All music is born of the same mother. Jazz shares a kinship with the blues, which itself gave birth to rock and so on, down the line. The great musicians understand this unequivocally and recognize that all of us at our very core are the same. Yet as consumers of music we are often surprised when an artist abruptly changes course and heads off in a different musical direction. Such is the case with Chris Wood of the jazz-fusion trio Medeski, Martin, & Wood and the Americana-inspired mountain music of The Wood Brothers. With The Wood Brothers set to play the Music Farm here in Columbia on Sept. 24, I had the opportunity to sit down to speak with Chris about this and other musical musings.
Could you talk about the differences in approach between The Wood Brothers and Medeski, Martin, & Wood?
From a basic music making perspective, there is no difference. It’s all about creating beautiful sounds. However if you are improvising you just want it to happen spontaneously. It’s letting it happen and trying to get out of the way. With The Wood Brothers its about crafting a song, songwriting, singing, and performing. I get to concentrate on singing and playing the upright bass at the same time. I love singing with my brother. It’s the most immediate visceral experience you have—singing. You want to take people on a journey when you craft a set for The Wood Brothers. You don’t have to do that in MMW. There is a lot of rehearsing in Wood Brothers. In the later years in MMW, we didn’t do that all.
Did you sing with your brother growing up?
I did. I did a lot of choir stuff at school. Jazz bands, orchestra, that kind of stuff. When I decided to become a jazz musician I sort of dropped it. The instrumental life consumed me. It wasn’t until I reunited with my brother that I picked it back up. Ironically my brother didn’t sing much earlier. He didn’t really start until he joined a band called King Johnson in his late 20s. He really developed a killer voice.
You have had the great fortune of being a part of some great collaborations with Warren Haynes, John Scofield, and Dave Holland to name a few. How important were those individuals to your growth as a musician?
Dave Holland was the reason I went to the New England Conservatory of Music. If you want to be a jazz musician you go to New York, but I wasn’t ready to make the move from my home in Boulder, CO to NYC so I went to Boston instead. There, I was surrounded by great musicians like Bob Moses, John McNeil, and Geri Allen. With Dave he would start off giving me assignments but then it became duets and that was the best because it really helped me find my own sound.
Can you describe your songwriting process in the Wood Brothers?
We sort of hit the process from all angles. We all have notebooks that we write in. Stream of consciousness type stuff. Weeks later I come back to it and have a fresh look at it, see things that I like. Sometimes you kind of figure out how it goes to music in your head and other times you sort of improvise some grooves and they might just magically fit with current lyrics.
One thing that has been really helpful for our songwriting is that we are all in Nashville for the first time. It lets my brother and I visit each other’s house and work on songs together.
Do particular cities or venues stand out to you as just great for live music?
Some cities do have a certain character about them. They get music. They appreciate music and have a connection to it. New Orleans and Chicago come to mind. In terms of venues you can often have a connection to a physical space. The way it is designed can lead to a stronger connection with the audience and also a great sound. The Wood Brothers have been fortunate to play some of these venues and I feel like the momentum is really picking up. We are becoming a tight unit and the live shows are really becoming great experiences.
The Wood Brothers will be at The Music Farm – Charleston on Tuesday, September 23 and Columbia Wednesday, September 24. Doors open at 7:00, show at 8:00.