Woodhands Get Personal

Sunday, 07 March 2010

I think the first record was an experiment,” contends Woodhands singer Dan Werb. “We were playing in a genre that we were learning about as we went along; playing shows and writing songs and recording them. Through them, we learned what dance music was all about and we took it as far as we could; in terms of the lyrical content, it was a trip for me to try to write about how I was feeling and see if it would translate to the style we were playing in. Looking back at the songs on [Woodhands' 2008 album] Heart Attack now though, I was singing about my life and experiences but it's very guarded, in a way,  because I wasn't sure how it would work. I think that I just felt more lyrically comfortable being open after having the experience of writing the songs on Heart Attack behind me and feeling like the audience had connected with them. When there's that connection, it's really encouraging to take it one step further and I think that, in all respects, that's what the first album did for us; it was really well-received by our fans and that energized us to take it further.

“The reception we got was really what inspired Remorsecapade,” continues the singer. “We wanted to take it further from that and we wanted to roll over people with something that wasn't just the same, there was growth, and some progression artistically.”

There is a lesson that can be learned in what Werb says has been the guiding principle for Woodhands: sometimes the best, most direct route  to innovation is to not have a set of directions in the first place. According to Werb, Woodhands has consistently stood on the outside and looked in upon the musical genre they're playing in since first forming in 2004, and then taken the impressions they've gathered from that position and put them to use. It sounds like it might be a slightly bizarre stance to take – being basically peerless and making up the rules and values of your music on your own terms but, thus far, the process of such a curve have served the band well. The results have certainly been innovative within the context of dance and electronic music; particularly on Remorsecapade, Woodhands' sophomore album. “When we started working out the songs that became the ones on Remorsecapade, we knew we didn't want to repeat [what we did on Heart Attack] and we knew our fans thought of us as a dance band – which we are, essentially – but we also knew we're on the fringes and neither Paul nor I came out of a dance music tradition; that was never the go-to stuff that we listened to growing up,” explains the singer as he outlines the working process that Woodhands took for their new album. “Because of that, I don't think we felt as constrained by the conventions of the genre, but we were also nervous about fucking with things too much. There were times during the recording where, after we finished laying some stuff down, we'd turn to each other and ask, 'Was that even a dance track?' Apparently it is though, and it's really cool for us to see how different we think what we're doing is versus what our fans have said, and looking at the way we even think about writing music.

“The first album was really easy to put out,” confides the singer as he remembers what Woodhands' creative headspace was like during the making of the band's debut album versus the process that yielded their sophomore effort. “I think it probably always is because you have all the time in the world – but the sophomore record made us a little nervous because the process was just naturally different; there were expectations we hadn't foreseen on us, we had a sense of what our fans like about our music and that affected how we put our music together. Before we released the first record, we had been playing those songs for about a year and a half and really knew they were hitting but, with the new record, we started writing stuff on the road but didn't really start playing the new songs until earlier this month and people had only heard all of them with this new record which wasn't released that long ago so there was a lot of tension that built up; you start to wonder – before the record comes out, although it's in the can – if you made a horrible mistake somewhere along the way but that it has been so well received has been really gratifying.”

It's easy to understand why fans have gravitated toward Remorsecapade like they have, the band has genuinely grown up significantly. Since releasing Heart Attack in 2008, Woodhands has actually opened up the scope of their sound to appeal to a greater audience. From the opening downturn of “Pockets,” Woodhands simultaneously recalls all of the vintage synth-pop and dance club heavies of the Eighties – Echo & The Bunnymen, Depeche Mode, Flock Of Seagulls, Devo, Duran Duran, the Human League – as if they were never gone. There is no warm-up, Remorsecapade just begins as if the music was cut off in mid-sentence nineteen years ago and picks up almost exactly where the bands left off in 1991. Between stuttering synths and more modern electronic footnotes, drummer Paul Banwatt battles out steady and constant beats so solid you could set your watch by them and, in front of that exploding plastic inevitability stans Werb, functioning as the voice and personality of Woodhands. Regularly waxing sleazy in a way that bends typical gender roles – when he spits the words “I need affection” in “CP24,” it's a little comical given the synthetic backdrop, but also a little hooky in the band's practice – but comes off a little insecure as the miniscule cracks in his voice make the singer's hyper-masculine pushes seem put on and that's the thing that will drag the skeptical through because they want to see him crack. He doesn't though, and Werb ends up winning them over because of it.

As the record progresses, Woodhands get progressively darker (“Coolchazine” has some great great, unhinged vocal performances) and more conflicted as they try to justify the disparity between their songwriting and instrumentation. The darkest moments of all come when Woodhands try to bend to the conventions of the genre they're working in (check out “I Should Have Gone With My Friends,” “Dissembler” and “When The Party Is Over” for a captivating discourse) but end up pushing in new and interesting directions because they're just not that flexible; every time the band tries to be unconventional, they end up inserting a little more of their own personalities into the songs with the exertion. Because of that, listeners discover all-new possibilities for a genre that has never favored personal identity. While some would say it's a mawkish failure but, realistically, the structure of and epiphanies produced by Remorsecapade is its greatest triumph for the band; here, Woodhands adopts rock growth conventions (darker focus on growth has always been commonplace on sophomore albums) but bent it in such a way that makes it unique. On Remorsecapade, the developing personality of Woodhands really shines through – all of which is the sort of praise that Werb says he genuinely takes to heart because neither he nor Banwatt really second-guessed what they were doing until after the album was already in the can; during the writing and recording process for Remorsecapade, the concern was more a matter of finding the right way to articulate any kind of sentimentality in dance music. “We had a sense of what we wanted to do with each song, it was just a matter of finding the right way to express it,” says Werb flatly. “We recorded over about a year but we didn't record consistently over a year. We did a little at a time and, as the year progressed, we got a little more focussed on the project. It was a really quick process when we got down to it, getting down to it was the more complicated part. It did go quick and part of that had to do with deadlines for the label but I think those deadlines really helped us and to have a sense of tension in the record is kind of good.”

With Remorsecapade now out in Canada [it comes out on March 23, 2010 through Paper Bag Records –ed] and the positive reviews of it continuing to stack up, excitement is beginning to build both in fans and in the band to the point that, each stop Woodhands' current tour has seen an ongoing increase in excitement for the band. “So far, the shows and the reception we've gotten at them has been awesome,” exclaims the singer excitedly. “We played some lead-up shows which were great – we played a festival in Guelph [Ontario], had a secret show in Toronto, did a show in Vancouver last week which was awesome – and now we're starting to get really excited about hitting the road.”



Woodhands' video for “CP40” from Remorsecapade.

Further Reading:

Review of Remorsecapade on Ground Control.


will be released on March 23, 2010 through Paper Bag Records. Pre-order it here on Amazon .

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