Adventures in Lo-Fi or: How to Run a Label, Recording Sessions and a Music Festival From Your Brooklyn Apartment.
“We really flesh out what is recorded when we play it live”
“Lo-fi is just a term of how it’s recorded, and when people try to act like that’s a genre or something – it doesn’t really make sense to me.”
When rounding minute four of endlessly sprawling rhythms and dissonant sounds, physical surroundings can become a little hard to keep track of. As an acoustic guitar repeats itself simply and inconsistent, psychedelic bells ring in the background, “Sol y Sombra” – the nine minute long track found somewhere in the middle of Woods’ new album, Sun and Shade – can transport you from wherever you may find yourself through a time-warp of pastoral fields, black holes and paisley bus rides.
It is hard to imagine music this visceral being concocted by just two guys in a small Brooklyn apartment, but as far as recording goes, the rich ramblings of Woods are really the work of roommates and co-conspirators Jarvis Taveniere and Jeremy Earl. Woods began in 2005 as a side project of their previous band Meneguar. “Jeremy just kind of started doing Woods in his bedroom as his own thing between tours whenever he had time,” says Taveniere, over the phone from the streets of Brooklyn. Over the years, Woods branched out as Meneguar fizzled, and Taveniere got involved.
Both Taveniere and Earl hail from upstate New York, but Woods is Brooklyn-grown. The pull of rural roots tugs at the band’s sound, and just two years ago Earl split back to his hometown of Warwick, NY. “Jeremy lived in Brooklyn for about five years, but the second he moved here he was talking about going back upstate,” says Taveniere. “I think some of the claustrophobic sounds on the earlier records were really indicative of this guy who wanted to go back to the woods, but was stuck in the city.”
Sun and Shade is Woods’ fifth release since 2007, and is easily their most cohesive effort to date. Much of it was recorded up at Earl’s home upstate, and the album seems to reflect a freer sound. “On this record and the last one, Jeremy had already gotten out. I think it may have something to do with that,” says Taveniere. The number of satisfyingly long rambling tracks that punctuate this album are balanced out by short but sweet tracks like the opening “Pushing Onlys,” a perfect summer’s day wrapped into a three-minute burst of harmonic energy.
Woods is often labeled “lo-fi,” an over-eager title Taveniere takes careful issue with. “Lo-fi is just a term of how it’s recorded, and when people try to act like that’s a genre or something – it doesn’t really make sense to me,” he says. “I prefer ‘home-recorded,’ let’s say ‘home-recorded,’” he laughs.
There is a definitive softness to Woods’ music that really does sound homey, a characteristic many bands seem to be losing as they opt for the perks of independent studios over bedrooms. Taveniere, the main recording technician behind Woods’ albums, manages to capture a comfy feel without sacrificing sharp and clear vocals or instrumentation.
The slow and meticulous gathering of gear also lends itself to Woods’ subtle fuzziness. “We dictate what gear we’ve assembled and it sort of inspires the sound. We’re definitely into gear of a certain era,” says Taveniere. “We’re always buying new-old equipment. It’s a slow going, but constantly evolving thing.”
Though it is just Taveniere and Earl behind the majority of Woods’ recorded material, their touring set up looks a little different. On stage, they are joined by G. Lucas Crane on cassette manipulator, and Kevin Morby on bass. All of Woods’ previous releases have garnered critical acclaim from critics, especially their past two, 2009’s Songs of Shame and last year’s At Echo Lake. But the reputation of their live shows holds even more promise, noted for their elaborate jams and improvisations.
“We really flesh out what is recorded when we play it live,” says Taveniere. “We try to pick and choose the important elements before, but then we just go off the vibe. It’s good to know when to really go for it, what the starting point should be, and then just let it be a free-for-all from there.”
Though their previous albums have channeled the same classic ’60s sound that tracks like “Who Do You Think I Am?” and “Any Other Day” bring to Sun and Shade, the incorporation of both “Sol y Sombra” and the seven-minute long “Out of the Eye” bring in some of their live style. “It’s not a new thing for us, I just think we got more confident to put them at the forefront on this record,” says Taveniere. “After a few releases, you feel a little less constraint, a little more comfortable. We’ve always tried longer tracks, we’re just getting better at it.”
“Out of the Eye” calls to mind the jamming aesthetic of The Doors’ “Riders on the Storm” in its slow build and peripheral sound, never out of control, always with a distinct flow. Woods manages to pay tribute to this kind of long-form song without parodying it, and without dragging down any of their own unique style. Live, the band attempts to do the same thing. “We always have friends jump up on stage with us, and we always keep it loose,” says Taveniere.
In addition to a near-constant outpouring of well-received music of his own, Jeremy Earl runs Woodsist Records, an evolution of his earlier label, Fuck It Tapes. The Woodsist label is responsible for Wavves first album back in 2008 and Vivian Girls’ earlier work, as well as many other lesser-known bands quickly gaining a reputation like Fresh and Onlys, who Woods will be touring with later this summer. “Jeremy really does the work, he finds what he likes and he chooses to put it out there,” says Taveniere. “It’s just kind of building more of a community than everything else, a little tribe.”
Woods is embarking on their second full U.S. tour this summer, a different approach from their past few releases. “Usually it’s pretty mellow – we’ll do a week on the West Coast, a week over here – just sort of do things as they come up. This is the first long one we’ve done in a while,” says Taveniere. “Every show is with a front band, so there won’t be a point where we’re in the middle of America, questioning our existence.” Woodsist Records just threw a festival in Big Sur, California the last two days of July, a follow up to last year’s inaugural event. “It’s pretty surreal and beautiful there,” Taveniere says. The festival featured much of the Woodsist Records family that Earl has built on the East Coast over the past five or so years, including past collaborators Real Estate as well as Thee Oh Sees, Ducktails and White Fence.
Woods’ ambling, psychedelic music sets them apart from the seemingly endless amount of bands coming out of Brooklyn. They aren’t afraid to touch on a jam band feel, but manage to keep everything tight. Sometimes, all you need is music that takes you to a utopian valley of greenery without actually having to leave the city, and Woods provides just that: “It’s really us being in Brooklyn, dreaming about sitting in a field somewhere.”
Photos by Jess Shaffer