Posted January 20, 2015 by Gerard O'Sullivan in Miscellaneous

Interview with Chris Wood (Wood Brothers, Medeski Martin & Wood)


The Wood Brothers bring their rootsy trio to the Wonder Ballroom this Thursday for what promises to be a night not to be missed.

The band is made up of brothers Chris Wood (bass) and Oliver Wood (guitar) as well as Jano Rix, a multi-instrumentalist who affectionately calls his instrument a shuitar, which is part guitar, and part… kitchen sink, I suppose.

We caught up with Chris recently to discuss him and his brother’s upbringing as well as other things related to the band and his other band, Medeski Martin & Wood.

Portland Live: I want to begin with the Woods household growing up.  Can you talk about music in your household, was there music performed in the house or a stack of records that you can recall being influential to you and your brother?

Chris Wood: I think our earliest influence was our father, he was a molecular biologist by profession but he was a very good musician, he played guitar and sang.  He was proficient and played around the house and sang.  A lot of the folk guitar that you might hear on the first Bob Dylan record had a lot of the same influences: Lead Belly, Josh White and others.  So he had all those records as well so we were digging into that.  My brother– who’s a little older than I am– started buying records first and then he started playing guitar and sort of traced back the roots of some of the 60s rock & roll that we were into, he traced it back to the great delta blues guitar players, Texas blues guitar players, people like Muddy Waters and Lightin’ Hopkins.  And so some of those guys were really influential to us early on.

PL: The genres of americana and folk-rock in recent years has reemerged back into the mainstream, in a way not seen since the 60s.  Can you share your insight into why this is happening?

CW: I don’t really know why, but I suspect that it’s just nature.  I think through the 70s and 80s when the technology changed and things went digital and the whole DJ culture and hip hop became popular and then electronica, there was so much of a tech focus to music that sometimes I think it’s maybe just our natural urge for something different. To hear an unplugged instrument played acoustically suddenly sounds refreshing again. So it’s just a return or an ebb back & forth that kind of happens naturally.

PL: One of the festivals here in Portland that has consistently delivered that americana/folk sound to the Pacific Northwest is Pickathon, which you have performed twice with the Woods Brothers (2006 & 2012).  Many artists talk about the uniqueness of that festival and the intimacy of the stages.  Can you talk about your experience playing it?

CW: Pickathon is an interesting festival, the fact that it’s in Oregon and there is no rain in that time of the year, none of the stages are covered so when you first arrive you’re thinking “well, is this going to work?” and then you realize it will be fine and if anything is going to be a problem its going to be dust. The stages are unique, especially the one back in the woods, it’s really special.  We enjoy that festival a lot, it’s really cool and I hope we go back.

PL: Speaking on Pickathon, this west coast run you have Mandolin Orange supporting, who made their Picakthon debut this year, how did you hook up with them?

CW: It was set up through our agent.  They seem to be doing really well and they sound great, so it seems like a good match. It’s only been a couple gigs now but we have been having a blast with them.

PL: Smoking Halo was your first true trio album with a drummer, your sound and live shows have since progressed with the addition of Jano Rix.  How has the addition Jano Rix influenced the chemistry of the Woods Brothers?

CW: Well you know Smoking Halo was our first trio album but Jano was our first dedicated third member as a drummer.  But he doesn’t only play drums, he’s a great singer and he plays percussion, particularly this instrument called the “shuitar” which is, you know, just a shitty guitar, but he hits it and uses it kind of like a beat-box and a little drum kit, this allows us to play unplugged but still have a beat, so it’s great going into radio stations and doing quick things where we don’t have a souncheck or don’t plug in.  Same things with the harmonies, he adds a whole other level, he sings very high and adds a whole other element.

PL: And I know Jano Rix is a Nashville native and I learned that both you and Oliver have recently relocated to Nashville.  Can you talk about how this close proximity of the bandmates in such a historically rich music city has affected the band?

CW: It’s made a huge difference.  I moved about a year and a half ago and we had just recorded our last record The Muse, so currently we are working on a brand new record, this is actually the first record where we will be living in the same town and able to write and work on all the music together in the same room from the ground up, which is really exciting to us. I think it will give this record a whole new sound.

PL: You recorded The Muse in Nashville with the legendary Buddy Miller and returned to a style of recording centered around you all playing live around a microphone as opposed to older albums where things were recorded in parts.  What’s your vision for the recording process of the new album?

CW: It’s somewhere in the middle, depending on the song and what it calls for.  With The Muse we were trying to feature this beautiful room, we wanted people to hear the room, so there were songs with no drum kit and Jano would just play his shuitar or melodica depending on the song, and we were all together around some microphones in the room, but the engineer also had microphones all around the room so you could really hear the way the sound bounced around the room.  The room kinda became one of the members of the band for those recordings.

PL: Besides the new album, what’s on the horizon for you, both with the Woods Brothers and Medeski Martin and Wood?

CW: Well, with MMW we just released a record with John Scofield, so we have been touring a lot on that during the fall in Europe and the U.S.. We are actually taking this year off, so it will be all Woods Brothers this year.

PL: Well thanks so much for your time Chris I look forward to seeing you guys up here.

CW: How’s the weather looking, because you know last year our show got canceled because of the snowstorm.  We just couldn’t get to the show because of a giant semi that flipped on the highway and then I heard that people were sliding all over the streets, so we were real bummed about that.  So we are really excited to come back to Portland and make up for last year.

Editor’s note: The weather report for Thursday calls for lows in the mid-40s with little to no precipitation so you can bet that this show will go on! For tickets, go here.

Gerard O'Sullivan



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