The Wood Brothers are celebrating their 10th year as a recording act, and as singer-guitarist Oliver Wood looks back on the first decade of the group, he’s content about the career the trio is building.
The group has gradually worked its way up from playing clubs to where many of its shows now are in theaters and other medium-size venues, as well as major festivals. (The group on Saturday, May 28, plays Strawberry in Grass Valley).
That kind of mid-level career suits Oliver Wood just fine.
“On some days I do feel the pressures of the industry, like your manager calls and says we haven’t sold enough tickets (for a certain show) or whatever,” he said in a recent phone interview. “There are always those things that get in there. But I can’t imagine, that would just be exponential if you were playing arenas and you had hundreds of employees. I think that would be a little much for me. I like having a little bit more of an independent family-style thing where we can make a living and we have people that enjoy the music, and I feel like we can really connect with people who need the music.”
The Wood Brothers are working more like a do-it-yourself operation than ever as the trio – brothers Oliver Wood and bassist Chris Wood and drummer-keyboardist Jano Rix – tours behind the new album, “Paradise.”
Their 2013 album, “The Muse,” completed their contract with Southern Ground Records (the label owned by Zac Brown). But rather than sign with another label, the group launched its own, Honey Jar Records, and outsourced the distribution and marketing of “Paradise” to Thirty Tigers. The three musicians also self-produced “Paradise” from start to finish.
“Paradise” retains the rough-hewn folk-influences of the three previous full-length albums and has a few stripped back, primarily acoustic tunes, but it is easily the most rocking Wood Brothers album, with several songs that feature a full sound built around electric guitars, bits of keyboards, horns and harmonica, with assertive beats that drive the music forward.
We’ve had far from a meteoric rise.
That more-rocking dimension, Oliver Wood said, was partly a creative choice and a reaction to the personality of “The Muse,” which was mostly acoustic and rather intimate. But the bigger sound also reflects the group’s career path.
“It’s interesting; we’ve had far from a meteoric rise,” Oliver Wood said. “But we are playing bigger places than we ever have. Oftentimes, if you play a giant room with a standing audience, you tend to shape the show to match the venue. And so when it gets a little louder and rowdier, and we play at Red Rocks (the outdoor amphitheater near Denver) or something like that, you just find that the subtle things aren’t going to get across as well. So by no means have we abandoned any of the subtle stuff, and we try to include that in our shows still. But I think, if not just subconsciously, we’ve also written some new material that can fill a bigger room of loud people.”
The Wood Brothers began their musical journey under rather spontaneous circumstances in 2003 when Oliver Wood’s group, King Johnson, opened for Chris Wood’s rather high-profile band, Medeski, Martin & Wood.
The Wood Brothers formed under rather spontaneous circumstances in 2003.
The brothers, who had only sporadically been in touch over the preceding decade, took the opportunity that night to play together and discovered that they still connected musically and as brothers and soon decided to form the Wood Brothers.
They have since released four studio albums and three EPs before “Paradise” arrived in October. Along the way, the group expanded to a trio, after making Rix – who started out as a hired hand – a full-time band member in 2010.
The Wood Brothers are in the early stages of touring behind “Paradise” and generally play about a half-dozen of the new songs in a show. This leaves enough room to also cover the back catalog songs fans want to hear. The shows in general have gotten a bit more rocking, and the trio also has surprises in store with the occasional older song.
“It can be fun to rework things,” Oliver Wood said. “We don’t feel like we have to re-create albums when we play live, and it really keeps it fresh for us.”