The Wood Brothers: Finding ‘Paradise’

By Kelli Raulerson Interview by Matt Branniff

November 8, 2015

Listening to the Wood Brothers fifth studio album, it feels as though you’re following a well worn roadmap to the title’s suggested destination – Paradise. After a decade together, singer-guitarist Oliver Wood and bassist Chris Wood, along with percussionist-singer Jano Rix have logged enough miles to know a thing or two about the road. Their latest album proves that sometimes it’s best to let the journey define the destination.

Paradise is an expertly crafted album rooted in some of life’s weightiest topics – longing, salvation, heartache, love, purpose – among others. It’s hard to believe it was also full of so many firsts for the Wood Brothers. With Oliver recently relocating to Nashville, it was the first time they had the opportunity to record an album in the city where all three reside. Proximity also allowed the brothers to write and record face-to-face for the first time in Dan Auerbach’s Easy Eye Studio with Chris recording on an electric bass – both firsts as well.

We had an opportunity to chat with Oliver Wood ahead of their show at McGlohon Theatre on Saturday, November 14.

Wood Brothers photo by Alysse Gafkjen (132)
Chris Wood (Left), Oliver Wood (Middle), Jano Rix (Right) Photo by Alysse Gafkjen

CLTure: Paradise gave you guys the chance to collaborate equally – writing and recording all together in Nashville. You also entered into recording on this album without a label or a producer. How was this different than your past experiences? Did it change your approach?

Oliver Wood: It was a real luxury for us– we were sort of free agents. The label that we were on sort of dissolved, and it was kind of a good time for us to not have a label. Without a label, our budget was a bit smaller so we decided not to use a producer. Plus, we’ve been making records for years and really wanted to try to produce ourselves. It was really challenging– we thought maybe we bit off more than we can chew because it was stressful not having an outside party helping you with decisions. When you are really close to the stuff you’re doing it’s hard to have the right perspective and that’s where a producer is your saving grace. We didn’t have that, but we worked on it and worked on it, and in the end we felt that we did the best we could. We’re proud of it.

CLTure: This was also on your own label – correct? How has that been different for this album?

Oliver: Since we made our record with our own money that led to us starting our own label: Honey Jar Records. We also joined this label organization called Thirty Tigers. They help out with the things that bigger labels offer without giving up your masters because you own your own material now. People like Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson, they’re also going the kind of indie route. It feels good not to be a part of a big corporate thing for a change. The way people consume music now is so different, you don’t necessary need a big label, you just need some resources, which still cost money, but the internet has definitely changed everything.

CLTure: During the recording process was it easy to find common ground between the three of you, or did you ever hit any roadblocks given that you all come from various musical backgrounds?

Oliver: The influences are not as different as you may think, especially since most people think of Chris having been in Medeski, Martin & Wood and doing this more improvised jazz stuff. But when it comes down to it we are all influenced by the same roots music. You can follow our influences back to the delta blues, Chicago blues, gospel, country and jazz. My brother Chris certainly picked up a lot of world music when he played with Medeski, Martin & Wood. He could come in with some African influences or something more subtle that he learned from a blues record that I have never heard. Our drummer Jano is such a great multi-instrumentalist, he always has cool ideas that just come off of the top of his head– it’s very inspiring. The cool part about bringing different backgrounds and personalities together is that you get something new and unique. Anything that we bring together is our own sort of recipe and that’s what makes it special.

Wood Brothers photo by Alysse Gafkjen (101)
Chris Wood (Left), Jano Rix (Middle), Oliver Wood (Right) Photo by Alysse Gafkjen

CLTure: Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks appear on the track Never and Always. What was it like collaborating with them on the song?

Oliver: It was just awesome. We didn’t think of them until we got done recording the basics. We’ve known them forever; I’ve known Derek since he was 13 or something. We have played a lot of shows and festivals with them and opened tours for them– we just love them. They‘re awesome people, and of course amazing musicians, so we were excited to have them do it. It was incredible to see Derek do a few guitar solos, and of course, every single one of them was amazing– he doesn’t have a bad one in him.

CLTure: How has having everyone living in Nashville benefited the Wood Brothers?

Oliver: This is the first year that the whole band has lived in the same place. Our drummer Jano already lived here in Nashville, and I moved from Atlanta, and Chris from New York. For us to all be living in the city made it feel a lot different to collaborate because we didn’t have to collaborate through email or rehearse backstage before a show. It has given us more options; we can rehearse more songs and put on a better show. We have a light person and can actually see what we are doing before we get out there. It’s nice to be more prepared, so we can be a little looser and not be thinking so much about how we are going to do things.

CLTure: As a musician you play a wide range of gigs from local bars to major festivals with audiences that range from being very interested in the music to only interested in their conversations. How do you keep a positive mindset and stay focused on moving forward over a career full of highs and lows?

Oliver: That’s a good question. I think it is just like everything else where you have bad days, easy days and hard days. It’s a great metaphor for how your life is, you know what I mean? Somehow they all fit together to be the just the right path for you. Incidentally that happens at all levels– even bands that are playing arenas probably feel the same way about it. There are just going to be some days that people aren’t paying attention because they are partying or whatever. All of it is just part of the system and part of learning how to balance each day. I really love going back home to Atlanta and playing bar gigs with buddies once a year and having reunions. I cherish it. When I look back to those bar hall days, that’s when I learned how to play. You have to put in 10,000 hours of practice and gigs. You got to do it somewhere. You gotta suck for a while before you play those nice places all of the time. And even when you get really good and nobody is paying attention, you play because you love it. You don’t just play because you want people to pay attention. You forget that sometimes. But in the end, it’s an awesome privilege to be able to play music.

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