Analogue Music | Wood & Wire

Wood & Wire

By Matt Conner

What else is a boundary-pushing band to do but continue to defy tradition?

The four members of the Austin-based band Wood & Wire utilize traditional bluegrass instrumentation, but from the beginning, they've been driven to experiment and expand on the expected. That certainly held true on the Grammy-nominated North of Despair (2018) and the exploration continues on their new album, No Matter Where It Goes From Here.

We recently sat down with banjo player and vocalist Trevor Smith to hear more about releasing music in the face of a pandemic and the continued desire to innovate together on their latest release.

Analogue: How are you holding up in these quarantined times? These are odd days to release an album into.

Trevor Smith: It's definitely a trip. When the quarantine first started, we kinda thought we'd put it on hold. The head of our label [Blue Corn Music] was getting a lung transplant, so it was pretty crazy. We were out of communication with him, and we were worried, too. We thought we'd just sit tight and see what happens. He came out of the surgery good and said, 'I just want to get this going. I think we should move it forward.' We thought we were going to push it to next year or something, but he was like, 'No, let's get this going. Let's move it forward.'

We'd already recorded everything. We just didn't know what to do and then whenever the label really wanted to get it going, then we thought, 'Okay, let's do it.' As soon as the process started happening, it did feel like the tracks we'd already released had been well-received, so in that way it's been, 'Okay this is cool.' I'm glad we decided to go for it.

So that's been a trip, and with everything going on in the world, it's been really wild feeling like, 'How do you put something out right now?' But it also feels good, like it's needed. Art is needed right now, I think, almost more than ever.

Wood & Wire

Analogue: You guys had the Grammy nomination and the success of the last album. Did you feel the presence of that hanging overhead as you went in to record a new album?

Trevor: Not really. The Grammy nomination took us by surprise and then it resulted in a really busy schedule for us, so that dictated a lot of our lives, but we'd already had a handful of songs anyway. At a certain point, we all recognized before we released the last record, we'd gone years without releasing a studio album. We knew we didn't want to wait that long again, so there was almost the internal pressure to work on these songs to keep that ball rolling so that we don't end up years down the road releasing our next album.

The Grammy acknowledgement, that pressure was never really there. We were just grateful that it happened. But more than anything it was our internal pressure and drive to want to work out these new songs.

When we have ideas, we like to demo them on the road. We'll work on them in the hotel, too. More than anything, it was building over time, the repertoire of songs, and we were able to test some of them live. However I do feel like a lot of these songs on this album, we've never played them live before. That's new for us because we like to road test songs and see how the audience takes to them and also just get them down really good so when we go into the studio, we can just knock them out.

Analogue: Does that make this album feel more vulnerable?

Trevor: Not really. I think it's kinda exciting for all of us because this collection of songs is very different than anything we've ever done. There aren't really any barn-burning bluegrass songs on here. They're more introspective and leaning on the songwriter realm at times. They're somewhere in a different space than we normally exist.

The last album definitely had its almost traditional-sounding tunes at times and definitely those barn-burners, but that pushed us, because the songs were different, to take a different approach. We used different equipment and thought about the songs differently, which led to it being really exciting—at least for me. I just think it's so unique and I'm really excited for people to check it out.

Analogue: What's unique about this approach?

Trevor: We all just wanted to try and embrace the songs on an individual level. Also, what started as a handful of songs we'd started playing on the road, we suddenly had like 15 or 16 songs, so we were in a position where we were like, 'Let's start going down the list and try to embrace the songs in how we can best cut them to tape.' Some of them lended to being more experimental with the process. We did a lot of running our tracks through amps and stuff to get different sounds and getting a little more experimental with all of that.

Analogue: Is that due to the chemistry developed?

Trevor: Definitely. By the time we were getting to do the last record, we'd really solified in a big way our sound, especially on the live sound aspect. I think we always felt really comfortable there. The trick is how do we encapsulate that energy on an album. I think we were able to do that on our last album, which helped a bit, and because of that, we had more confidence going into this one to not have to think about how we get that energy. This time, we just knew we could and just had to go in there.

We like to track as much live as possible and do as little overdubbing or edits as possible to help us get that energy, which is a balance as well, because you don't want it to sound sloppy. But you do want it to sound live.

Analogue: You sound quite confident, but it makes me curious what fears remain in the studio for you?

Trevor: Some of it ties into what I was just saying about the balancing act of wanting to capture the energy that we have in a live performance, to get that in the studio. That's always a balancing act. Also for me, the studio is always hard not to get too in my head about things, to remember to relax. On the last album, I wanted it to be as raw as possible. Most of the songs, I was like, 'That take sounds good enough. I don't want to mess with it.' This time, I wanted to dig in a little more, especially with the song that I wrote, "Roadie’s Circles," which is hard for me to play. It was hard for me to get a take I was happy with.

"A lot of these songs are really unique and different from what we normally do and I just can't wait for people to check it out"

Analogue: What's the story behind that song in particular?

Trevor: That one, I actually wrote the A section on the guitar just noodling around. Then at some point, I decided I'd learn it, because I liked the part, on the banjo, which pretty quickly brought me to write the B-section. I wanted to eventually write a third section but didn't, so I brought it to the band. We worked it out and came up with a cool arrangement. I was really into it, but I told them I was waiting until I got the inspiration to write a third part. Then we sat on it for a long time. Finally I said, 'Let's really start digging into this arrangement.' The arrangement became more elaborate which filled that gap of something I was wanting to fill the song.

Analogue: Is that song what you're most proud of personally?

Trevor: I don't know. Honestly, I don't think I could say it. I mean, I'm very proud of it. I'm excited that it's on there and I'm excited for people to check that out. I try to have at least one instrumental to contribute to every album. On the last album, I contributed what I consider to be something close to a traditional banjo tune, which I'd never really written before. This was along the lines of what I like to do, which is more modern acoustic string band style.

So I am very excited about that, but I can't say it's what I'm most excited about. A lot of these songs are really unique and different from what we normally do and I just can't wait for people to check it out. I don't know how they're going to take it. The album, to me, doesn't feel bluegrass-y at all, so I'm not sure if our diehard bluegrass fans will like it or not. But that doesn't bother me. I'm just excited to get it out there and let them decide how they feel about it.

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