Interview – The Wooden Birds
We love music, that’s a fact. We also like music with a lot of heart in it and The Wooden Birds fill the bill perfectly. So when the opportunity arose to interview them, we gladly went for it!
We’ve previously reviewed their fantastic new album, Two Matchsticks and Mr. Andrew Kenny was kind enough to answer some questions regarding the current workings in The Wooden Birds machine of musical camaraderie.
This album sounds to me like perfect chemistry amongst the band members. It feels cohesive and harmonious. How was the general atmosphere during recording?
It was a fun album to make. People coming and going. Ideas floating around.
Any info on the gear used for recording in a converted living room?
Sure! We use an Otari MX-7800 as our primary recording machine. But we also import all 8 channels into pro-tools and tweak the mixes as we go at the mixing stage. We only have a few pre-amps, two UA 610s, two older ART MPAs, and a noisy Joe Meek VC3Q. Mix wise, we’re dynamic across the board. The Beyerdynamic M69 gets a lot of work as does the Sennheiser 421. The Shure Beta 57 and 58 both see action as does a little EV 635A.
Two Matchsticks is definitely a display of textures and details in sounds that few bands can reach. There’s an air of nostalgia in the music of ‘Two Matchsticks’, but it still manages to sound fresh. What is the sonic influence to the sound of this album?
This is the embarrassing part because I’m about to compare Two Matchsticks to a couple of truly awesome sounding albums. I found the last two Phoenix releases to be incredibly inspiring. I know that The Wooden Birds sound nothing like Phoenix, but I’m amazed at how much impact their recordings have.
I know nothing about the way they were recorded, but I’ve always suspected they were created by very creative, but unselfish people asking themselves “What can we strip away to reveal the strongest parts of this recording?” instead of asking “What can we add to make the song better?” I think a lot of music today suffers from the easy accessibility of “one more channel” or “one more track”. You can always add one more instrument and double some instruments and record things in stereo because the track limitations in the digital environment are rarely an issue. You can push too far and it just becomes static. White noise.
When we made Two Matchsticks (and Magnolia for that matter) we looked at the recording process from the very beginning. If a vocal line wasn’t getting it done, we tried to write a stronger one instead of adding an additional one. Same for guitar, percussion, everything down the line. These are sparse recordings, but there’s no question as to what the focus of the music is at any given moment.
Louie Lino (producer) understood the simplicity. He recognized that many of the arranging / mixing decisions were made as the songs were written, but there were problems to be solved as well. He uses his ears and he knows what he’s doing. In short, he understood what we were trying to do and luckily he was a lot better at it than we were!
What’s the most important point in the time line of music making: the creative process or the result you get from this process?
I don’t know about “important”, but yeah making an album is a lot more fun than being done with one!
Your new album includes special and incredibly talented guests as Ben Gibbard (*loved ‘Home, Volume 5′, by the way) and band members of Ola Podrida. What drove the band to collaborations from other musicians?
In the sense that a voice is an instrument and everyone has a unique one, it makes for a more colorful album to have a guest or two. But more than anything it’s just for the experience of it. As a person making music, sometimes the first thing I look back and ask is, “Did I have any fun making that?” or “Did I (hopefully) learn something?” And those things just seem to happen when other people are around. If I’m in the middle of recording, don’t come around my house unless you want to play some tambourine. You have been warned.
Even when we get heart-felt melodies from the ‘beautiful’ side, lyrics may seem a little straight-forward and harsh. What’s your main inspiration/reason when writing your lyrics?
I write about people. Sometimes people are me. Most of the time, people are other people. As for what these people are doing and to whom, I suppose that’s where songs really come from. The experience of being a person.
I truly fell in love with ‘Long Time to Lose it”, so here’s my fan question: how was the creative process for this one? Lyrics seem a little harsh too (like the ugly truth we’ll want to ignore at times).
I love that song too and we thought it made for a good album closer. We were hesitant to include it, to be honest, because of what it takes to play it live. Every song on the album sounds better when it’s performed with feeling and that should go without saying. But with ‘Long Time’, either you go for it and the song works, or you withdraw and it doesn’t. In the end, we included the song and put the weight on ourselves. We’re going to play this. Every night. And we’re going to sing it like we mean it because we do.
All members in the band have an impressive résumé, so, without trying to sound flippant: do you feel this helps you be a little more creative with your music or do you feel a certain pressure to please an audience?
I don’t feel pressure, exactly. I feel like we put together a good band to support a good record and we look forward to playing it for people! So maybe “excitement” is the word I’m looking for. I think the pressure I feel is only to live up to my bandmates’ expectations. It’s a band full of extremely talented and creative and busy people. If I were to bring a song to the group that needed a bit longer in the oven, or if I were to step on a stage and not give my best performance, I wouldn’t be honoring the sacrifices that we’ve all made together to keep the WBs going strong. But no, come showtime I can’t wait to play because on any given night we lay it right down.
The Two Matchsticks EP piqued our curiosity with those two covers (Johnny Darrell’s ‘Ruby don’t take your love to town’ and Hall & Oates’ ‘Maneater’). Do you plan to do any other re-inventions of songs in the future? ‘Maneater’ is a fantastic earworm and I fell in love with your version.
Thanks! I like that cover also. The heartbreak is that I learned and practiced that solo on melodica without knowing that our touring guitar player, Chris Hansen, is a top notch saxophone player! We haven’t played that one live yet but yes most nights we play a few covers towards the end. Hey we only have two albums!
Question for Leslie Sisson: how’s your new album coming up? Any release date confirmed yet? I really liked the ambient created in ‘Harmony’.
Leslie says that she’s still looking for a good label to partner up with. More soon.
Question for Andrew Kenny: Do you plan to do any split EP any time soon?
Nothing in the works. The next project I’m working on is writing songs for people that have sent me their own stories this last year. I’m only a few songs in but it’s been a good experience so far.
When deciding who will be doing vocal duties, is it predetermined by who wrote lyrics or is it more a “go with the feeling” sort of vibe? The dual voice in ‘Company time’ is possibly my fave vocal moment in ‘Two Matchsticks’
Oh I like that one too! Leslie’s got a really dark harmony.
We have a band full of singers so we try to spread it around as best we can without being too confusing. I think we’re at our best when Leslie and I sing together and so we try to create those opportunities and moments. I love singing “Baby Jeans”, but that one works best with Leslie at the wheel. I sang “Too Pretty To Please” on the album, but Leslie takes that one live. The proof is in the pudding, as they say.
So, besides touring, what’s your individual plans for the rest of the year? Any side projects coming up?
Finishing out this first tour for “Two Matchsticks” is what I’m looking forward to the most right now. Beyond that, I’ve got a new video tour diary to edit and songs to write.
Sloucher.org would like to thank Andrew Kenny for his answers and Sheila (Right On PR) for helping set this interview up.
Words: Sam J. Valdés López