In the first of our series of exclusive ZYNE interviews, we caught up with one of our 2014 festival headliners WOODS…
Creative control is something that the vast majority of bands come into tangles with over the course of their careers; that battle between maintaining artistic integrity and what the label who funds you wants. For Brooklyn psych-folk trio WOODS such a problem has never arisen, in part due to the fact that they’ve released all their material to date via their songwriter Jeremy Earl’s record label Woodsist. Having worked the DIY ethic since their beginning, WOODS are intent on doing everything themselves from the ground up, and it’s worked pretty well so far.
Rising from a New York scene that was, at the time, saturated with indie bands in the wake of The Strokes and the garage rock revival of the early 2000s, WOODS have steadily kept a presence that has generally been under the radar; never quite breaking into mainstream popularity but keeping up a consistent and regular musical output. Their latest effort ‘With Light And With Love’ is their eighth album since they formed in 2005, and is a neat progression from 2012’s sumptuous ‘Bend Beyond’. ‘With Light And With Love’ is a vast sonic tapestry comprised of swirling psychedelic jams and rough-hewn Americana, with the odd pop sensibility thrown in for good measure. It’s pure WOODS, in an effortless way that will have you purring with admiration if you’re a fan, and turning their contemporaries green with envy.
Having charmed us with their new efforts, we caught up with the band’s multi-instrumentalist Jarvis Taveniere for a chat on the phone; first up we were keen to know what was happening in Brooklyn right now. “Well, I just came from yoga and now I’m drinking coffee,” Jarvis breathlessly tells us, as he catches up on a period of respite in a busy touring schedule. “I go through phases; we’ll be on tour for months and I’ll be the biggest slob in the world and then I’ll come back home and I’ll try and cram in the healthy lifestyle as much as possible.” With eight albums released in nine years, work seems to be a constant state for WOODS, but they always manage to make their craft feel as natural as possible. Jarvis confirms that the studio recording process for ‘With Light And With Love’ was a natural progression of this. “The latest record we did mostly in a studio that I’d been working at, so we just spent a lot of time there and we just had a really good flow going.”
Years and years of work and experience goes in to the formation of an album, just as much as some of the more immediate influences. “A couple of things that came up were Gene Clark, expert soul records, the first Stooges record and maybe some Tom Petty,” Jarvis tells us, “but I think those really only came up as sonic references.” So what of the whole WOODS world, one that ‘With Light And With Love’ is a crystallised version of: where did it all start?
Tell me about when you guys were starting out, was it hard to get yourselves noticed in the Brooklyn scene?
Me and Jeremy had been in bands before and when the band started it was kinda hard to get ourselves out there, plus I didn’t really like a lot of the music that was going on at the time. Jeremy started WOODS two years before I got involved, but at that time a big motivation was just kind of “fuck everything”. It was like a New York rat race for indie bands at the time and we just decided to make records that we liked and thought were cool. As long as we think it’s cool, we’re gonna put out a record every two months if we feel like it. Considering we were just writing and recording in our living room we did a lot better than I thought. I didn’t really have any expectations so sort of everything was a nice surprise.
Did you ever think you’d still be doing it all these years later and still being so successful?
We don’t really think that far in advance. I know deep down that we’d all be playing music, but after each record and tour you always sort of think “Oh, maybe that was it”, but then there’s always something that gets me excited about working again or something that I haven’t done or a problem to fix, which is fun to me. Looking at a record and saying “Oh, I wish we’d done that!” and then deciding to do it next year, that’s what keeps me going.
The new album’s great, your sound has sort of metamorphosed over the past couple of albums; where did the inspiration for ‘With Light And With Love’ come from?
I guess the approach to it sort of came from our live show, a big chunk of it anyway. When we made the last record we spent a little more time on it than previous records and toured on it a little more. The energy of the live show and playing and feeding off each other is something I wanted to capture in the studio.
On ‘Bend Beyond’ you’d sort of stripped back your sound from the early days, but on ‘With Light And With Love’ there’s some tracks that are quite free-form and jammed-out; was that an intentional hark back to your older material?
I guess it’s just whatever we write that inspires us for the record. Sometimes there is an effort to have a variety of material but sometimes it’s just songs. With this one, the longer free-form stuff kind of came from playing live. I felt we got really good at the free-form stuff and really locked in together as a band. We all wanted to go a little deeper into that as we didn’t get much of that on the last record.
Would you say it’s almost like a live album cut in the studio?
I think a big chunk of it [is], more so than anything else. Usually, the point of the band is just to record and document things as they were happening but we did it so much that we just sort of got bored with that approach, but there are still some songs that we do that way.
You’ve been going for quite a while now. How have things changed for you as a band over the years?
We’ve just kind of got better at everything, I think. We do so much ourselves, we do all the recording and Jeremy runs the record label. It feels like we’re just bigger, like there’s more now.
Tell me about your label Woodsist as well, in addition to your stuff it seems to be doing really well – you have Moon Duo, Kurt Vile and a bunch of quite high profile acts on there.
Yeah, Jeremy’s been doing it for quite a while, I think around the time we started WOODS. He does a great job, keeping the label small enough where every release is really cared for and thoughtful.
Do you think that small labels that nurture artists are more important these days than bigger ones that have all the money but don’t really care?
Yeah, I think that right now I know different labels at every level; I know big labels that suck and big ones that care, but also small ones that suck. It really just depends on the situation and the people, it’s a crapshoot, y’know? But I also have friends on big labels that have done really well, I guess it just depends on whatever works for you.
There’s a lot more instrumentation going on in the new record (singing saw, piano etc.); did you find it difficult to capture the sound you wanted or are you confident with your abilities by now?
I think I’m pretty confident; we had a good engineer helping us out so I could just be more of a band member, but we’re pretty loose. I guess we finally went to a studio because we didn’t feel intimidated and we knew we’d be comfortable there, so we did the same approach but just with better equipment. For instance, we have a friend who plays violin so we’d just hang out for an hour, shoot the shit, then pull up a microphone and record.
What’s on your record player at the moment?
That’s a great question: I’ve been listening to Pink Floyd’s ‘More’ soundtrack which is great. We just did a cover of ‘Green Is The Colour’ on a radio station here in New York yesterday that’ll hopefully surface pretty soon. Also the Mighty Diamond’s ‘Right Time’, those are the two that I’ve sort of been flipping back and forth between the past couple of days. I do like Pink Floyd, though. I’m a huge fan of all that old psychedelic stuff.
What do you think is the significance of psychedelic music in the modern world? Why does it seem to be one of those ageless genres that never disappears?
I don’t know, I just love it. I love the sound of the records and I feel like it’s something that’ll never die. That said, it’s the same with grunge. Sometimes I keep seeing revivalism like, “Oh, psychedelic music’s back!” and it’ll be gone and it’ll be back again and it’s like a never-ending cycle. I’ll always come back to them, though. I guess it’s just a different way of looking at things. I find Leonard Cohen to be psychedelic when you listen hard enough and focus in on his fingerpicking and voice. That, to me is psychedelic, it doesn’t have to be some effects pedal. I guess it goes back to high school, taking drugs and flipping the world. Once you just see things flipped a little bit it opens your perspective.
There’s a whole six months to wait before seeing WOODS bring all this to life at Psych Fest, but they won’t be idle between now and then. Jarvis and the rest of the WOODS touring party have a pretty busy few months ahead of them. “We’re gonna tour a whole lot. That’s kinda what we’re up against, getting in the van. Beyond that, I’m excited to record some more music but I don’t really feel like rushing into it. There’s definitely some territory we’ve moved into with this album as it was our first real studio experience, of taking something apart and putting it back together and I’m excited to explore that territory some more. It’s the unknown for us.”