Woods: Out of the Bedroom, Into the Studio

Marissa G. Muller

By Marissa G. Muller

on 04.22.14 in Features

In a way, it’s remarkable that Woods took nearly a decade to record an album in an honest-to-goodness studio. Their open-field jams have the expansive sound naturally suited to traditional recording. But Woods, which began as the solo home-recording project of vocalist Jeremy Earl in 2005, found ways to get larger production on their own, testing the limits of home-recording — until they hit a wall.

“Five years into this [band], we got bored with home recording and we wanted to capture the excitement of us recording in a studio,” multi-instrumentalist Jarvis Taveniere says over the phone. In the process of making With Light and With Love, they expanded their jangle-psych and folk sound to include meandering pop gems like the sparkling strummer “Moving to the Left,” “Shepherd” with its heart-rending melody and the breezy “Leaves Like Grass.” While hanging out with Parquet Courts’ Andrew Savage at the studio, Taveniere talked about the album’s live sound, dealing with the reality of getting older, and their love of the Grateful Dead.

Where did you record the album?

In Mexican Summer’s recording studio in [Brooklyn neighborhood] Greenpoint, Gary’s Electric. I’ve worked there recording a few bands’ — most recently, Quilt.

What was it like, working in a proper studio?

It was really fun. We’ve been recording ourselves since day one. We got really good at home recording, but we got bored. So much of what was fun about home recording was capturing the excitement of things [while they were still] new to us. We’d write a song really quickly and document it. But recently, we weren’t documenting any excitement. So going into a studio was a new element and new environment with new toys.

You guys have such a large discography. Over the years would you say that you’ve been more selective about what you decide to release?

Definitely. The point of the band was that we were barely a band — it was just this cool thing that we did. We made records whenever we wanted. We weren’t trying to keep up with a press schedule. We were just two guys in a bedroom with half-broken microphones. Now that we’ve become more selective, the ambition for the band has changed.

Do you feel like part of it is getting older?

Totally. But I feel like if we had started the band when I was 19, as opposed to 25, I would have still come to this conclusion five years later. It’s more about the band’s age.

“Lo-fi” is a tag that’s been used a lot for your music and in other interviews you guys have expressed some weariness over that. Was expanding your sound in any way in response to that tag?

It did annoy me when people would see us live and say, “They’re a great lo-fi band.” We were playing like every other band. How do you have a lo-fi live show? That aspect was kind of funny because you don’t label a studio band a hi-fi band.

The new record wasn’t really a reaction to that — there’s a couple new songs on the record that we recorded in Jeremy’s living room, but you can’t tell the difference because we’ve gotten better. The biggest benefit of working in a studio is that we had an engineer doing all of the annoying stuff so me and Jeremy could play around.

What were some things that you were able to pull off in the studio that you couldn’t have done at home?

Fifty percent of the record, maybe a little more, was tracked live with our touring drummer. Normally it’s just me and Jeremy. We toured so much and I knew I wanted to capture some of the vibes of our live show in the way that musicians play off each other. I wanted to worry about that, without worrying about any of the technical stuff.

That live sound really comes across on the record. How important to you is that?

For this record, that was the No. 1 priority for me. The other records were really quick and spontaneous. With some of the older songs, we play them every night and they become their own thing. So for this one, we tried to write on tour and then record. It’s how plenty of other bands work, but we started backwards so it was a revelation to us. [I mean] the ’60s and early ’70s rock records that we like are tracked live. I record a lot of bands and it’s funny how people don’t put much value on live tracking. They record everything with computer recording — which I love and utilize — but you can mess up, we can fix it later. Because of that, I feel like maybe the musicians aren’t [end up not being] as good as they could be. Because recording is so easy, people envision the band before the band happens. They dream it up in their heads, instead of putting it together and seeing how the band sounds when they’re playing off each other, and then writing to those strengths.

You mentioned you’re interested in ’60s, ’70s rock. What about that era appeals most to you guys?

There’s a band mentality and gang mentality. There will always be bands, because people want to be a part of a gang, no matter how scrappy. I just watched the Beatles’ [film] A Hard Day’s Night — the idea of just running around with your friends and being crazy is something that will never die.

Also, it was this era of no-bullshit music. Those bands who recorded live could just get in a room and play and sound great. It’s fun to be good at an instrument. I didn’t play an instrument when I was a kid and I was always so jealous of people who played the piano but probably hated it.

How have your musical touchstones changed over the years?

They’ve gotten a little deeper. The one thing about Woods is that I’ve never felt like any influence wasn’t welcome, whether it’s a folk song or a 10-minute guitar solo or just some drone track. That’s so liberating. That’s the tradition we want to follow. In my personal life I listen to more jazz now; that’s what happens when you get older right? I was texting with my friend who’s a record-store punk and was like, “I just ‘got’ jazz!” Something clicked. The record I was listening to when I got it was the Coltrane and Johnny Hartman. It’s really good. I’ve always liked Chet Baker, and this record kind of reminded me of that. I hadn’t had a dose of romantic vocal jazz in a while.

Jeremy was living outside of NYC in Warwick for awhile. Have you considered moving away from the city?

No, I love the city. I grew up outside of it in Westchester County, and lived in a place where, when I would walk down the street, people would call me a “faggot.” There wasn’t a lot of culture. Even when I visit my dad and family outside of the city, I feel like I’m in high school and people are staring at me. Maybe I should get a nicer haircut? But you never know what people are laughing at when they laugh at you.

I love Williamsburg and hate it at the same time. I like the fact that when I go get a cup of coffee, they’re playing T. Rex. It’s the thing I wanted as a teenager, and now I have it. Those are the small pleasures you get from living in the city.

I definitely don’t think that music comes easier to us outside of the city. The first albums, up until Songs of Shame, were recorded in a very small den of an apartment. There was very little socializing. It was very weird, dark times. I think moving upstate for Jeremy was just to do the opposite of that — to get away — and that was helpful. It was a remedy at the time.

It definitely seems like the mood is lighter on this album. What was happening while you were writing it?

I never think of Woods as that light. We’re not as light as other people think we are and I understand why people say that but lyrically we seem so heavy and sort of devastating sometimes. Lighter mood? Maybe it’s because we recorded in the summer. It could be that simple.