For more than a decade, The Wood Brothers have been a mainstay of the folk scene, releasing five studio albums, including their critically acclaimed 2013 full-length, “The Muse,” between their national touring schedule. However, until recently, upright bassist Chris Wood, brother Oliver Wood, who alternates between acoustic and electric guitar, and multi-instrumentalist Jano Rix, have written their heart-twanging tunes with 885 miles between them.
The musicians are currently on the road promoting their sixth full-length, “Paradise,” which hit stores in October 2015 and finally finds them writing as a single unit. The Jackson Free Press caught up with Chris on the phone before their performance at Duling Hall tonight, April 6, to discuss The Wood Brothers’ new status quo and finding themselves in “Paradise.”
How did your approach on “Paradise” differ from your previous releases?
“Paradise” is the first album that we wrote and recorded while actually living in the same city, which is something that, for most of The Wood Brothers’ career so far, has not been the case. I moved to Nashville almost three years ago now, my brother moved before that, and Jano Rix was already living there for a few years. So we kind of all met in Nashville, but for many years, we were collaborating and writing, doing all the creative work, long distance or whenever we could on the road. So that made a big difference on this record. We wrote everything from the ground up together, in a room together, so it’s more collaborative in that sense.
What did that change look like as you worked on the new songs?
Oftentimes in the past, Oliver and I would work on ideas separately, come together and kind of work with what we’d already worked on individually. We slapped ideas together, experimented and then came up with some interesting things that way. This way, we actually sat in a room together while hashing out lyrics and music.
How do you go about writing music that can balance being original yet still rooted stylistically?
We have pretty diverse musical influences among the three of us. I kind of moved to Nashville from New York and was part of this group, Medeski, Martin and Wood, for many years, so I, for many years, had nothing to do with the songwriting scene. I was in instrumental bands. But our mother was a poet, and I always liked writing and just hadn’t spent a lot of time combining the two (instrumentation and writing). I would always feel when I saw some singer-songwriters that, although they may have written a very good song and have good imagery and good lyrics, there could have been more interesting things they could have done with the actual music part of it.
Jano was also such a multi-talented individual, and Oliver and I have many of the same influences, but we just spent time in different musical scenes. But as a result, I think we’re always not only searching for great, simple forms and messages to get across in the song, but also sonically and rhythmically, we make it our own and make it interesting.
What does it mean to you that “Paradise” reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Heatseekers chart?
I have no idea what that means. To be perfectly honest, I have no idea! I’m just so thrilled that we can do this, and people show up and appreciate the music. I think the things that are the most tangible, that mean the most to us, are when people approach us and say, “Thank you for the music because it got me through some hard times.” Or if it just somehow helped them in their lives. That’s something that we can, you know, not hold but hold on to that means something. But I don’t know, it is great! I hope it means we can just pay our bills.
What knowledge did you gain from your last albums that you brought into recording “Paradise”?
When you start the process of making something new, I think you have a clear idea of what you don’t want to do, usually based on what you’ve done in the past. But actually, the direction often develops organically. In this case, as we were writing new songs, we started to recognize a theme that tied all the songs together. There seemed to be a theme of desire, longing, and what to do with that feeling—songs that sort of talk about that, question that and try to figure it out. ... It’s that thing of, “What’s out there that we think is paradise, and is it really our salvation? Is it really what we want, or is it something else?”
Did you set out to write the other Wood Brothers’ albums with a theme in mind, or did they develop organically, as well?
It somehow happens by itself. We do it without knowing it until, at certain point, enough material has materialized, and we start to recognize that there is a theme there. I don’t know why it happens, but it seems to develop in a pattern. I think if you go back to our “Loaded” record, it was much more clear because while we were writing that record, our mom was dying from Lou Gehrig's disease, so it was very obvious that a lot of the songs were (about) that painful experience we were having. But the later records, we found that still was happening just because where we are in our lives, sharing our lives together, touring and creating. I think it happens all the time, whether it’s an experience as intense as that, where it’s life changing, or it’s just regular life.
The Wood Brothers perform at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, April 6, at Duling Hall (622 Duling Ave.). Smokey & the Mirror also perform. Tickets are $25 at the door or $20 in advance at ardenland.net. For more information, visit thewoodbros.com.