The Wood Brothers on Paradise, Desire and Live Performance

Music Features The Wood Brothers
The Wood Brothers on Paradise, Desire and Live Performance

Chris and Oliver Wood have been at it since they were kids, but didn’t finally link up to form the band we know them as now until 2004. Since then, they’ve maintained a consistent output of one critically acclaimed roots record after another. Their newest, 2015’s Paradise, was recorded in Dan Auerbach’s Easy Eye Studio and runs as a thematic piece, which we got to learn all about.

Paste: The cover art is great. The donkey with a dangling carrot. Is there a story behind using that old adage?
Oliver Wood: When we compiled all of these songs and looked back, we realized that there was such a theme of longing and of desire. That image really popped out at us.
Chris Wood: We liked the irony of the image with the record title, Paradise. The carrot representing that thing that is always out there that we want and we never quite get to, but think if we had that then everything would be great. But of course life doesn’t really work that way.

Paste: That theme is definitely noticed in a song like “American Heartache.”
Chris: Desire is a big theme in this record, what we think is salvation and what we think we need. What we think we want.

Paste: That dangling carrot, is that still in your career? I know everyone strives to make the best music they can, but are there still those aspirations and goals that are like “if we could get to right there…”?
Oliver: Certain days, if you look at social media, everyone’s like, “We’re doing amazing!” and “This guy’s a huge star!” so there’s probably moments where we’re like “Geez, we need to step it up here.” I think if you get caught up in it, it can feel that way. But other days it just feels like we’re doing what we love. We’re grateful.
Chris: Anything you want really bad, when you get it, you find something else to want really bad. So that’s the carrot. It’s always out there. It’s like a rainbow. You never get to it. It just keeps getting farther away.

Paste: Most of social media is smoke and mirrors anyway. A big thing happens and as soon as it’s happened, it’s gone.
Oliver: Absolutely.

Paste: I think you all are doing fine.
Oliver: We’re doing what we’re doing. After a while, you accept where you are, hopefully.

Paste: You say it like it’s a bad ting.
Oliver: Not at all. That’s the thing about desire that’s interesting to me. It usually gets a bad rap. You associate it with negative connotations. But if you kind of meditate on it, it helps me get out of bed in the morning, helps me do good things, helps me do good deeds. I desire to be happy and be in love. Things that hopefully create good stuff for other people, too. It’s not just selfish things.

Paste: I’m a fan of the idea of obsession.
Oliver: That’s holding on to the desire though. It’ll keep changing like everything else, but you can’t get rid of it though. Maybe we just have to accept it’s just something that humans do. We desire stuff. It’s ok.

Paste: That’s the artistic side of it, that you can’t get rid of it. I know with most artists, it’s not even a question of “what do I do today?” “This is what I do whether you want me to or not. I have to write a song. I have to make music. I have to do it.” Those aren’t even the words that go through your head, it’s just what happens.
Chris: Sure.

Paste: The album kicking off with “Singing To Strangers” makes me realize just how bizarre this job is. Like, this is what you do; you get up every night. “I don’t know any of you. Let me entertain you.” What goes into that? Seasoned veterans as you are, how long did it take you to find the tricks to that?
Oliver: So funny, we say that all the time, “What a weird job. Why are we hanging these pieces of wood around our neck and hanging around people we don’t know and making noises?”

Paste: Do you remember the training wheels to becoming an entertainer?
Oliver: Like when did we decide to become nightclub entertainers?
Chris: As opposed to artists.

Paste: Ha! I think you’re born an artist, that’s the obsession, but when you get on a stage and you’re singing to strangers, there has to be a point of—and you all are known for being a great live show…
Chris: I don’t know. I think it is very weird and the only explanation is that it’s necessary. Why? Who knows, but it is. And obviously music is necessary to people, and I think the song states that. Yeah, it’s fun singing alone in your room, but you don’t get that real feeling of connecting to people until you’re out there doing it in front of people.
Oliver: The entertainment side is one thing, with the actual interaction with all of these people at once, it’s a lot of energy in one room. It’s pretty awesome.

Paste: Paradise is self-produced for your first time. Roots music has such a big history. To keep it interesting, because it’s so easy with acoustic instruments to pull off the same sound over and over, you all have been able to get past that each time. What kind of process do you have to go through to say, “This record has to be different from the last record, and this is how we’ll do it.” Is it that thought out?
Chris: In some ways, yeah. Creatively, the actual songwriting process has a life of its own, but when deciding as a producer how we want a record to sound, yeah, we made some conscious decisions like that. Our previous record, The Muse, was done in a big reverberant room that we mixed so that you could hear it. We wanted to make sure people heard the big beautiful room that we were in. It had this church-like intimacy to it, sonically. This record, we said “let’s do something different. We’re going to go into Dan Auerbach’s studio.” He built a studio in Nashville that’s very much like the famous Sun Studios in Memphis. It’s dry. Everything feels closer and in your face and compressed and has a very different character sonically than the other record. As we started writing the songs, we realized that this place is going to work with the music.

Paste: So that decision comes after the songwriting?
Chris: Yeah, you have to follow the music, and who knows where that comes from? So you just follow what’s happening and what’s being creative. And since we all did produce it and wrote it together, there was just a lot of working with what was happening and throwing in suggestions. It was very collaborative.
Jano Rix: We definitely were conscious of doing something that we were going to approach different, but that happens on its own if you follow the muse. You do your own thing, but then you get inspiration from other things.
Oliver: And you avoid things because you’ve done it.

Paste: Do you ever lose a really good song because it sounded like something you’ve done before?
Chris: You just change it.
Oliver: Deconstruct and start again.
Chris: We had one song on this record that was really similar to another song, musically, not lyrical content or the melody. That’s easy. It’s our music, and we get to do whatever we want with it. So we completely rearranged it, deconstruct it, reconstruct it. It’s fun.

Check out The Wood Brothers’ “Stealin’” from their 2012 Daytrotter session in the player below.

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