What a Strange Trip
by Kevin J. Elliott

When Jeremy Earl began Woods out of the still smoldering ashes of Meneguar back in 2007, anyone paying attention likely thought of the project as a spurt of wanderlust or perhaps even novelty—nothing more than a diversion from the awkward splintered post-pop he was making in his former band. Still, even in the aping of Crosby, Stills, Nash and (especially) Young tropes, there was a sense that Earl and company’s new acoustic leanings were an artistic decision made completely in earnest. Move forward to 2010, where Meneguar remains a footnote akin to a stubbed toe, and Woods, following in the well-worn psychedelic pathways forged on their excellent sophomore album, Songs of Shame, are about to experience their renaissance in the release of At Echo Lake.

Even as the first trails of “Blood Dries Darker” begin to cling to the air, it’s apparent that Woods have evolved through months of ragged-glory tours, and as a result, crafted something timeless in At Echo Lake. Effortlessly capturing that communal vibe, theirs is a new psychedelia, a strain that doesn’t abandon the bedroom spontaneity of the Woodsist (Earl’s taste making label) stamp, but also isn’t afraid to worship indulgent soothsayers like the Grateful Dead or the Flying Burrito Brothers in carving out a compact, slow-burning jam. “Suffering Season,” perhaps the album’s buoyant highlight, even recalls a zoned out Olivia Tremor Control, drowned in layers of reverb, tape atmosphere, and Wilson-esque harmonics. Amongst these giant kaleidoscopic pop songs, Earl shows his affinity for simple, haunting folk songs. The journeyman tale of “Time Fading Lines,” the rain-on-tin lull of “Pick Up,” and the elegiac end of the night denouement of “Til The Sun Rips” all pronounce Earl as a born-again traditionalist, not a fluke songwriter leading the beards through modern Brooklyn. It could even be said that the band’s urbanism is a gift, and when that hustle ’n’ bustle efficacy retreats to nature, acoustic instruments, and clean, clear horizons, the results are close to mythical.

In anticipation of the release of At Echo Lake, Woods have been quite a busy band, relentlessly touring and planning a series of summer showcases for Woodsist in ideal West Coast locales. I was lucky enough to get a few minutes with their resident howler, tape manipulator and minister of information, G. Lucas Crane, in the short time they spent at their home base.

Can you elaborate on the difference between Woods and the Woods Family Creeps, and are we going to see more recordings from the latter?

G. Lucas Crane: Woods Family Creeps was created originally to represent a change in the band and eventually the format of the record became a bit more amorphous, letting us get away from rituals and routines. We sometimes show up at a place, and when we want to jam, we play as this. So in many ways it’s kind of our alter-ego, the word “creeps” is in there, so you know what you’re getting. It’s kind of like wearing a fake mustache. You know it’s the same guy, but he’s got a fake mustache on.

I find it refreshing that I had trouble finding any information or other interviews with you guys given the way the blogosphere operates these days. Is keeping a low profile important for you as a band?

GLC: I think in this day and age any kind of mystery or obscurity is more fun for everyone involved. With the internet, everyone is free to know what everyone else is doing by creeping on people’s sites and shit. I relish mystery in the internet age.

Given that you run Woodsist, which is full of bands getting lots of praise these days and has had a hand in nurturing this entire lo-fidelity movement, do you feel a part of this community or would you rather exist outside of it? What’s your take on why so many bedroom musicians these days can accumulate such a buzz so fast?

GLC: It’s just good songs and good music. It’s kind of cliched to say, but it’s a sign of the times. What I said about the internet is applicable here too. It’s much easier for people to find each other. Woodsist has been known to put out a record or two just from hearing a couple of songs from a band on MySpace. It gives you the feeling that the world is local now. It’s easy to have a bunch of musicians from all over suddenly become local in a sense.

I always theorize about why some bands tend to do better in England and given that your reception over there has been great, do you have a theory on this?

GLC: Well, the UK just has this long-standing tradition of enjoying music through a different lens than us. They have this long rich history of being more informed and more educated when it comes to their music. The influence of John Peel alone is enough to validate your theory.

Now that I’ve seen you live twice in the last six months, you’ve become that much more tight (or loose, depending on perspective) as a touring band, with a lot of emphasis on you fucking around with cassettes and effects on the floor. Is this communal, almost Dead-esque, amorphous shape of your music that you were talking about becoming more important? On At Echo Lake, was it critical to capture the sound that you’ve established live?

GLC: Though we definitely want to have a different feel on the record as opposed to live, you’re right in that this album feels like a snapshot. It’s a picture of what’s going on now. And in the last year, we have been touring a lot, so I do think its representative of how we sound on stage. At Echo Lake has our tendency to improvise and keep the weirdness intact. But live we like to jam and explore, and we don’t want to sound just like the record.

So then how was recording At Echo Lake a different experience than the albums before?

GLC: It was a snapshot. We were certainly looking to make a tighter, maybe even less-weird, album than Songs of Shame, but it ended up being representative of a string of weekends were we put it all together. It ended up being pretty quick and spontaneous. We don’t really think about how we want things to be interpreted in the end. We don’t think about those things.