INTERVIEW

They’re a secretive bunch, but Woods’ knack for melodic garage folk is steadily becoming common knowledge

woods

The phone of G. Lucas Crane, tape technician of acid folk jammers Woods, rings. “Right on time,” he excitedly says by way of hello. “My neighbours are doing something really weird. One of them appears to be slaughtering a pig in a room the size of a closet. And then in the same room there’s also a flat-screen TV and a guy doing Tai Chi in his underwear while they’re watching Iron Man! I went to get my binoculars to take a closer look at the pig and noticed that the guy slaughtering it is wearing earrings and makeup.”

More phone conversations should start like this.

“In the apartment just next to them there’s this nerdy white kid reading Infinite Jest in his living room. He has no idea what’s going on through the wall.”

It’s 2pm in Brooklyn where Crane is playing Rear Window, sat atop the roof of his warehouse apartment. The rest of his band – Jeremy Earl [vocals/guitar], Kevin Morby [bass] and Jarvis Taveniere [everything else] – live a couple of doors down in a similar space they call Rear House: a rehearsal space-come-studio and label HQ for Earl’s Woodsist imprint, much like Minor Threat’s nerve centre, Dischord House.

Crane handles most press matters simply because, “I’m the one who talks,” he says “and if you want a one word answer you’d ask one of the other guys.” The quartet have also known each other long enough for one to speak accurately for all, and besides, Woods hardly give interviews, giving away little when they do. For this reason, Crane’s forthcoming, excitable tone is all the more welcome, brought about, no doubt, by Woods’ current success as much as the baffling sights across the street.

In a world of Brooklyn garage bands, Woods are an anomaly; folk where so many others are surf; rustic and rural in their ‘campfire pop’, as it’s more and more frequently known. They’re fresh water (as new album title ‘At Echo Lake’ suggests), not coastal. In many ways they couldn’t sound less New York, or less urban at least.

“I’ve thought about this,” says Crane “just because of the kinda shows we play in New York and stuff, and the bands we consider our friends who sound nothing like us, but I think you need to look no further for an explanation than the very nature of New York State itself. New York City being what it is, it’s world renowned – it’s this cool paradise of the country – but it’s situated in a state that goes all the way to Canada and it’s extremely rural, and full of up-state mystery – hillbilly mystery; Appalachia, shit like that. It’s confusing because of the bands we tend to play with.”

The bands that Earl releases through Woodists muddies thing even further, wavering from neighbourhood, beachy lo-fi types like Real Estate and Vivian girls to west coast psyche and skateboard garage from Moon Duo, Wavves and Thee Oh Seas, none of which help to accurately place Woods on a map of the US. Crane’s explanation that shames our blinkered view of New York is unquestionably valid, though. There are vast fields of tall grass and babbling waterways outside of the city, and you can hear it in Woods’ new folk, which sounds something like Neil Young fronting The Shins.

“We’ll take the Neil Young things,” says Crane, still talking at a hundred miles an hour “because of Jeremy’s unique voice – he, like, sounds his voice in himself, and that’s a big part of what makes the band sounds so strange, his weird-ass voice that he’s figured out at some point. So yeah, I’ll take Neil Young. Love Neil Young, as a creative force and as a musician, just like the weird-ass shit that he was doing conceptually with his albums, and all of the awesome song writing. That. Is. Totally. Known!” Crane pauses for a half breath. “I dunno… the Shins thing, that’s just what people say when the vocals sound really nice. I like The Shins but that’s a little further away.”

On ‘At Echo Lake’, it’s the delicate, hay-smoking, otherworldly and completely serene ‘Pick Up’ that particularly harbours back porch philosophies similar to those of Young – their ‘Heart of Gold’, if you will. But live, and unrestrained by the time restrictions that recordings impose, Woods are far more likely to jam into the barmy night. If anything, they’re more like Young then when at Rear House. “You can come and see us live for something different,” says Crane “where we play for an hour too long.”

These never-ending wig-outs have sometimes been under the name Woods Family Creeps, inspired by the band’s album of the same name and wholly dependent on how they feel when arriving at any given show. They resolutely – and rightly – believe that “music is about freedom”, which is why three of them remain silent and even the affable, chat-a-box Crane has avoided over-explaining ideas and concepts in the past.

Ambiguity, in a world of 24-hour Twitter feeds and bowel movement updates, is important to Woods. They’re covered in code and cryptic symbols, from Crane’s own ‘Tape Technician’ title (“Well, here we are in 2010 and tapes are an instrument,” he laughs. “No, it’s just how I handle my samples. I make sound collages for Woods, and for me it’s not about digital files, it’s about concrete blocks of sound that you can hit.”) to the recurring eye that finds its way onto every piece of Woods artwork, as well as many of Woodsists other releases.

“OH MY GOD!” says Crane. “He’s really cutting that pig apart,” he laughs. “Oh shit, he just cut it completely in half – half of it just fell on the ground… Err, the eye, yeah, it’s personal iconography, man. We all use personal hieroglyphics in our art, in the way the guitar solos are worked out, in the tapes… Yeah, it’s kind of personal, sure. Like, I have a particular problem sometimes where if I go into a very introspective place in my life, or if something dramatic happens to me, I have this recurring, crazy vision of this giant eyeball floating in the sky – when the darkness comes through me, that’s where it comes from, like this thing, this eyeball that sucks inwards, into the pupil, like a vortex. But that’s just me,” he says cheerily. “An eyeball crops up in other people’s iconography in the band also, so it has resonance with all of us.”

When asked to explain the difference between Woods and Woods Family Creeps by Canadian music website exclaim.ca, Crane explained, “On the cover of the album that came out before ‘Songs of Shame’ there are three words: “Woods,” “Family” and “Creeps.” If you want to have an album by Woods Family Creeps that’s self-titled, you can. If you want an album by Woods called ‘Family Creeps’ you can have that too. Sometimes we’ll play a show as Woods Family Creeps if we roll into town and that’s how we’re feelin’.”

Such an enigmatic stance could easily point toward music that is pretentious to a fault; for ones so lawless, Woods could be little more than self-indulgent stylists. But they’re not, just like they’re not a typical, 3-minute, US garage band that sings about surfing. They’re ultimately tunesmiths; super cool, Brooklyn tunesmiths, with their own record label and more real hip friends than you’ve got dowdy Twitter followers, sure, but their self-released albums and singles are fad-free. Because under the secrecy, the weird-ass tape loops and the NYC headquarters, Woods make a brand of new folk that’s blissfully whimsical, happily nostalgic and, most importantly, classically and simply melodic.

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