Interview: Oliver Wood Returns To Upstate With Two New Albums

Beak & Skiff Apple Orchards is set to host The Wood Brothers and Lake Street Dive with an incredible night of music on July 26 in the rolling hills of Central NY. Lake Street Dive is touring behind their 2018 album Free Yourself Up. The Wood Brothers, fresh off a Grammy nomination for “One Drop Of Truth,” will share the bill. Oliver Wood took time to speak to NYS Music to share the news on two new upcoming Wood Brothers albums, their new studio in Nashville, life on the road, his love for cookies and much more.

Dan Smalls Presents

Sean Nevison: So tell me about the tour with Lake Street Dive?

Oliver Wood: Oh it was awesome, and it’s not completely over. We have a few more shows left and it’s a really good pairing….if I was going to a show I’d love to go to that show!

SN: We are stoked to see you guys up here at Beak And Skiff.

OW: What a beautiful spot, we’ve done that show a couple of times and just love playing there!

SN: Are there future tour plans after these shows with LSD?

OW: We’ve got tour with Colter Wall which is in August. He’s a singer songwriter from Canada who is amazing. We have our first headlining show at Red Rocks, Colorado in September which we are very excited about.

SN:  Who else is on the bill for RR?

OW: Two incredible bands are opening, Fruition and Steep Canyon Rangers.  We have played RR as a support act several times over the years and we are so excited to headline. Chris and I grew up in Boulder, so that was where I saw my first concerts.

SN: So changing gears, how did you feel about the grammy nomination this year for “One Drop of Truth” as Best Americana Album?

OW: Well it was quite cool, we’ve been doing this for a long time.  Sometimes you can get kinda jaded and think that stuff is rigged, which it most likely is. But it is so rewarding because this is the first album that is self produced and on our own label (Honey Jar Records). So I feel like we made the right decision, we wanted to be more independent, creatively and financially, but especially the creative part, to be able to go into your own bubble and not have anyone mess with it.

SN: Where was “One Drop Of Truth” recorded?

OW: It was recorded in two studios in Nashville, and mixed four times by different people. We recorded mostly at Studio Nashville with our buddy Brooks Sutton. We have now actually opened our own studio with Brooks, we liked working with him so much! Now we have our own production facility and it’s awesome, we’re working on a new record right now. Anyhow, it was kinda cool when we were at our most independent state and made all our own choices that we got that recognition, I think it’s a good record and I’m proud of it, I mean I think we’ve made good ones before… but man I’m really proud of that.

SN: So your new space is in Nashville?

OW: Yeah man, it’s run by our buddy Brooks, but as partners we can go in and record, rehearse and write whenever. It’s a huge luxury and it’s making these new sessions so much fun. It’s like we are our own independent artist with a little playground.

SN: This new record will be done in the new space?

OW: Yes, it will be the first one 100% in there and comes out right after the first of the new year. And we’re finishing up a live album that comes out this fall.

SN: That’s the Fillmore album?

OW: Yeah, that’s the Fillmore in San Fransisco.

SN: So you started just with your brother, tell me about your progression as a band?

OW: Well it just started as my brother and I, him on upright bass and me on steel guitar and we toured around in a little mini van. Both of us had been on other projects and this was our chance to play together which we had never done besides jamming as teenagers at our parents house. So we started doing that, made a record, got a deal and we were lucky that Chris was established with Medeski Martin and Wood so we were taken on by his management and booking.

What I brought was the songs I had from all these years of playing in other bands that I took and added some new tunes to and we did that first Wood Brothers album. A few years later, we started playing bigger stages and we said we need a third person to round this out and rock a bit more to get some sonic variety. So we hired Jano on percussion, not knowing what an amazing keys player and singer he was. He could just throw these third harmonies like it was nothing.  He can drum, play keys and harmonize all at the same time, it’s like having two musicians with us.  He is also just a great dude and has become part of our family.

SN: Can you tell me about your writing process?

OW: Oh man, it’s all over the place. Chris and I both have notebooks. Our favorite way to compile music is to just jam with the three of us, record it, listen to the grooves. We like to play spontaneously with each other and not worry about the song and just play.  That’s been a really fruitful way to come up with music. So we cut those recordings up and we can sometimes use them for a master track or to help the writing progress.

SN: Your last live recording (Live At The Barn), I was fortunate to attend, could you talk about playing Levon Helm Studios and playing venues in Upstate NY?

OW: Boy that was amazing. Well when we started The Wood Brothers Chris actually liveed in Saugerties while I lived in Atlanta. In those early days, my brother lived not far from the barn and he got to know Amy Helm and we got very close with those folks and got invited to those rambles. I have very fond memories of playing all over the place up there: Syracuse, Buffalo, Ithaca, Saratoga, Albany, all those places are awesome! I feel like the people of Upstate are just so passionate about their music.

SN: Who do you listen to when you create and who influences you?

OW: Man there are so many of them. We get inspiration from everything like Jimmy Reed, J.B.Lenoir that’s been huge Louisiana blues guy, his record Passionate Blues we always go back to and get cool drumbeat ideas. Then there is Ray Charles, Willie Nelson, Sly Stone, The Pointer Sisters and all kinds of things we play and listen to when we set up our gear or get ready to record. A lot of cool old gospel music. Los Lobos, I’m crazy about, we are all crazy about. We run into them at festivals sometimes, but we’re huge fans. They are an American treasure, they are the best American band out there I think.

SN: So you’ve met some of your heroes and some people look up to you. What is the best wisdom you’ve received about balancing life on the road, family and your art?

OW: I’m glad you said balance. Some of these folks live the music life to the extreme and the rest of their life can fall apart. I’m not that guy, I have a family that I take so much inspiration from. So I try to keep it connected, and it is a challenge, being away is a challenge. But the wisdom I’ve garnered the last few years in being a musician, a touring one, is that creating music and performing is about connecting with people and connecting people. It is not about money or fame or accolades, it’s not about that stuff. 

It’s a a huge sacrifice to be out on he road and be away from your family and you go out and you’re like what the hell I am doing, its like I’m floating. But then someone will walk up, or send an email or write a letter and say hey your music really got me through some hard times, thank you. Something like that happens and I say man it really is worth it, this really is important. 

As far as words of wisdom, when a room full of people are singing together, not for me or my pleasure, but the feeling of everyone singing and being connected. It’s such a moment where we are all one and equal and joyous, that’s what it’s all about.  It’s not that other stuff. I mean the other stuff can be fun but traveling loses it’s charm and money only goes so far if you even make any.  People applauding you is awesome, but it’s not the ultimate part of this job.

SN: In the end you only have memories you create with people; you connected and connect with, right?

OW: Exactly, you can leave something healthy for them, to warm their hearts or connect them or if it’s a song people listen to  when they are down…that is a huge thing!

SN: So just to finish with two fun questions, my friend Aurora who does marketing for Ray Brothers BBQ another Upstate venue…

OW: Oh yeah man, they wrote us the sweetest letter and we hope we can stop by there sometime!

SN: They are great folks. Her question is: what is your favorite road trip snack?

OW: Oh wow. Hmmm. That’s a great question. I’m kind of a sweet tooth guy, so I’d say just an amazing Chocolate Chip Cookie. That’s tough to beat, haha.

SN: Everyone on earth could get on board with that! Final question, do you like puppets and which is your favorite if so?

OW: Oh man, that’s so tough. I love the muppets, my whole family does.  I’m actually looking at cookie monster so we will tie it in to the cookie concept and say that.  Man I’m not sure why, but there is literally a blue cookie monster looking at me on my kitchen table right now.  It’s meant to be!

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