We do love Seth Woods in his many faces in this Shithole of a Website (TM). As Sad Accordions, we have felt the past and present clashing, creating a wave of emotional songs that linger on like fine incense. As The Whiskey Priest, the melancholic lyrics ride on the upbeat music. It’s been a while since we’ve talked with Seth Woods, so when the opportunity arose, I sent him an email for an interview. His reply:
Hey! So, I thought I’d try this thing where we’d make these long distance email interviews a little more organic. So I will answer your first question, and then if you have any follow up questions to ask before I move on to the second question, fire away. Might make it feel a little more conversational. What do you think?
Sure! so… What have you been up to, Seth?
Would you believe top secret government work?
I actually would believe that! then again, I thought X-Files had a bit of truth in their show. Until season 4, when I sorta tuned out.
Smart man. I made it all the way till Agent Dogget showed up.
Since I recorded Lost Wages, I got engaged, moved to New Mexico, toured the UK, started therapy, got a dog, got unengaged (disengaged? nonengaged?), kept going to therapy… and stopped playing music for a while.
Sorry to hear about that, man. Strangely enough, a few months after I reviewed Lost Wages, I went through one of the worst break ups ever. I think I’m still recovering. Never quit music reviewing but considered it a lot. Wait, what breed of dog? I’ve got a fox terrier that’ll eat everything. It might be half-goat.
I’ve got a heeler-terrier mix. Her name is Rhubarb. She’s a nut.
Yeah, the quitting music for a while thing was accidental. Didn’t really intend to, but just got caught up in trying to have a workable life. And I wasn’t around my Austin music comrades any more. It just sort of fell away for a while.
Well, it’s nice to hear back from you, both personally and musically. When was it that you decided to leave that hiatus/leave of absence and decided to jump back into the music foil?
I guess about a year ago. I realized that it had been about two years since I had played a show, and got the bright idea that that might be something I should be doing. I had finished most of the record in the spring of 2012 though.
Was recording part of a healing process? If so, what helps the most : lyrics or music?
Well, when we recorded the record, I was still in the relationship. I moved to Albuquerque in May of 2011, toured the UK in October, and recorded the bulk of the album in April and May 2012. In a lot of ways the record is about that time of my life – the last few years in Austin, leaving my life there, moving away from the Church for the first time in my life, being in an adult relationship for the first time in my life. The healing has come since then. Mostly.
Anything in particular you miss from Austin? It’s always hard to leave your home territories for the great unknown.
You know, the more time that goes by, the less I miss. I miss my friends there, a ton. I miss playing in the bands I was in. But other than the people, I don’t miss it all that much.
I usually hear about bands ending up with more tracks that they need for a release…so, I gotta ask: what made you choose the songs for Mean Spirit and what do you plan to do with the ones that didn’t make the cut?
I had about twenty in mind. When I first started talking with Rob about producing, I sent him the demos I had. We each chose our favorites, about eight or ten or so, and started with the overlaps. Beyond that we just kind of worked with what seemed most probable, or what felt most important. So there’s about ten or so songs that didn’t make it past the demo stage. Not sure exactly what will happen with them yet. Some of those songs are definite favorites of mine. Maybe they’ll make it onto a future proper record, or wind up as b-sides or something.
One of my favorites of the batch is this song called ‘A Circle in the Fire’. I’d really love that to make it onto a fully produced record someday.
I think beyond the ones that Rob and I both agreed on, I wanted to tell a story. So I went with the songs that told that story together the best.
I’m particularly fond of ‘Suicide Honey’ and I was wondering if it was ok to ask you about the song? could you tell us a little bit more about the technical and lyrical aspects of the song?
Sure. That was a late comer to the batch. A good friend of mine killed himself in February of 2012, a few months before we recorded the album. I wanted to write something about him, about his death, something, but was having a hard time doing it. My friend Andrew Stone was talking to me one day about a friend of his who had committed suicide a year before. He had been a bee keeper, and had left Andrew and his family his bees when he died. Andrew gave me some honey from those bees when my friend died. It was the last batch of honey they made before they all died in a freeze we had had a few months earlier.
Something about that story, about the bees and Andrew‘s friend, helped me start writing about my friend. I wrote the song pretty much in one go, and wanted to make sure I got it down, so I demoed it at home that same night, even though I was on the verge of losing my voice for a couple of weeks. When we started recording the record, Rob was just really taken by the vocals from my demo. I was a little horrified at them, because there are more than a few off notes. But he was insistent that we keep that performance, so that’s the one that made it on the record. He wouldn’t let me redo them!
It really feels like you are singing your voice out on that track. Speaking of vocals, some in Mean Spirit feel a little more Springsteen-like. Were you trying to attach yourself more towards an Americana Rock sensibility or is it more a case of wanting to flex the creative muscles and try something different?
None of the above, I guess. Singing is the part that I probably put the least amount of thought into. The music gets a lot of consideration, the production. But the singing just kind of happens. It’s the part that comes most naturally. And yeah, you sing different on a song that sounds like ‘Youngtown’ than you do on a song like ‘The Sparrow’ or ‘Wages of Sin’ or ‘Love Me Like a Holy War’. But there wasn’t any kind of thought or purpose behind how the singing sounded.
You mentioned moving away from the church. I grew up Catholic but with time I got disillusioned with the whole religion thing not because I didn’t believe, but because I saw bad people saying they were religious getting away with doing terrible stuff. What made you move away?
No, I don’t know. It’s complicated. I think I had been moving away internally for a long time. What my beliefs were. I worked as a music pastor in Austin at a small Christian church, and that made things tricky. It was my family, my community. And my place of worship. And my place of employment. I didn’t really believe in a lot of traditionally dogmatic beliefs anymore, but had a hard time knowing what to do with that, how to express it, partially because my pay check was tied to my faith.
Beyond that, things got really ugly at the end. The last two years I was there were pretty awful. Just really came up against the real world results of being in a system that is inherently closed off, inhibited, and restricted by the authority they have given to an ancient document, and an organization. And I suffered the consequences of giving myself over to their authority. Ultimately, my relationship with my fiancé suffered and failed because of all of this, because of the way she and I and our relationship was handled by the community and the leadership especially, and because I was so caught up in that mess that I let her and I be treated the way we were instead of saying, “um, no. I’m an adult, she’s an adult, you’re all adults.”
Or at least I should have told a few folks to fuck off. Either would have been healthier than what I did, which was let myself and her get railroaded.
So yeah… therapy. Way more expensive than church, in terms of money, but a whole hell of a lot healthier. “If I had known then what I know now…”
Whoa… Okay, back to Mean Spirit. I love the packaging! Where did the idea came from?
Ha! Sorry, I have a couple of soapboxes lying around.
Well, for a long, long time I’ve known that I wanted to use this piece of art from my friend Heidi Landau. She’s an amazing artist, and did this series of drawings while we were both going to this Church. I bought this one from her because I liked it so much (and she let me pay in instalments).
When it became clear I was going to have to self release it, I thought it would be fun to do handmade copies. But I still wanted to use Heidi‘s art. So I did a lino cut of the drawing myself and hand printed two hundred cardboard cases myself. It was a lot of work, and a lot of fun.
Several tracks of the album use “Mean” or “spirit” or a combination thereof as song titles, so, is there an encompassing concept for the album? Or was it more titling them similarly as continuation of each other?
A little of both, I guess. My friend Alex Dupree donated the record title. There’s some play on words there: mean, cruel. Mean, average or simple. Mean, as in meaning. The song ‘Meanie’ had already been around for a while, and I have this penchant for putting instrumentals on The Whiskey Priest records with the same title as the album, kind of as an emotional summary.
Speaking of instrumentals, I’ve always loved the ones you put in your albums. Have you ever considered (or been offered) scoring shorts, radio or radioplays?
It’s never really been offered, though I would love to try my hand at that. I tend to record a lot of instrumentals these days.
Now that 2014 is pretty much done for, what are your plans as a musician for 2015? More music under any of the other different guises you have? Maybe tour?
It looks to just be The Whiskey Priest for the foreseeable future. Although I was in Austin recently and got to play with Sad Accordions again for the first time in a few years. It was really fun. I’d love to do another record with them. It may be a while though, being in Albuquerque, and Ben is in a couple of bands that are staying quite busy. Joy and Nathaniel have two kids, and Lee is in San Antonio about to get married.
I’m going to do some touring for this record in the winter and spring. I’d love to record another record as well, but touring is the focus.
I am considering a career in homemade DIY white boy hip hop though. Something to bring home the bacon every once in a while.
“North to the south / east to the west / Meanies and Spirits / Wave and cloud to the air / Yo, my name is Woods, S, e, t, h / I’m a priest of whiskey / not bourbon, son, but whiskey / peat to the fire / grain to the grind / I got more years than Macallan’s and more style than Glenfiddich!”
Hey, that’s pretty good. I’m gonna have to use that Macallan‘s line!
I’m running out of questions, so, do you want to add anything for the interview? Announcements, plugs, well wishes?
I guess just that I’m really proud of this record and grateful that it is out for people to hear. Working with Roberto Sanchez was such a fun experience. Really great to have another creative force at the wheel. Rob also produced a solo record for his fellow bandmate in Monahans, Greg Vanderpool. It’s different sounding from the record we did together, but it sounds great. Check that out if you’re looking for more interesting and lively music from good songwriters.
Thank you, Seth!
My pleasure Sam. Anytime.
Words: Sam J. Valdés López
Our review of Mean Spirit.