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Turn Me On: The Wood Brothers

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On The Wood Brothers’ latest album, One Drop of Truth, the Nashville-based trio brilliantly utilizes a compelling variety of Americana influences to craft a song cycle that’s equally captivating, joyous and memorable. The band’s recent run of West Coast shows found guitarist Oliver Wood, bassist Chris Wood and drummer Jano Rix providing their audiences with musically and emotionally transcendent sets, which included a jaw-dropping blend of delicate folk harmonies, acoustic blues, heavy hitting electric jams and funky soul grooves.

After concluding the band’s annual late-winter West coast run, Oliver quickly rejoined his family for some well-deserved time off. He generously took a few minutes to get on the phone with Rock Cellar, where he shared his thoughts on making One Drop of Truth, the band’s signature song “Luckiest Man”, and being rewarded with the band’s first Grammy nomination.

On recording One Drop of Truth, Oliver attributes the album’s sonic innovation and the meticulous dedication to every aspect of production to the new circumstances under which the band was able to record. “It’s the first time we’ve completely funded and produced our own album.” Oliver reminisced, “That’s why we were so satisfied with it. We had always had this fantasy of recording an album one song at a time, as the songs are written. That was incredibly freeing. We would write a song. Maybe two songs. Go in the studio and record it. Then go on tour for a couple of weeks. And come back and listen to it. If we didn’t like it, then we did it again. It gave us this perspective that made it possible for us to produce ourselves. All of those factors made it a lot more fun for us. I think it shows in the recording that we had some freedom.”

Of being honored with the band’s first Grammy nomination for Best Americana Album, Oliver shared, “I don’t want to be thinking about Grammys while I’m making music. You just want to create what you feel. You don’t want to have a goal like that in mind. However, to be put in a category with John Prine, Brandi Carlile, Lee Ann Womack and Bettye LaVette was a huge honor. Those are all people I really admire and respect. If anybody thinks that we’re in that league, then that’s a good feeling.”

While The Wood Brothers’ live show draws from as equally deep and satisfying a well of influences as their studio albums, the experience meaningfully channels the feelings, sounds and vibes that audiences most closely and justifiably associate with The Band and The Allman Brothers Band. Yet the Wood Brothers’ nods to the Southern jams of the Allman Brothers or the rueful Americana of The Band are often mixed with an energy and intensity most reminiscent of Led Zeppelin at their most potent. The greatest achievement of The Wood Brothers as a live band is their ability to pay homage to the live traditions of these iconic bands, while playing almost entirely original material.

When asked how The Wood Brothers are able to capture the Tao of these influences and use it to inform shows comprised largely of original music, Oliver reflected, “I don’t think it’s something that happens consciously. Whatever it is that we do, we take in our influences and they just become little pieces of our recipes when we write stuff or when we perform. Over the years, you see people you like and how they present stuff. You internalize it. You get little riffs and stuff from these other artists. They just become part of your vocabulary. Music is a language. And there’s this vocabulary. You can borrow from other people’s style. Your limitations, to be honest, are for me, you mix your limitations with your influences, and your come up with something new and original.”

The audiences that The Wood Brothers have cultivated have responded to their shows by filling clubs and theaters, both domestic and international, throughout the year. At the band’s recent show at the Belly Up in Solana Beach, much of the audience was enthusiastically singing and dancing along to the evening’s selections from the band’s six albums plus several well-received covers.

Of what he enjoys most about the experience of playing live, Oliver ruminated, “We’re gone a lot. We travel a lot. We have families at home. There is a lot of sacrifice to not having a normal life. I’d love to be home with my wife and kids way more than I am. There are times when you think, ‘What the hell am I doing this for?’ What seals the deal for me is when somebody comes up to me after a show and says, ‘Hey, your music really got me through a tough time. It got me through my divorce.’ Or, ‘It really inspired me.’ Then you realize, ‘Okay, this is actually important work to do.’ And it feels like it’s worth doing. When we’re singing a song and everybody’s singing along, it feels more like a communal singalong than us performing for somebody. That feeling is really tough to beat. That is a feeling of complete connection. When a room full of a thousand people can just be all on the same wavelength for at least a song. That is truly a great feeling. I think it’s good for you. Everybody should feel that.”

The Wood Brothers’ signature song, “Luckiest Man”, provides the audience with an opportunity to raise their collective voice in song, offering one such moment of communal connection. Upon being asked why the song has endured and earned a special place in people’s hearts and lives, Oliver thought for a moment, chuckled, and mused, “I have no idea. It’s just sometimes you stumble upon something that for whatever reason is this perfect storm. It has a memorable chord progression, the words are simple and accessible. The one thing that comes to mind is that it’s the kind of song that’s my favorite when I listen to other people’s songs. It’s ambiguous enough that it gives you emotional content without necessarily making it about something specific. In other words, you can interpret it your own way. I think that’s the mark of a lot of good songs. Like a classic Bob Dylan song. ‘What is he actually singing about?’ If you ask him he’ll skirt around it. Because it doesn’t matter. It’s more about, ‘How does it make you feel?’”

The Wood Brothers have a full slate of upcoming headlining and festival dates on the horizon, beginning with a run through the South kicking off April 9th through the Moon River Music Festival in Chattanooga, Tennessee on September 7th. Oliver is most excited for the band to be performing their first headlining show at the Red Rocks Amphitheater in Morrison, Colorado on September 5th as well as playing a handful of shows with Lake Street Dive.

When asked if members of the two bands are likely to appear on stage together, Oliver answered, “We support any kind of cross-pollination in that regard. I’m sure we’ll do that. This last summer Rachael Price sat in with us at the Newport Folk Festival. That was a thrill. Because her voice is amazing. I really like that whole band. We’ve crossed paths at festivals before. That’s the thing about doing this. All of our favorite bands are basically ships in the night. We hardly ever get to actually see them. Even at a festival, we usually see each other in catering and that’s about it. So this will be nice to get to spend a week together and get to know them better and to collaborate a little bit. I think they’re amazing musicians. I love their music. That’s a show that I would love to see as a fan.”

To turn yourself on to The Wood Brothers go to their official site for tour dates and ticket information, along with links to order the band’s albums in a number of formats as well as shirts, signed tour posters, etc.

Excellent videos of all stripes can be found on their YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/user/TheWoodBros/featured. The Wood Brothers are on Twitter at https://twitter.com/TheWoodBrothers, Instagram at @thewoodbros and Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/thewoodbrothers/.

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