Jarvis Taveniere of Woods: On Jam Bands and Live Recordings
January 25th 2013
Brooklyn’s Woods are categorically gung ho about the possibilities of music. While some might slot them in the psych-folk realm, the unremitting creative inputs they have brought to their music over the years have seen them develop a melting-pot identity immune to rapid-fire diagnosis. Late last year, Woods released Bend Beyond, their seventh album in about as many years. It makes for a versatile ride that fuses the band’s ongoing experimental leanings with a decidedly retro flair. Not long now and they’ll be finding their way to our shores for the very first time, playing a bunch of festivals and headlining shows. Jarvis Taveniere, band member and multi-instrumentalist, was kind enough to lend his thoughts to some Qs The Flog sent his way. The exchange is as follows:
So, Bend Beyond is the band’s seventh record. What is it that keeps the Woods engine running so intently?
Jarvis Taveniere : We’re just total record heads. Every time we get together, all we talk about is the music we’ve been listening to and the little epiphanies we’ve had regarding writing and recording music. Also, we all still believe that making a recording of a song that didn’t exist a few hours earlier is a form of magic.
The album has songs with out-there musical detours and an almost jam-band feel in parts. The title track has the hallmarks of a 20-minute song. What’s the trick to reining in the spirit of adventure and keeping these songs so concise?
We consider ourselves a jam band! Unfortunately, the imaginary jam band scene in our heads, where everyone’s equally into the 13th Floor Elevators and the Stooges as they are the Grateful Dead, doesn’t really exist in any major way. A few years ago we thought that maybe we could get into the jam band world and play for Phish fans that might be open to extended versions of our songs. In reality it’s a pretty stale scene. So we’re trying to create our own thing.
As for the song, Bend Beyond, I don’t think we’ve ever played it out for less than 15 minutes live. We didn’t mean to play it so short on the LP, but we rolled tape and that’s what happened. Still, I think it does everything it needs to.
I’m a big fan of “Back to the Stone”. It’s got a surface calm, replete with hooks and gentle vocal melodies, but also a bit of a wire loose, if you listen closely. “Size Meets the Sound” is another favourite with a demented collapsing drum line. It’s the small details that reveal the uniqueness of Woods to me. Would you agree with that?
Yeah, I think the people that really connect with our records are connecting with those little things. I can’t listen to records that don’t have those unhinged moments. I like the human element that lets me know the music is actually being made in a room by real people.
I read somewhere that you approached this album as a live recording. What were the benefits and side effects of that process?
The band started as a recording project. Our whole idea was to document music as it happened and before it developed, whether it was a 10-minute guitar-hand drum improvisation or a pop song. After six LPs, I feel like we can give that approach a rest for a little while. You know, after three or four years of touring it seemed foolish not to include the live element in our recordings.
Bend Beyond seems very true to the virtues of the album format, creating a mood that’s sustained and developed from song to song. How important are the possibilities of the album structure to the way Woods records music?
It’s 50/50. We do try and keep the idea of the finished album in the back of our heads, but it’s also understood that we’ll follow whatever inspires us and let the album become something that we hadn’t planned on. When we make an album, there’s usually between five and ten songs that never get finished. Sometimes it’s because it’s simply not that good, but usually it’s because we start to see what the album’s becoming and some pieces just don’t fit the narrative that’s taking shape.
With so much material under your belt, how are you planning to showcase your extensive back catalogue of sounds to Australian audiences?
We keep our live sets pretty dynamic, but we don’t reach too far back into our catalogue. We would love to play the new stuff we’ve been working on, but we leave in ten days, so that might be unrealistic!
Lastly, what are you looking forward to most about the tour?
Getting the hell out of dodge, man. Winter in New York can be beautiful, but we’ve just gotten through the holidays and now it’s just the bleak beginnings of real winter. Total misery. Everyone feels like shit. It’s summer in Australia, right?