The New Loose: A Conversation With Woods 

With last year's Songs of Shame, a spiderweb of acidy back-country rock, Woods established themselves as one of the definitive Brooklyn DIY bands. Their follow-up, At Echo Lake, dropped earlier this week to critics singing praises for its tighter, edited psych-rock. Multi-instrumentalist/recording guru Jarvis Taveniere sat down to talk with us about the new record, being known as a live band versus a recording band, and this so-called Brooklyn scene that they may or may not be a part of. They play tonight, not with Real Estate, but as part of the Joshua Light Show residency at Abrons Arts Center. If you miss it, then you'll have to wait until Northside to catch them next, and honestly, June 25 is still a long ways away.

The L Magazine: So I hate to bring up Pitchfork right off the bat but have you read the review they just wrote of the new album?
Jarvis Taveniere: Someone forwarded it to me; I read part of it. I think they talk about the Grateful Dead a lot?

The L: They do, it's the first thing that comes up, actually. Do you think that comparison is accurate?
JT: Hmm, I guess it surprises me. I mean, we all love the Grateful Dead, and we love to channel that kind of energy, but I guess it surprises me that we're doing it enough that someone would recognize it, even if it's just that one person. Maybe they're basing it more off our live show.

The L: Were they in your head as an influence while recording?
JT: No, not particularly. But like I said, it's just something we all like.

The L: Do you think for a while they were a black sheep in the indie world, like no one would admit to liking them?
JT: Yeah, I've definitely noticed that. People still act that way. It's weird. They're just one band. But one great band. I mean, they have a lot of history, so it comes with a lot of baggage.

The L: Is Echo Lake a real place? I know there's a reference to it on the last album as well.
JT: Yeah, it's a lake in New Jersey. Jeremy grew up on the boarder of New York and New Jersey, so he used to go there with his family when he was younger. It's not the nicest lake.

The L: I read in a previous interview where, I think it was Lucas, he mentioned each one of your albums is a snapshot of a particular time.
JT: I agree with that.

The L: What period of time were you trying to capture on this album?
JT: I think it's more of a time in the band's life. Specifically last summer. "Suffering Season" was definitely last summer. I feel like this is a happier album, and that they last one had a heavy, dark vibe.

The L: You were touring then?
JT: We were in between tours. We kind of just record a lot, whenever. Me and Kevin, our bass player, live together, and Jeremy used to live with us but he has a house upstate now, so we've been going up there to record stuff too. We record stuff for a year or so, and then when we're feeling a little itchy to put something out, we go through it. We're not on the road all the time, so we just have fun listening to records, getting inspired, setting up some mics. Sometimes we're practicing, and then we'll just start writing something. A couple songs we had been playing on tour for a while before we actually sat down to record them.

The L: So you have a lot of material to choose from.
JT: Yeah, usually. I mean, not all of it's good, but I definitely had what I thought was At Echo Lake on my iPod a year ago. It' very different from what it actually ended up being.

The L: How did it change?
JT: There were songs that just didn't get finished. Songs that were better. Songs that just didn't fit.

The L: It definitely seems to have a more structured, less improvised feel to it. You think that's fair to say?
JT: It's a little more to the point... that was intentional. It's our fifth album, so it was like, "Let's try this." Before, I think with touring, we were getting comfortable with being loose. Now we're trying to find a "new loose," you know? We've done the old kind of loose.

The L: Did you feel any pressure going into it after getting so much buzz from the last album?
JT: No, not really. I mean, I guess kind of we did, but being that we don't really set out to say, "We're going to write this album. We have to write this album this month," we feel pressures but it just didn't really come up. When inspiration hit, we recorded a song, except the last few we recorded maybe the week before we finished the album. It was kind of like, "We don't have a song like this yet. Let's make one."

The L: Looking back, you tend to feel good about those snap decisions?
JT: Yeah, I always do. There are just so many snap decisions to draw from. We get to look back at a year of quick decision making and decide which ones were a little hasty. There's definitely been a number of times were we would try to re-record songs, and it's always the scrappier version that works. And sometimes it takes a couple tries. I think there's, like, six "Death Rattles."

The L: How do you determine who plays what? I know you usually play drums, but I swear I've seen you play other instruments at shows too.
JT: Live, it's pretty different just 'cause me and Jeremy make the records with him usually on drums, and I play a lot of guitar. So when it comes to the live show, it's just like, "How do we make this work?" When we record, nowadays we're just more interested in the actual recording, so it's easier to just let Jeremy play drums.

The L: And you're playing with the Joshua Light Show tomorrow — have you ever done anything with them before? I read that you improvise with the light. Have any idea of how that's going to go?
JT: No clue. It's going to be mind-blowing--to us. I might forget to play. We have a long setup for it, so we'll definitely stretch out a bit. I'm hoping it's almost more their show than ours.

The L: If someone could only listen to you on record or only see you live, which would you prefer they do?
JT: I guess live. Hmm, they're both so different. I think live, some of the arrangements are simpler so we can pull them off. But I personally really like recording. I'm really interested in that process.

The L: I know you put together some Woodsist Festivals on the West Coast. How did that come about?
JT: We just traveled through Big Sur a few times—we played there last year—and we just wanted to put something together. Any excuse to just be there for a couple days. It's magical. At first, I remember driving through on tour and deciding to go up Route 1 just since it's so beautiful. It wasn't until a year later that we realized people put on shows there and that there's this whole community of people there and bands always coming through.

The L: And you play a date in L.A. too—are West Coast audiences different then East Coast audiences?
JT: Hmm, I don't know. I don't know how much "East Coast" I know other than New York. The L: The correct answer is that East Coast is better.
JT: Well, we always say that this is our favorite place to play—Brooklyn. But, Big Sur? Not bad.

The L: I realize this is probably somewhat of a stereotype, but I imagine people on the West Coast being really receptive to a band like yours. The vibe of your music and the California culture just seems to go hand in hand, Grateful Dead comparisons aside.
JT: I would think so, but what we're both probably thinking of is, like, 30 years ago. I'm sure it still exists, I hope. The friends I have there are definitely on that same wavelength, but I don't know if that's actually the reality of what's going on. But we'll see. The last time we were there was right after Songs of Shame came out, so I'm curious.

The L: And Real Estate is playing with you on those dates?
JT: Yeah, they're flying out and playing those two and then the last half of our short tour.

The L: You and Real Estate are shaping up to be Brooklyn's version of Bright Eyes and Cursive back in their Omaha days. Not musically, obviously, but in terms of being at the hub of a close-knit community at a certain place and time and playing together so much. The Brooklyn scene gets written about pretty excessively these days, but do you feel part of scene?
JT: Everyone has their own version of it. There are so many little pockets of friends who play together. I'll read that a band is "the quintessential Brooklyn band," and I would have never heard of them, you know? I mean, yeah, I definitely feel like we have some friends, who play in bands, and I like their bands, and as people we have things in common.

The L: Do you have any thoughts on the Market Hotel closing down?
JT: We played there a few times. I don't know, eventually there will just be a new space. I like Todd P, and I like that there was a space that was that big. It was sort of amazing to be at a show for, like, $8 and you could bring your own beer, and there would be 500 people there.

But let's talk about the Brooklyn scene again. What is the Brooklyn scene? I'm always curious to hear.

The L: Well, actually, in our year-end issue, I wrote how Songs of Shame kind of typified "the Brooklyn sound"of 2009—it was progressive enough, traditional enough, creepy-sounding enough. It's everything that a lot of people want to hear right now I think.
JT: A lot of that record Jeremy just made by himself in his bedroom though, and I feel like it could have been made anywhere. Some of it was recorded upstate in the woods, too.

The L: You're right, it could have. But the timing of it all, that all of a sudden there was this lo-fi revival and all these bands started popping up with a similar aesthetic just made it more pronounced and more than just a coincidence. Writers tend to talk about it a lot, I'll give you that. And so many music writers live in Brooklyn these days, and we tend to write about what we know, what's happening in front of us, so there's that side too.

On that note, Songs of Shame came out almost exactly a year ago. Looking back, did you have a moment where you realized things were starting to change for you guys, in terms of press and people talking about you?

JT I don't know if I really had a moment of it, but I just kind of noticed that we were busier or something. Woods has always kind of been moving along and gradually building momentum, so there was never a point of "Holy shit!" And we've been doing it for so long too, that it never seemed overwhelming. Our relationship as a band is pretty intense back at home, but in relationship to touring and doing interviews and that kind of thing, it's pretty casual. We just want to keep things at a fun pace and not get bogged down. Music is ridiculous, you know? It's my favorite thing, but there are so many elements of it that are ridiculous. I just try to stay a fan.

The L: Is there one story or memory that sticks out from the past year?
JT: We played in Russia. And it was crazy, the craziest thing that happened last year. Definitely made me think, "What decisions have I made in my life that led me to play this show where people are fist-fighting and breaking our equipment as we play?"

The L: Oh no!
JT: It wasn't in an "I hate you" way. But we were in Europe, and it wasn't easy to get to either. Flying overnight on no sleep and being driven to this cold room and then playing to people who were wasted. There was, like, blood all over the bathroom. At a Woods show. It was crazy. And then we went to Spain. It's so beautiful. I got pickpocketed there, but the food! We're going to try to get back there ASAP. And we're going to Japan in the fall. Any place where we can go and eat well.

The L: Oh, cool. Did you seek out shows or did promoters come to you and say they're looking to book you for a show there?
JT: The label in Japan that's putting out the album wants us—and Real Estate—to come over and play together.

The L: See?
JT: I know, I know. Strength in numbers. It should be really fun.


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