My band actually opened for Chris’s band and it was a real eye opener because I got to play with their band, I got to sit in with Medeski, Martin & Wood and it was just super fun and a real connector for my brother and me. We were able to reconnect on this cool level where we both had been off doing this for years and we could get back together and share our love of music and it really just felt good.  I think that was sort of a turning point and made us feel like, ‘Hey, we should be playing together, at least once in a while.’

So really, after well over 10 years of touring separately, we eventually started making efforts to play music together.  When we would meet for functions at home at our parents house in Colorado, or whatever, we would just make it a point to play music together.  We also started writing music and that was kind of how it came to be.  But I think what was cool about it is that it was a way for us to reconnect basically as brothers.  

The other thing that was cool is we'd already been out doing it, we'd already put in our 10,000 hours, we weren’t young men anymore necessarily.  We'd already been seasoned by the road and by years of playing lots of shows and becoming our own people, you know, shedding some of the baggage we had as those young people and as brothers and we weren't feeling competitive.  We were just excited to have something to relate to together.  So, anyway, we started the Wood Brothers and we made our first album and we were lucky to have somebody like it and we got a record deal and just sort of built from there.  I think '05 is when we really started playing together and '06 was when our first record came out, so it's been 12 or 13 years now of a slow ride to the middle. (laughs) 

KM: ​ You already mentioned growing up with a brother and playing ​together and how you guys used to jam​ in the garage, but I also read that ​your father was part of your musical influence and that you used to ​go through his record collection and you've listened to all his music.  Are you still a vinyl guy?

OW: Absolutely still a vinyl guy! Just bought my 16 year old son his own little record player trying to pass on that tradition. That was the coolest thing about our dad is, not only did he have a great record collection, he was and still is a singer and guitar player, a folk singer and he knows hundreds of songs.  So not only did we go through his record collection but we didn't know how influential this would be.  He would always play around the house and at functions, family functions, camping trips, he would always have his guitar and be singing songs and was very good at it, so that was a huge influence.  We just thought that was normal everyday dad, but looking back, that was our first taste of real, live music and someone playing an instrument and singing. That and his record collection was a big part of those formative times.

KM: And has there ever been a consideration of having him join you on the road? (laughs)

OW: Well, not necessarily on the road, but ​finally, just before the holidays, we played a show in Boulder, Colorado, which is where we grew up and where my dad still lives and we invited him on stage to ​join us and sing a song.  That strangely has never happened in the last 10 years,​ but we've always thought about it and I guess we just had to make our own way before we decided to do that.​  It was really special to have him do that​ and I'm sure we'll do it again. 

The Wood Brothers One Drop of Truth

It’s the freest album we’ve done, the most independent album we’ve done, and was the most fun we’ve ever had making a record, and most importantly, this is the most purely Wood Brothers’ album we’ve ever made.”

Oliver Wood  //  Reflecting on the album One Drop of Truth

KM:  Being that you guys are such a musical family it's obvious that that has a lot of meaning behind it, but what was the afterthought of that performance and of getting to play with your brother and also your father?

OW: Yeah, a real closing of the circle.  I mean my dad's in his eighties and I'm fifty​, we're not young guys​ anymore and so it's ​really special to sort of bring that all together.  Even just when Chris and I started ​as a duo, mostly acoustic, they had us in the folk section of iTunes or whatever, which, ​I don't care too much about those labels, but it was just interesting that after he and I had played with rock bands and big production kind of things just to go ​and sort of do what our dad always did around the house. That's what it felt like. ​ We didn't do it necessarily on purpose, trying to honor him, but realized that wow, ​we're just following in his footsteps, which is cool.  

KM: Being that it's the time of year that it is, wanna wish you a Happy New Year.

OW: Thank you - Happy New Year to you! 

KM: Looking back on 2018, you guys were quite busy.  We saw the release of the sixth album and I was reading some stuff before this interview and you were quoted as saying that this album is the most purely Wood Brothers album that you've ever made.  You guys talk about the very laid back approach that went into this album with no pressure and you got to record in different studios and things like that.  How nice is it now, after having played for quite a few years, being able to have that freedom?   How does it affect your creativity and overall feeling about an album when you have the ability to just pretty much make it how you want to make it? 

OW: Well, having been through all the other ways to make albums, I can clarify, it's awesome, it's triumphant.  I think the reason I said what I said about this album is that, first of all, it was the most independent. The reason we were able to be so creative and free is because we did it ourselves, which is not something we were able to do in the beginning.  Before, we needed the help of a record label for our budget and for promotion and all those things that you need in this business.  

After touring for years and years, and sort of building a following, and being able to make a living and actually save a little bit of money, we were able to make our own budgets for making albums. That right there is huge and it's very empowering because suddenly we don't owe anybody money, we're not spending someone else's money.  We feel qualified now to produce ourselves. Having done this for so long and having worked with some great producers, we learned a lot about how to work together and what we do best and what our strengths and weaknesses are.  So not only did we not have a record company looking over our shoulders and we didn't have a producer, which has been an awesome collaboration in the past, it was really fun just to be in our own little Wood Brothers bubble, just the three of us - me and Chris and Jano - experimenting and trying things and not really opening it up to anyone else's input, being a little bit selfish about it.  We just said, "Hey we're just gonna do this the way we want to do it and when we're done, we'll let you hear it."  We've never gotten to do that before.

KM:  Then the icing on the cake was, of course, the Grammy nomination. So you you guys obviously did it and did it well.

OW: Well, yeah, that's what it feels like. (laughs) Definitely a confidence builder.  I'm sure there's some fluke involved there, but it also feels vindicating that we were on the right path, so it's a good method.  We're definitely gonna try that again.

The Wood Brothers (Photo Credit & ©: Alysse Gafkjen)
The Wood Brothers (Photo Credit & ©: Alysse Gafkjen)

KM: So I have a couple questions specifically about the name of the album and then the artwork that's on the front.  One Drop of Truth, it kind of almost sounds like - I'm trying to find a way that I would explain what it felt like - that there's so much that goes on that's kind of bullshit basically, is what it would sound like to me.  Then you have the cover art where it's this woman free falling with a blurred face. Can you go into the name significance and then the album cover if there is a significance to that artwork, which I'm sure there probably is.

OW: Yeah, I think anytime you make an album and then, you know, all of us bands, we have a publicist.  The publicity people always want to know, what is this album about?   What is the story here?  That's not necessarily what we're interested in while we're making the record, right?  We didn't say, "Okay, this is the concept for this album".  But every time you make an album, you're gonna get asked that.  "What's the significance of the album?"  "Why are all these songs the album?"  So what we end up doing is, when we're done with the album, we just sort of ask ourselves those questions.  We are forced to look back and analyze it a little bit.  

What we found was that subconsciously, we had created this collection of songs and a lot of them have water in them, whether it was water or wine or tears or floods or hurricanes, it's sort of the power of all those things.  The power of water and the beauty of it and how scary it is.  It can sustain you, it can drown you.  We just found this theme that we're not really in control as people and there were things going on in the world, the political elections, hurricane season - the last time when Houston got flooded and Puerto Rico - all that stuff was happening while we were making this record.  I don't think we specifically were writing about it, but it seeped into what was going on and it just felt like wow, there's a lot of things that we just aren't in control of.  We have to just pay attention and look for the beauty and also look for the red flags.  

So anyway, we sort of came up with this theme and realized that's kind of what it feels like.  One of the songs is called "One Drop of Truth" but then there's also "Seasick Emotions" and there's "Sparkling Wine" and there's "River Takes the Town" which is the  opening track.  We recorded that song the day after the hurricane that sat on top of Houston and completely flooded it and it's basically a song about that scenario, that's the setting of the song.  That picture was just someone on our crew had a friend who was an artist who had this photograph randomly that when we saw it, we thought somehow that free fall look summed up the general feeling of what was happening in that record.  Like you said, this woman free falling into water, it's very subtle, but there's water there. 

KM: We mentioned it a little bit before, but 2018 for you guys was a big year, you did a lot of shows, a lot of festivals, I saw you guys at Delfest back in May and you had done a two night Colorado run right before that and then you were at Rooster Walk straight to Delfest and then you went somewhere right after it. It was just go, go, go!   Looking back on the year, are there a couple highlights or favorites?  Did you have a favorite festival or venue that you guys got to play this year that maybe you didn't play before?  Or even a return to somewhere that's one of the top places you love to play at?

The Wood Brothers (Photo Credit & ©: Alysse Gafkjen)
The Wood Brothers (Photo Credit & ©: Alysse Gafkjen)

OW: Well, let's see, it's a bit of a blur. (laughs) There are certain places that we love playing. I mean, every summer we play at Red Rocks in Colorado, which is a pretty special place. I love some of those festivals - Delfest is one of my favorites, just the vibe of it and I kind of prefer a festival like that to one of the huge Bonnaroos or something like that.  Something a little more medium size when there's lots of great music and diversity of the music.  We played a great festival in Ithaca, New York this summer that was really fun.  I have to say, Red Rocks is sort of the pinnacle in a way because we grew up in Colorado.  When I was in high school I saw my first rock concert at Red Rocks so that's a big one.  I will say, my favorite show of the previous year - I remember it clearly - was at the 9:30 Club in DC.

KM: Good answer!

OW: Yeah and I'm not trying to kiss up or anything like that. (laughs)  I distinctly remember it and then last year, I think just because of conflict to schedule, we weren't able to play the 9:30 Club, we played another venue, which was great because we love DC, but the 9:30 Club is definitely in the top three venues or just clubs to play at.

KM: That makes me happy to hear!

OW:  Yeah,​ for real -​ you can ask a lot of other touring musicians and they say the same.  I mean that is a very special room, it just sounds good in there​.  It's a great size - it's not too big, not too small and to be there two nights is going to be just a luxury.  We're psyched.

KM: Yeah it's gonna be great.  Also, you guys have had the opportunity throughout the years to open for bands, tour with bands, do festivals with bands and now you guys are headliners.  Is there anybody that sticks out?   I also was listening to the interview you did with Nick Forster at E-town and you were talking about how you personally have known Derek Trucks since he was a kid.  I know you guys have done some stuff with [Susan] Tedeschi and Trucks, but is there anybody that sticks out other than them that you guys really enjoy getting to share a bill with or see at a festival or hop on stage with randomly? 

OW: There's a bunch!  Derek and Susan are definitely top of the heap. I mean I've definitely known them the longest  and back a long time ago when I was playing with Timothy Ellis, I remember playing with both of those people as teenagers.  Derek might not even have been a teenager yet.  Those guys are just inspiring always and we always have a blast with them.  This last year we played with Valerie June.  She opened for us at the Ryman in Nashville. -I forgot to mention that!  The Ryman, okay sorry I have to go back from this past year - that was the best show.  We played the Ryman for the first time ever and it was amazing!  That was a huge part of this last year, but our support act was Valerie June playing solo and she is great.  I really enjoyed her.  We've had people like Jerry Douglas sit in with us on dobro, he's amazing.   Amos Lee, he usually sits in with us or play some guitar with him or something. Those are definitely some of the people that come to mind.  


The Wood Brothers (Photo Credit & ©: Alysse Gafkjen)
The Wood Brothers (Photo Credit & ©: Alysse Gafkjen)

KM: Looking forward now that we're in 2019, other than of course a Grammy win, what are you manifesting for the new year? Did you make any good resolutions?  ​Now that you've done so much, is there something that you're still striving for that's on the list ​you're trying to cross off for 2019? 

OW: Well, we definitely are back in the studio and we're excited about creating new music.  That's definitely in the forefront of what we're thinking about right now, more so than touring that sort of never ends.  We have these lulls in between records that are nice, but I think then we get antsy and we really want to write stuff.   We have a really cool studio, the new studio that we have set up for ourselves that we're excited about, so that's really big.  I don't know, I think we're thinking about best ways of being philanthropic in the future.  Now that we've worked a long time and worked hard, and we're very lucky personally just to be able to do what we love and to make a living at it, is pretty special.   I certainly would love to give back to something, we just haven't figured out how to do that efficiently yet and how to focus our energy on that and agree on things. I would like that to be a little bit more of a piece of what we do all the time.

KM: Okay, last question. What are you listening to these days? 

OW: Well, let's see. Today I listened to Nashville Skyline by Bob Dylan, I listen to a lot of old things (laughs).

KM: Are you listening on vinyl?

OW: I listen on  a lot of things, but that's a great question.  I just bought a bunch of new vinyl, ​old vinyl rather I guess - Staple Singers, Sam and Dave​.

KM: Those are some good ones - I think I have a couple of those albums too.  I'm a big vinyl girl, I stole my dad's collection years ago and then it's funny because you know, vinyl is really making a comeback the last few years, but there was a time where it kind of just took a break, I guess.  Everyone knows that I love records, and everybody would go to get rid of their record collections and think of me. 

OW: So you did well in the recession (laughs).

KM:  Yeah, I inherited my aunt's friends collection of big band and 40's albums. Then I got my dad's classic soul and Motown, and now I've got a bunch of hip hop and jam bands, so I'm all over the place.  I almost find it more relaxing to listen to music on vinyl.

OW: Oh, much more relaxing and you just have reverence for what you wouldn't otherwise I mean, just to hold it in your hand and put it on and listen to one side of the album, it doesn't get any better than that.

KM: Yeah and no skipping songs. You listen to the whole album. ​

OW: Exactly!

KM: Well, Oliver, thank you so much for the time and I'm looking very much forward to seeing you guys at 9:30 Club and hopefully at a couple festivals coming up this summer when the warmer days return.

OW: Yeah, me too, thanks so much, I enjoyed talking to you. ​

Videos

Videos

Videos


The following videos are provides courtesy of The Wood Brothers's YouTube Channel.

Performance Details

Performance Details

Performance

Details


Thursday, January 17, 2018

Doors: 7:00 PM

Show: 8:00 PM


9:30 Club (https://www.930.com/)

815 V Street NW

Washington, DC 20001 (Google Maps Link)



Friday, January 18, 2018

Doors: 7:00 PM

Show: 8:00 PM





Associated Albums

Associated Albums

Associated Albums


The Wood Brothers <i>One Drop of Truth</i>

Click to Purchase One Drop of Truth by The Wood Brothers

About the author
Karin McLaughlin

Karin McLaughlin

Karin has been a live music junkie all her life, however is a fairly new fan in the world of jam bands and bluegrass. She grew up on hip hop, classic soul, motown and classic rock but has found a new home in the festival world and that is what, in part, had brought her to DC Music Review. Karin produces and hosts a weekly radio show in the area called Karin's Calendar, where she talks all about 'Where to be in the DMV'. She is very excited to be starting down a semi-new road with us and hopes to use her interview skills and write ups of shows to contribute even more to DC Music Review.


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