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Chosen One: Wooden Wand

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Interview with James Jackson Toth.

“Ask anyone who writes songs — other things get sacrificed on the altar of the song. It isn’t martyrdom, though — it is, like the song says, “a kind of coma (but also), a kind of crown”.”

—James Toth

Words: Mark Carry, Photographs: Loney John Hutchins/Kyle Hamlett

woodenwand_Kyle Hamlett_Battle Tapes studio in Nashville

‘Farmer’s Corner’ is the title of the latest record by the song-writing luminary, James Jackson Toth AKA Wooden Wand. The American songsmith has been responsible for a plethora of truly transcendent works under various guises this past decade, encompassing psych folk, roots/country and blues. The recent releases of Wooden Wand — including the formidable ‘Blood Oaths Of The New Blues’ and this year’s ‘Farmer’s Corner’ — marks a career peak in Toth’s empowering songs of redemption.

A marked positivity abounds the scintillating nine sonic creations that comprises Toth’s latest masterpiece. ‘Sinking Feelings’ is a gorgeous country gem that conveys the uplifting spirit of Wooden Wand’s rich canvas. The clean guitar tones are reminiscent of the pristine sound of Buddy Holly, while the harmonica-led passages conjures up the sound of new beginnings and endless possibilities. The opening lyrics resonate powerfully as Toth sings “You gotta make a pact with the earthly body / Make a trade and take a stand.” The fresh country sound could belong to any array of timeless gems such as ‘Harvest Moon’ era Neil Young or Dylan’s ‘John Wesley Harding’. The chorus refrain of “Don’t let those sinking feelings draw you in” offers ceaseless solace, sung beneath a delicate guitar-led melody. One of the album’s lyrical highlights arrive at a later verse: “In every looking glass there’s a crack / Where the looking glass looks back.” As ever, the narrator’s poetic prose and imaginative wordplay leaves you mystified.

Another tower of song is ‘Dambuilding’ which could perhaps be seen as the album’s centerpiece. A cinematic feel permeates the head-space of eerie banjo notes, soaring pedal steel and warm percussion. A bleak atmosphere is effortlessly created as the central protagonist lets go of his past and sets foot on a new frontier, wherein a new day is dawning: “Trying not to worry / I told myself I’d better hurry / And buried everything I could stand to lose.” Half-way through, a beautiful interlude of guitars (rhythmic pulses of banjo notes are interwoven with a ripple-flow of pedal steel) rise to the forefront of the mix. The song becomes a representation of the songwriter’s mind, an insight into the creation of art, in which a lovely parallel exists between Toth’s masterful songcraft (and the song-writing process of collecting ideas and inspiration) and the process of dam building: “There was no time to be nervous / As I kicked up the dark with purpose / Soon the water rushed through my knees and over me.” The music flows effortlessly into your consciousness, like the water-flow that fills the vast plains of land.

‘Farmer Corner’s cycle of intimate songs were recorded along the singer-songwriter’s travels. The new songs were recorded as he wrote them, resulting in a liberating and spontaneous process. The sessions for ‘Farmer’s Corner’ involved over six sessions in four studios, spanning three states, and the dutiful task of amassing the tracks would begin. Remarkably, the latest Wooden Wand album marks the first self-produced Wooden Wand album, having producers at the helm for the previous outings. The majority of the tracks were aided by the supreme talents of electric bassist Darin Gray (On Filmore, Jim O’ Rourke) and guitarists William Tyler and Doc Feldman. In addition, Toth also called on friends in St Louis, Nashville, and his current home in Lexington, Kentucky. As ever, a wonderful sense of musicianship is etched across the album’s sprawling canvas, as the seamless layers of immaculate instrumentation forms the ideal backdrop for Toth’s engaging and illuminating song-craft.

The opening lyrics of the dazzling epic cut ‘Port Of Call’ perhaps best explains the sonic trajectory of Wooden Wand: “We do not decorate / We like an empty space / We like to fill an empty space.” The hypnotic bassline and Keith Richards-esque guitar wizardry (think ‘Let It Bleed’) on display is filled with endless stellar moments (particularly, the divine funk of bass towards the song’s close). ‘Gone To Stay’ is a more sparse blues track that brings ‘Farmer’s Corner’ to a fitting close. A gospel feel radiates brightly throughout. Elsewhere, ‘When The Trail Goes Cold’ is a divine slice of Americana that echoes the spirit of Howe Gelb’s Giant Sand (a distant companion to the similarly cathartic ‘Corridor’). ‘Adie’ is a stomping 70’s rock opus with an infectious groove and killer riff. The expansive sonic terrain covered throughout ‘Farmer’s Corner’ is a joy to witness. ‘Home Horizon’ is an achingly beautiful ballad that feels close to Toth’s previous song-writing master-class of ‘Blood Oaths of the New Blues’. To echo Swans frontman, Michael Gira, the narrative of Toth’s timeless song-craft “leaves you mystified, both smiling and sad.”

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‘Farmer’s Corner’ is available now on Fire Records.

http://www.woodenwand.org/
http://www.firerecords.com/

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Interview with James Jackson Toth.

Congratulations, James, on the latest Wooden Wand masterpiece, ‘Farmer’s Corner’. It’s a pleasure to ask you some questions about this latest record. I love how that spark of spontaneity is clearly evident that illuminates throughout the album’s nine songs. Can you please discuss the latest album and the narrative that lies at the heart of ‘Farmer’s Corner’?

James Toth: Thank you, Mark — I’m really glad you like it. Narratives usually only become obvious to me after the album is finished, and this time, I noticed that Farmer’s Corner is a relatively “affirming” record. There are some pretty positive songs here – Sinking Feelings, Home + Horizon, Port Of Call, Gone To Stay, etc. If there is a theme, it’s that.

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What is remarkable about ‘Farmer’s Corner’ is that it’s the first self-produced Wooden Wand album. I would love to gain an insight into this aspect of the music-making process. What was the experience like? How did you find it shaped the final sound and feel to the record?

JT: I didn’t really understand that I was producing the album until halfway through. Excepting home recorded things, every album I’ve ever made in the studio was made with a producer of some kind. I like having a producer, and I like the idea of collaborating with someone whose work I respect who will leave their fingerprints on the record somehow, but this time, I decided I didn’t need that input. I just started recording the songs as they were written, more or less, to capture the excitement of them before they started feeling over-rehearsed and stale. To do this, I had to strike while the iron was hot, so to speak. There are obviously things on this record that many producers would not have been OK with, like the ‘cocaine country’ phaser on my acoustic guitar. I didn’t want to have to defend those decisions or answer to anyone when it came to that sorta stuff.

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The last time we spoke, you described [previous Wooden Wand album] ‘Blood Oaths Of The New Blues’ as a truly collaborative process where you were simply a member of the band. I feel this is still the case on the new record where I feel each band member contributing a big part to the record’s sound. Do you feel ‘Farmer’s Corner’ is another collaborative album, James?

JT: Less so. That is not to diminish the extraordinary contributions of everyone involved — especially Darin Gray, who really should have gotten a co-producer credit on more than half of these songs — but because I was assembling people almost as an experiment (some of these people were meeting for the very first time in the studio, just hours before we tracked a song), and more or less conducting. But everyone’s individual parts were mostly their own, save for the sort of ‘riffs’ and harmonies and certain parts I had written and included on the demos. But overall, less band input than with the Alabama contingent — with those guys, there’s no ‘pulling rank’ or having ‘final say’ — after the songs are written, decisions about where they go are made more or less by committee. Luckily, we almost always agree. This time, I sorta felt like the captain.

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As always, you are joined by a wonderful ensemble of musicians — I think of The Band such is the peerless musicianship on display — with the guitar prowess of William Tyler, Doc Feldman, collaborator Darin Gray and bassist Darin Gray. Can you please recount for me these recording sessions? It must be a fulfilling and rewarding experience to have such a wonderful ensemble backing your penned songs? The music just flows out from each member.

JT: I will defer that compliment to the band, but thank you, and I agree. There were four sessions and each one was pretty magical in its own way. I will say the Lexington session that produced five of the album’s nine songs — with engineer Jason Groves — was especially positive. Everything just seemed to work.

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How much of a challenge was it to record in four separate studios (spanning three states) during the making of ‘Farmer’s Corner’? I feel that it must have been a liberating process to venture down new roads here, both in terms of geographical (new locations) but also the process of writing and recording the new songs during the same space in time? This aspect definitely resonates on the album’s tracks. I’d like to think of it like Dylan’s ‘John Wesley Harding’ album; it occupies a special moment in time.

JT: There were pros and cons to doing the album this way. Again, it wasn’t really intended to be, like, a ‘road album’ or anything, and to be perfectly honest, my preference is still to sort of hunker down and record in the same place — to inhabit the record with no distractions. I like it when the day ends and no one has to pack up any gear you can just leave everything where it is to resume the next day. I think the ‘roving’ style worked really well for Farmer’s Corner, but I think the next album will be different. We’ll see!

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‘Dambuilding’ is one of the album’s stunning highlights. It’s such a tour-de-force. I love the dreamy, searching feel that permeates throughout. The banjo part adds to the sense of mystery. I would love for you to discuss this song, your memories of writing and recording it please? Your vocal delivery is sublime. Was this the first take?

JT: It was a first take, and a live vocal. Funny thing about that one was that we lost the master recording — some error between the tape and the digital — so I thought that was gonna be our “Second Arrangement” or something (if you know the Steely Dan story). But everyone liked that song so much, we just mastered from the rough mix we had, which was a high quality mp3. Maybe that’s supposed to be a secret. Ooops.

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‘Home Horizon’ is another vintage Wooden Wand song that could be found on ‘Blood Oaths’, perhaps a sister-song to ‘Outsider Blues’. I love the bassline and pedal steel lines. Can you please discuss the narrative to ‘Home Horizon’, James?

JT: I hadn’t made the connection with Outsider Blues, but that’s very astute of you, Mark! I can sorta imagine that the narrator of Home + Horizon is on his way home from playing the Outsider Blues festival or something. Dave Anderson played the great steel part on that, and Darin played bass. The idea behind the song is similar to that of Gone To Stay: the idea that bad feelings, bad memories, embarrassing situations, etc. are fleeting. Like I said, it’s a pretty positive record.

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How has your writing process changed, looking back over your rich body of work? I wonder are there certain rituals or habits you find integral to the writing process?

JT: Not really. The way I write has very little to do with intention, so I mostly do it the way I’ve always done it, by paying attention to things, sometimes at the expense of other things. Lately I’ve been wondering if I’ve missed out on a lot of other things in life in my search for great titles, great first lines, etc. Ask anyone who writes songs — other things get sacrificed on the altar of the song. It isn’t martyrdom, though — it is, like the song says, “a kind of coma (but also), a kind of crown.” People who don’t write tend to think of writers as very observant people, and this is true to an extent, but we also tend to be extremely selective about what we observe. Everything extraneous can come to feel like minutiae. A good example would be if you and your friend are walking on the street and you meet someone you both know and talk for a few minutes. Afterward, your friend says “That was weird that Bill had a giant monkey on his shoulder.” And you say “What monkey? I didn’t see any monkey. Can you believe he used the phrase ‘Jerusalem Syndrome?’”

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Please take me back to the recording session of ‘Sinking Feelings’. It’s such a gorgeous country gem. The harmonica and rhythm bring me back to ‘Harvest Moon’ era Neil Young and the beautiful guitar lines conjures up the timeless sound of Buddy Holly. As always your lyrics are sheer poetry (“Old friends come bearing the past / But impressions never last” is one example) that stay with you long after the notes have faded into the night.

JT: Harvest Moon was something I was thinking a lot about when the first few songs for this album were being written. It is not a record I listen to a lot, but that’s just because I’ve listened to it enough for one lifetime and can conjure it in my head whenever I need to hear it. But the first few songs I wrote for this one seemed sorta wistful, and I decided to go with that. But when Darin and William and Doc came in, everything got this sorta groove, which sorta countered the Harvest Moon vibes in a really good way. I think William will be really psyched you compared him to Buddy Holly.

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What were the records you were listening to the most during the making of ‘Farmer’s Corner’? Any current reading recommendations?

JT: I rarely listen to any music that sounds anything like Wooden Wand — that is, lyric-driven songwriter music. This is not because I don’t think there are some extraordinary writers making this kind of music, because I do, but I have to be really careful to not become influenced by, say, Bob Dylan, any more than I already am. So, these days, I restrict myself. The music I listen to for enjoyment nowadays has more to do with performances than compositions. So I will listen to “Nick Of Time” by Bonnie Raitt twenty times in a row. I will do the same with “When U Were Mine” by Prince, or “Cycles” by Sinatra, or “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue” by Crystal Gale, and pay very close attention to the phrasing, the choices the singer makes, things like that. I try to figure out why listening to Darryl Hall sing “North Star” feels like a drug high no matter how many times I hear it. What is that ineffable quality that affects me? And how can I cultivate that? I guess what I’m saying is I’ve been paying attention to singers, not lyricists.

I’m always reading five or six books at a time, which gets sorta confusing and makes for weird dreams. Best book I read recently was ‘The Soundscape’ by R Murray Schafer, which I guess is a pretty well-known sound studies book, but I just got around to reading it; some real poetry in there. My wife and I were reading some of the later Beckett things together, which somehow led to a brief Harold Pinter kick. Before bed I’ve been switching between ‘Soweto Blues’ by Gwen Ansell and ‘Hot Burritos: The True Story of the Flying Burrito Brothers’, by John Einarson and Chris Hillman; 60 pages in, Hillman seems pretty bitter. Lastly, a friend sent me a great collection of Jim Carroll’s poetry, so I’ve been reconnecting with him — I liked him a lot in high school and I guess I still like him as an adult.

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‘Farmer’s Corner’ is available now on Fire Records.

http://www.woodenwand.org/
http://www.firerecords.com/

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woodenwand_by Loney John Hutchins_3

Wooden Wand Photograph credits:

(i) Battle Tapes studio in Nashville. Photograph by Kyle Hamlett.

(ii) James Jackson Toth, “the teacher’s lounge”. Photograph by Loney John Hutchins.

(iii) Photograph by Loney John Hutchins. “Studio is called “the teacher’s lounge”. We were the last session of an 8 year run there. He’s opening a new studio soon, not sure if it’ll be named the same…”  —Kyle Hamlett

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May 14, 2014 at 10:31 am

Whatever You Love You Are: James Jackson Toth

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Interview with James Jackson Toth, Wooden Wand.

Wooden Wand’s James Jackson Toth reveals his most cherished albums and bands that have influenced his life in music.

Words: James Jackson Toth (with Mark Carry), Illustration: Craig Carry

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Your favourite storytelling record

Currently, Ghosts by Simon Joyner

The first psychedelic record you fell for

Wayne Rogers – Absent Sounds

The soundtrack to your childhood

Probably Rumours or Blizzard of Oz

The ultimate Blues record

Robert Nighthawk – Bricks in My Pillow or Otis Spann Is The Blues

Your favourite Dylan record

Blood On The Tracks

An album you come back to, again and again

Tower Recordings – The Fraternity Of Moonwalkers

The most inspiring record for you to begin a life in music

Neil Young – Decade

A record for travelling to

Henry Flynt – Spindizzy

A late night record for the moonlight hours

Eyvind Kang’s Live Low To The Earth In The Iron Age or Freddie Hubbard’s Red Clay

A record of (true) redemption

3 way tie – Link Wray – s/t, Kris Kristofferson – Closer To The Bone, Don Everly – s/t

Thank you Mark!

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‘Blood Oaths Of The New Blues’ by Wooden Wand is out now on Fire Records. 

http://www.woodenwand.org

http://www.firerecords.com

 

Written by admin

February 19, 2013 at 5:33 pm

Chosen One: Wooden Wand

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Interview with James Jackson Toth, Wooden Wand.

“The songs are the oaths, contemporary life is the blues. And so we pledge to report hopefully with honour, our findings within the void.”

—James Jackson Toth

jamestoth_craigcarry

‘Blood Oaths Of The New Blues’ is the title of the latest Wooden Wand record, recently released on Fire Records. At the heart of Wooden Wand is the prolific, awe-inspiring singer-songwriter, James Jackson Toth. This album holds huge significance; marking a culmination in Toth’s shape-shifting body of work. ‘Blood Oaths Of The New Blues’ is a stunning tour de force in life’s good and evil; hardships and struggle; love and hope; redemption and despair. The album’s eight songs possess the power and antidote therein to fill a void’s vast emptiness and provide illumination and inspiration thereafter.

What is striking about the latest incarnation of Wooden Wand is the stellar musicianship on display. In the words of Toth, about recording ‘Blood Oaths Of The New Blues’: “I was just a member of the band”. A truly collaborative process ensued in the recording studio of Ol Elegante in Homewood, AL. I can imagine the cast of musicians creating their art through sound, akin to The Band and Dylan in the Big Pink House in West Saugherties, New York. Sparks of magic radiates from the studio space and into the slipstream of the human space. The musical telepathy between Toth and his bandmates comes as natural as the air you breathe. One feels the songs effortlessly pouring from Toth, like falling rain or a burning sun.

The Wooden Wand band is: David Hickox, Janet Elizabeth Simpson, Jody Nelson, Brad Davis and Les Nuby. It’s the same cast who appeared prominently on last year’s Wooden Wand record, ‘Briarwood’, which was also recorded in the same Alabama studio. Toth has described ‘Briarwood’ as “Saturday night revelry” whereas ‘Blood Oaths Of The New Blues’ is “Sunday morning’s wake and bake”. I’d like to think of ‘Briarwood’ as ‘The Basement Tapes’, an album of timeless rock ‘n’ roll steeped in the depth of soul. The new record is somewhere near ‘Blood On The Tracks’-adventurous and deeply personal. The songs on ‘Blood Oaths Of The New Blues’ soon become a part of you and its deep impact is something to truly behold.

Album opener ‘No Bed For Beatle Wand/Days This Long’ is a sprawling spiritual opus. The song is wrenched in soul. The atmospheric guitars, organ and drums guide you along a river of drifting emotion. Take the first verse, the first words sung by Toth that immerses you in deep: “Nothing’s for certain but I know a girl who’s perfectly worth waiting for”. The lyrics are words of longing, direct from the heart’s pulsing melodies that share the raw dimensions of Neil Young’s ‘Like A Hurricane’. The music and words alike, are fragile, raw and beautiful. The organ and keys provide a cluster of sparks to allow Toth’s lyrics to swim out to distant shores. A crescendo of brooding guitars rise beneath Toth’s affecting lyrics, “In dreams you can’t dream but when you’re awakened/The vault of the sky opens to you.” This soulful ballad is just that, an awakening. A sense of rejuvenation and cosmic spirit remains alight throughout ‘Blood Oaths Of The New Blues’. An achingly beautiful country folk gem of ‘Days This Long’ fades in, encompassing life’s philosophies and human condition. It’s the expansive feel and quality that exudes such incredible force, where “the river’s wider than a thousand skies.”

‘Outsider Blues’ is one of those songs that make the world’s axis fall on its head. A tower of song. A songwriter’s song. ‘Outsider Blues’ mixes the mundane with the philosophical. The song centres on a couple, two fictional characters, who go on a road trip to the Outsider Blues festival in Toronto. The instrumentation is immaculate and divine. The hand percussion, slow strum of acoustic guitar and magical tones creates the perfect score to Toth’s achingly beautiful ballad. Soon, the immense emotional depth seeps from the songwriter’s world:

“I might have felt like I was saved then
But I know what I feel’s just one version of real
If there’s one thing that cannot be taught
It’s belief”

The song breathes hope and transforms the ordinary to profound meaning. Lyrically I am reminded of the short stories by Raymond Carver, whose spare dramas of loneliness and despair, effortlessly capture the power in the mundane. Similarly, Toth conjures up a world of raw emotion here that hits you like waves crashing in on the shore. I feel the spirit of ‘Desolation Row’ by Bob Dylan. The lyrics are coming in waves to the artist, alone at a typewriter. In the words of Toth: “The world forms the song, I just write them down.” The song closes with the arrival of hope: “After the darkness there is light.”

“It will be you who must answer for your mistakes” is a lyric to a verse on ‘Dungeon Of Irons’ that evokes the landscape of ‘Nebraska’ by Bruce Springsteen and spirit of Johnny Cash. The song deals with the innocent and the guilty; death and life. The guitar line is reminiscent of Link Wray. The electric guitar tones blend gorgeously with the female vocal harmonies and delicate accordion. A torchlight ballad. ‘Supermoon (The Sounding Line)’ is harrowing. The alt. country ballad sees the protagonist seeking to drown himself: “My heart and I decide to drown.” The female backing vocals accompanying Toth’s is akin to Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris. A ballad wrapped in beauty. The sadness in this powerful ballad is overwhelming to me. ‘Supermoon’ is one of the many defining moments scattered throughout this remarkable record. “No one will ever find my sounding line” are the last words uttered, as I feel a lost life slowly fall onto the riverbed.

‘South Colorado Song’ is the life-affirming sound of Neil Young & Crazy Horse. The dark, brooding opus transcends space and time. For me, the musical telepathy between Toth and his Birmingham crew is brimming to life on this take. Interestingly, Toth brought ‘South Colorado Song’ to the band in the form of a folk song. The result is a rock opus drenched in tears of rage. The song is based on real life events of the Dougherty Gang, in a Canyon City wallmart. The chorus of “Life goes by so fast/But it’s the minutes drag on slow/Sometimes nowhere seems the only place to go” exudes a fallen world that is long-lost and forgotten. An underlying current of despair and search of redemption therein is wonderfully embedded in the song’s tapestry:

“If you ever think of me and wonder
Ask yourself where I might be
Keep your eyes fixed on the shadow,
You’ll find me”

Accordion, soft brass, infectious bassline, percussion and mesmerising harmonies, float like forgotten dreams, on the sublime ‘Jhonn Balance’. A torch-lit horizon is now upon us. Toth sings “I may go on just dreaming forever-let it be known” before a refrain of “nobody’s home” serves the song’s close. Album closer ‘No Debts’ is an achingly beautiful sparse lament. Just Toth and his acoustic guitar. The lyrics, as ever, is sheer poetry. I am reminded of the ballads by Steve Earle and Richmond Fontaine. The refrain of “smooth sailing now” reflects for me, Toth’s life in music right now. The album feels like a culmination. Toth’s Wooden Wand are “born new”-let it be known.

“I’m dropping anchor
You drop a pin
Our ship has finally come in
We’ll plant a flag on this ground”

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“Could it be that I was being deceived? Not likely. I don’t think that I had enough imagination to be deceived; had no false hope, either. I’d come from a long ways off and started from a long ways down. But now destiny was about to manifest itself. I felt like it was looking right at me and nobody else.”

Bob Dylan, “Chronicles”

woodenwand_craigcarry

 

James Jackson Toth Interview.

Congratulations James on the new Wooden Wand record, ‘Blood Oaths Of The New Blues’. It’s a stunning tour de force in life’s good and evil; hardships and struggle, love and hope; redemption and despair. The music is country, psych, folk, blues all at once. You must feel very proud of this one.

Thank you! Quite honestly it didn’t feel quite so definitive going in. I love recording – my second favourite thing to do after writing. I went in with the intention to create another limb or organ in my body of work, but I agree it turned out pretty special. Feels like a culmination.

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Please discuss the recording process for ‘Blood Oaths Of The New Blues’, where you retreated back to Alabama?

Well, on Briarwood, the band and I were still getting to know each other. We made a great record, but I feel like with few exceptions, they were following my lead. On Blood Oaths, it truly was collaborative, the result of this particular, singular community of people. I just brought the demos – the band made the album. I was just a member of that band. That hasn’t always been true for WW records.

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I’d love to know about your song-writing, in terms of narrative and song, which forms the song?

The world forms the songs, I just write them down! Without getting too metaphysical, I’m just a transcriber and translator. I hear titles, first lines, and chord progressions, and I’ve resigned myself to the fact that my job on Earth is to communicate them. I don’t know why I have this thing – call it a gift or curse if you like – but the older I get the more I believe it’s a mutation. Maybe a hypersensitivity. It can get in the way of having a real life, which is why there is so much insanity, poverty, early death, etc, in the artistic life, historically speaking. The muse can be crippling. It’s very selfish, possessive.

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Please give me an insight please on the album title? It’s a title that fits the music so perfectly as you listen to each song, each one is a journey, with truly poetic storytelling.

The term ‘blues’ here is symbolic of the feeling, rather than the musical form, though I worship the deities Son House, Skip James, et al – that’s my classical music. But ‘blues’ in the title is about the state of mind of having the blues, and the sacrifices one makes in service of, or in attempts to escape, those blues. The songs are the oaths, contemporary life is the blues. And so we pledge to report, hopefully with honour, our findings within the void.

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I recently had the great pleasure to talk with your friend and colleague, William Tyler. When he explained about making music he said music making for him is closer to Terrence Malick whereas yours is like that of Michael Fassbender! It rings true for your work, considering the amazing ‘Briarwood’ record was released just last year. Discuss please the song-writing process for you and how do you become so prolific, as you have been for the last decade and more?

William is a dear friend and a constant inspiration. We just recorded some more music together actually. The songwriting process isn’t really a process for me at all, but a thing that sorta occurs. I’m prolific only because I need to write nine bad ones to get one good one. I also enjoy writing, so I do it as often as I can.

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My favourite song on the new record is ‘Outsider Blues’. It’s such a beautiful, affecting ballad. I feel the song shares the spirit of Dylan’s ‘Desolation Row’. It exudes that feel and emotion for me. The lyrics are sheer poetry–“I’ve never seen my own heart/We never see our own hearts.” My favourite is “If there is one thing that cannot be taught it’s belief”. The song centres on the Outsider Blues Fest. Can you recount writing this song please? At what moment was the song given its wings?

Thanks! I don’t recall the exact inspiration for or genesis of the song, but I wanted to write a road song without the trappings and cliches common to that particular trope. I invented a festival and put two people on the road to it, mostly to see what would happen. I liked mixing the mundane with the philosophical, because my experience with traveling is something like that. Tedium one minute, existential woe the next. Ha ha ha.

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You mention putting on ‘Sticky Fingers’ by The Rolling Stones on the road to Outsider Blues on the opening verse. Is this a favourite Stones album for you? (Doesn’t ‘Moonlight Mile’ close that album?—what a closer!)

I love Sticky Fingers – but my favorite Stones record is Tattoo You. It’s just…sexy. But I’m glad that first verse resonates with you, because I worried for a bit that the entire first verse is a nerdy in-joke that only record collector types would get. I hope people identify with the humor of that very familiar sort of situation.

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The Crazy Horse-esque ‘Southern Colorado Song’ is breathtaking; where this dark, brooding feel is building wonderfully throughout. “Sometimes nowhere is the only place to go” is a lyric of lyrics. Can you please tell me about the narrative to this song?

It’s based on real life events. I followed pretty closely the news story of the Dougherty Gang here in the States and wanted to write a sort of non-judgmental piece from what I imagined to be their perspective. I took a few liberties (the sprinkler, the Wal Mart shooting, etc) but most of the song is accurate. A part of me identifies with the Doughertys, the part of me that still feels like a teenage metalhead or something – the American outsider, the circumstantial misfit. I tried not to condone or condemn, but get into the headspace of that sort of person. I like to leave the judging to the listener. As for the Crazy Horse stuff, that’s all the band – I brought that song to them as a sort of folk song! I’m happy with how it turned out. It sorta churns.

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The amazing musicianship is so evidently clear on ‘Blood Oaths Of The New Blues’. This same band have been prominent too on ‘Briarwood’. There is this musical telepathy I hear within the songs themselves. Do you feel now more part of a band than ever before, perhaps?

I do, but only in the sense that I know I can rely on these individuals to not only help me realize the vision I have for the songs but also to interpret the songs anew. I enjoy working with different people from time to time so things don’t get stale – also, some people are better suited for certain songs than others. But the Birmingham crew are a band I plan to work with as long as they’ll have me. They’re terrific.

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‘No Debts’ is a beautiful, sparse lament. I am taken to timeless Steve Earle when I listen to this song. “Smooth sailing now” seems to reflect your life in music right now? You have arrived at (yet another) career peak on this new record.

Wow, thanks man. That’s extremely kind. That song is about something quite specific, but because so many people (including the members of the band!) have interpreted those lyrics so many different ways, I think it’s more fun to leave it open and ambiguous. There are a lot of theories, and none of them are ‘wrong.’ I may have intended one meaning when I wrote it, but the subconscious is always at work. I thought it was pretty free of ambiguity – a pretty straightforward love song / fantasy – but maybe there’s more to it than that after all.

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Over your career you have been at the heart of an array of inspiring projects and collaborations, all of which are genre defying. Eclectic I guess is the word. Does the fact you have travelled a lot in the past inspire and filter into your music?

Travelling can be inspiring but I can’t say it’s affected the way I write any more than my voracious appetite for music, or just trying to pay attention to the world around me (which I have to work at). I think it’s important to keep your ears open, keep your antenna up, and remain an open channel. Listen to strange and foreign (to you) music, listen to people – there are songs everywhere. You just gotta catch ’em like butterflies and try to give them a good home.

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Where did your musical education first begin?

My dad was always buying and playing records – and was pretty eclectic. He was way into Sabbath and Ozzy, but he kept up with pop hits, too, so we had Blondie, Pet Shop Boys and Sade records as well. The soundtrack to my childhood is all of these, plus Fleetwood Mac, CSN, Beatles, etc. The usual suspects. My cousin was also in a pretty popular heavy metal band, so that sorta showed me that it was possible for me to make a life of music, too.

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Tom Waits said this, which I think resonates true for many of the great artists, and you being one: “I like beautiful melodies telling me terrible things”. Do you have favourite lyrics or quotes you hold onto?

Well, many, of course. Lately, a lot of the lyrics on Joni Mitchell’s Hejira are resonating with me in a way that they hadn’t previously – I mean, I have loved that record for a long time, but lately, it’s been the lyrics that have captured my attention. I love the Tim Bracy songs on The Mendoza Line’s Lost in Revelry album – that’s one of the most underrated bands / albums I can think of. Dylan, Leonard, etc, of course. Too many to name.

Thank you for the very thoughtful questions and kind words. This was a pleasure.

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‘Blood Oaths Of The New Blues’ by Wooden Wand is out now on Fire Records. 

http://www.woodenwand.org

http://www.firerecords.com

Written by admin

February 18, 2013 at 5:50 pm