THE ALBUM REVIEW
Wooden Wand & the Sky High Band
(Kill Rock Stars)
Lsting 1960s influences like the Seeds and Jandek, Wooden Wand and the Sky High Band is yet another group eager to associate itself with the most out-there of the out-there outsider musicians. Though previous records that the group’s driving force, James “Jehovah” Wand, has been involved with have tended more towards the abstract, Second Attention (a collaboration with members of the Sky Green Leopards) shows a friendlier, more accessible side of his own “new weird America.”
Recorded with vintage equipment while holed up in a two-story house in San Francisco, the record takes the insular route of music-making that the Band and Bob Dylan took when they recorded The Basement Tapes at Big Pink in upstate New York. Like their predecessors, the Wooden Wand search for a long lost America, playing a bit of organ, and hitting the occasional tambourine. They mine the same folksy aphorisms, invent a small town of quirky characters, pay homage to spirituality, and spin for themselves obtuse creation stories outlandish enough for a very, very unlikely biopic.
Jehovah sounds like a weary American pioneer conjuring up a promised-land future on the wagon trail. In the slow-moving ‘Mother Midnight’, his deep traveled voice describes what could be a psychedelic version of American utopia: “Low flying clouds over wild ruby falls, repeating in patterns like fat paper dolls.” Their work is proof that whether or not the old prairie-lands ideal of the American Eden ever existed, it continues to act as a source of inspiration for rock musicians, renewing itself with each generation.
The L Magazine: Tell me more about how you recorded your album — you boarded yourself up in an old house, right? Sounds spooky. Jehova Wand: It would have been if I was alone, but it was pretty much a party atmosphere the whole time. We just stocked up on bourbon, donuts, and Nutella, and just went for it. The L: You sound to me to be playing music that’s not only nostalgic, but also a little outsider, and the influences you list seem to touch on both of these. What is it about this sound that appeals to you? JW: I prefer the music that was popular before I was born. There is plenty of contemporary music I enjoy, but the music that I’m most drawn to has the same qualities I try to convey in my own music. Sincerity, mostly. Bind Willie Johnson, Neil Young, Jandek — they all have this in common. The L: Where did you grow up and how has this influenced your projects and your music? JW: I grew up in a culturally vapid place called Staten Island, New York. It’s one of the five boroughs of New York City [We’re vaguely familiar with it, sir. We’ve never actually been there, but we’re familiar. -Ed.], but it shares little of the allure of the other four. The only influence it had on me is that I have pretty good rhythm from all the hip-hop I was constantly exposed to there. But don’t ever go there, it totally sucks. I moved to a more rural place as soon as I could. The L: Your sound has changed considerably, from sounding spaceier, to a folksier sound with this new collaborative project. Do you see yourself in this direction? JW: Well, actually, this direction is less an experiment than what came before. Everything I did with the Vanishing Voice had to be cultivated — I was making thinly veiled tributes to records I enjoyed. My more ‘commercial’ songs tend to come from a more natural place, so for now, that’s what I’m enjoying most. The L: You recently decided to switch to the Kill Rock Stars label. How’d that come about? JW: Kill Rock Stars was interested and I was immediately psyched. Their lineage and history speaks for itself. Slim Moon (label owner) is one of my favorite people in the ‘biz. The L: What do you think of the term, “new weird America” and do you consider yourself a part of this genre? JW: It’s a journalist’s invention, and though I understand the need for an angle, it doesn’t begin to encompass everything that everyone who gets lumped into this ‘scene’ is doing. Scenes, historically, tend to be geographically centered, which is not the case with so-called New Weird America or free folk or whatever. I don’t like to be lumped in anywhere and I imagine most of my immediate contemporaries feel the same way. Hopefully time will vindicate those who deserve to be vindicated. Until then, I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing. •