Oliver Wood of the Wood Brothers on Shuitars, Molecular Biology, and Sunshine Blues
With four studio albums in the bag and the recent release of their second installment of live recordings, titled Tooth and Nail, Vol. 2, the Wood Brothers have maintained a steady balance of studio and performance time.
The band hits the road until the end of March, at which point it'll head back into the studio to record album number five. We spoke with guitarist Oliver Wood, one-third of blues/folk trio, about a gig at the inaugural run of Sunshine Blues Festival this week, how technology seems to keep the songwriting process going for them, and what that funny-looking acoustic guitar contraption is on their stage.
New Times: You're kicking off three months of touring with three days on the Sunshine Blues Festival, but you typically play smaller stages with more intimate environments like the Kent Stage in Ohio, for instance. Do you achieve something different by playing a festival setting? Do you prefer a more intimate show over a festival atmosphere?
Oliver Wood: It is nice to be able to play those smaller shows. Like you said, it is more intimate and as far as the sound goes, you can get away with subtleties that you couldn't get away with in a festival setting. Then again, when you play a show in a bar, you're not always guaranteed a captive audience. With a festival, everyone is there to see music. In a bigger setting, we are able to be a bit more rockin', which is fun. Every now and then it's nice to rock out these songs that are usually a bit more contained. They both have their perks. Being able to play both is really the best thing for us because it mixes things up.
Anyone playing at the Sunshine Blues Festival that you are interested in seeing play? Anyone you haven't met that you're interested in meeting?
Tedeschi Trucks Band we've known for about twenty years, so it's nice to be able to hang out with them for a few days. I always love watching them. Dr. John is another good one. That's what is great about these things, you get to hang out with people you otherwise never get to see because we're all so busy.
Three months on the road, aside from playing the shows you're scheduled for, is there a place or landmark you look forward to swinging by along the way? Does traveling come easy to you or do you have coping mechanisms for extended periods of travel?
Well it's ten days on and ten days off, which makes it easier for us because we have families back home. Traveling is something you become used to after a while. It becomes a way of life, so it's never too boring or too stressful. You kind of learn to just maintain.
When there's downtime before a show, we definitely try to get some sightseeing in. We've come to really like the West Coast. We're playing shows out west on the second half of the tour and the scene out there is always fun. San Francisco, Portland, Seattle. Those places are always so cool.
There's a huge trade off with touring, but it's something we love to do. We struggle with missing our families, so if there's anything about touring that gets us, it would be that we miss home. There's a balance you've got to find.
You and Chris are the Wood Brothers, but John O. is an honorary "bro." Aside from playing the drums for the band, he plays what is called a shuitar. For those of us who've never seen a shuitar, can you explain what it is?
Basically, an acoustic guitar that's been converted into a percussion instrument. So, instead of strumming it, you actually beat on it. A junky percussion instrument. Things all attached.
When we met John O. he was already playing one of these things. He and a friend sort of invented it. His friend actually put a website together where you can learn about them, or I guess even buy one. John O. really rounds out our trio.
So Chris is the Wood in Medeski, Martin and Wood, who tour a fair amount. What's the song writing process like when half the band is playing with another band? How, where and when do you make the time?
Medeski, Martin and Wood are scaling back their road time these days, so there's more time for the Wood Brothers, but Chris lives in New York, and I live in Tennessee. So, even when we have the time, we aren't always able to connect in person. A lot of the times we work on music while we travel. We find ourselves tooling around waiting for the show to start and we'll come up with something, and these days, it's as easy as pushing a button on your phone if we come up with something worth remembering. The technology we have available these days makes it pretty manageable to make music with anyone anywhere. Emails, MP3s -- it's challenging, but it works somehow.
You and Chris grew up in Colorado. Your father was a molecular biologist. How did either of those factors contribute to or shape your musicianship?
Our dad is a musician though. Growing up, he played guitar and loved folk music. When we were growing up, he exposed us to all sorts of music, and eventually we took up our respective instruments. You know, we'd spend a lot of time listening to him play around the house or we'd have a fire out back, and we'd all play what we could. There might be a part of him that lives vicariously through us because even though he was doing the biology stuff for work, he is a musician.
What musicians or bands are you listening to these days?
It always goes back to Ray Charles. There's a lot of good music going around these days, but if you're asking what we listen to on the road or what we take from the most, Ray Charles is hard to beat.
Rocky or Rambo?
Rocky. I'd rather drink raw eggs than run around killing people all day.
The Wood Brothers with Tedeschi Trucks Band and others at the Sunshine Blues Festival, 11 a.m. Friday, January 18, at Mizner Park Amphitheater, 590 Plaza Real, Boca Raton. Tickets cost $49.50 plus fees. Call 800-745-3000, or visit sunshinebluesfestival.com.
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