Woods – Straightening Out ‘Bend Beyond’
Written by Marc Zanotti on 16th January, 2013
Once the at-home studio project of American musician Jeremy Earl – started as an exploration into songwriting, Brooklyn-based Woods have since evolved into a prolific lo-fi rock jam-band that tours the world.
Behind the partnership of Earl and multi-instrumentalist / producer Jarvis Taveniere, Woods have released an album for almost each year of the band’s existence.
Woods’ seventh album, 2012's Bend Beyond, has been praised for its ability to translate live, and it is the first record from Woods that was performed onstage in its entirety.
Bend Beyond has been noted as being Woods’ “best studio album and best set of live material”. How did your approach to this album differ to previous Woods’ records?
Jarvis Taveniere: Well, for one thing, I really wanted it to be the best record; it was our second. And I mean, that’s debatable and that’s cool, but for me we’d made the last few records in a really similar way, as far as workflow, which was just to have an idea and just document it really quick – just leave everything raw and just kind of leave it all in.
And we’d done that so many times, so we decided just to kinda’ do what we imagine every other band had been doing all along: just write a song and maybe let it sit and let it breathe a little bit, come into its own, and then document it.
Seeing that this album translates well live and it’s the first Woods’ album that can be performed live from start to finish, wouldn’t Bend Beyond have been the perfect setting for no pre-planning?
JT: Well, the thing is, it [Woods] started out as a record project. The first two records, I’m not even on them, its just Jeremy [Earl], and every one since has been me and Jeremy and not so much the live band. Coz it’s just the way our creative process has always been…
So I know what you mean, and maybe the next one could be a little more spontaneous now that we’ve sort of figured out how to capture that better.
The album still was recorded in about two weeks. How do you and Jeremy work so quickly and keep from over-thinking and over-editing the music?
JT: Yeah, we do. I mean, we don’t mean to; it’s also that we get really excited. We finish one record and by the time it’s done, you know, you spend so much time doing the technical stuff – like mixing and looping the masters and all this stuff, figuring out how you’re going to play it live – that it just kind of comes back to the simple aspect of wanting to make music and just create something new.
We just get so excited, you know. We buy some new records and we’re playing records for eachother and just getting turned on to new stuff. So we just get excited and just get productive. It kind of happens quick for us.
Does the short transition from writing to recording also come from a desire to capture the performance rather than rely on the production?
JT: We kind of like relying on the production; we’re OK with doing an early take of a song and not over-playing it until we get it perfect. You know, I like that element of it – just being live in the room. I like the human element to that.
I understand on Bend Beyond that you stepped away from songwriting and focused only on production. Is that correct?
JT: Yeah, it is, with the exception of a song or two. The way we used to work for the last few records was that we’d just get in a room together and ideas would just start coming, and we’d just try to document them all really quick.
So for this one, Jeremy just wrote songs on his acoustic guitar and sat with them for a little bit. He just played them for a bit, you know, just let them develop as a song, instead of just capturing something really quick and trying to get crazy with production.
Was it hard, at least initially, to remove yourself from the songwriting aspect of making an album?
JT: I record a lot of bands in New York, or some bands from out of New York, but I’ve a studio in New York. So I’ve kind of gotten good at that role and I enjoy it, and I think it’s something that I’m good at.
So I was really excited to slow down on the hyperactive creative energy, and just slow it down – let Jeremy write some songs that were just really good songs at the core. And then I could come in and do what I do…or try to do.
The formula of Jeremy (Earl) handling the songwriting and you on production has yielded such positive results. Do you plan to continue making records this way?
JT: I don’t really know, it changes all the time. We’ve been writing for whatever happens next…and that’s been a little more collaborative with the live band.
What about the possibility of bringing in a producer from outside the band so you and Jeremy can both focus on songwriting?
JT: Yeah, I mean. even when I do get involved in the songwriting, Jeremy still writes the majority of the songs. He’s a terrific songwriter, so I like to let him do his thing.
We’ve definitely talked about bringing in a producer or doing it ourselves in a lake house with some borrowed gear, you know. I don’t even know what will happen yet. But that we’re open to everything is what I’m saying…whatever gets us excited, really.
Do you think you’d be able to recreate Woods’ sound in a traditional studio, as it is aided by the band’s home setup?
JT: I don’t really know. I mean, I tend to think it is aided by our home setup. Just so that I can [work] without having someone who is a little set in their ways of how they do it.
Because I know from recording bands, sometimes I can get set in my ways when I’m dealing with so many different bands and I need to get results. You tend to rely on things.
However, when Jeremy and I get together and record ourselves – even if I have more experience now when taking time in doing things – there’s still that element of trying whatever the f**k we want, whenever.
People find the perfect person to do that in a real studio and we’re open to that, but we’ll see.
Aside from the lack of time constraints, does the home environment also have a creative influence on Woods?
JT: Yeah, I think it does. The last two records we did up at Jeremy’s house, which is two hours north of the city. And especially for this one, I packed up just my whole recording studio and just moved it into his house. [It] took a whole day to set it up and turn his house into a recording studio, or a makeshift one.
Then once we did that…the second we woke up ’til the second we went to sleep we were just throwing out ideas and just really getting down to work. Sometimes – you know I still live in Brooklyn – it can be difficult not to be tempted by the distractions of living in a city.
Woods have released seven albums in about eight years. That’s a tremendous pace. How do you guys find the creative energy to release records so frequently?
JT: Like I’ve said, we’re really just big music fans, and we’re friends. There’s really no inner band drama with us. We just like to hang out and make music, that’s what it comes down to for us.
Even with Bend Beyond, when Jeremy and I were talking about it more conceptually, before we got down to it, we were like, ‘We’re going to wait a year. We’re not going to rush it or anything’. And then within a few months we couldn’t help but get together and start recording music.
Do you think taking a year to make a record would help Woods or are you and Jeremy so used to working at a heightened pace that taking your time might be detrimental?
JT: I don’t know either way what would happen. I think it’d probably be fine if we slowed down: it’d be fine if we made a record every week. But I don’t think the world wants to hear that, and I think we’d get bored if we did that.
Can we expect yet another Woods’ album this year, or will 2013 be a year just for touring?
JT: Yeah, I think it’s just touring and [we'll] probably get into the recording of it, but I don’t think we’ll be able to put out another record this year (chuckles), which I’m OK with.
Woods will be in Australia for Sugar Mountain Festival. As you said, Woods began as a studio project (in 2005). How has the live show evolved in that time?
JT: I mean [it's] pretty dramatic; I’d even say … [it's] night and day. Two years ago we did a tour with Jeremy on acoustic guitar and me on electric, and Lucas (Crane) playing cassettes, just like totally fired – like two guitars, one electric, I’m standing up [and] the [other] guy’s just making noise on the floor. It was pretty great, but it was just so dramatically different from now where we have a full drummer, and what Bend Beyond sounds like, the album, is what we sound like live.