Becoming the Wood Brothers

Chris Wood’s earliest memories of playing music with his older brother Oliver come from when they recorded some rock and jazz tracks to an old four-track cassette player in 1980s Boulder, Colo.

“Music always brought us together,” says the bassist and composer.

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The boys’ father, William Wood, was a Harvard-educated molecular biologist who played with Joan Baez in 1960s Cambridge, Mass. Their mother was a poet.

“Literature was always an influence,” says Wood. “Our house was filled with books, as well as our dad’s singing and guitar playing. He was the first live music we saw. When you’re a kid, that’s powerful. You want to imitate that.”

“We’ve taken the time for all those strengths to meld together into the band we have become. That doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a while to turn those skills into trust and mutual respect over the years.”     –Chris Wood

After attending New England Conservatory of Music, Wood relocated to New York City where he founded the seminal, avant-noise, improv group Medeski, Martin and Wood, who released their 28th album, “Omisphere,” in October.

“[Drummer] Billy [Martin] wanted to get off the road,” says Wood of the band’s slowdown in 2006. “It was kind of this coincidence the universe made happen. Right at the same time some of those desires were first being expressed, that’s when Oliver and I connected. I was excited to do something in the singer-songwriter context using what I’d learned from MMW.”

For years, Wood crisscrossed the country with both bands until he was able to earn a living playing in a duo with Oliver.

For their self-produced sixth album, “One Drop of Truth,” The Wood Brothers were recently nominated for a Grammy Award in the category of Best Americana Album.

“A lot of the time when people prepare to make a record, they write all the songs and are hoping the 10 best ones will make it,” says Wood. “You book a session that may be long or short depending on your budget and you try to record all the songs at once. It’s such an overwhelming process, that you need someone who’s not so close to the music to lend it an objective ear.”

This is traditional role of a record producer. Instead of going down that road again, Wood and his brother along with drummer Jano Rix decided that if they had a new song in their heads, they’d go into the studio, have fun with it and make a record that very same day.

“We wouldn’t take it too seriously,” he says. “It freed us up to try new things. The best part is we would make the recording and completely forget about it. That’s the only way to self-produce and do it well. You have to get away from things so you hear how they really are. Then you listen to it with fresh ears and everything becomes obvious.”

Over the course of a year, The Wood Brothers recorded song by song in an ambient, abandoned Nashville church and the small, dry-sounding rooms of Electric Thunder Studios.

“Our career as the Wood Brothers has been a manageable build over time,” he says. “I’ve see people go big with one hit and it’s overwhelming and it can mess with your head. When you build slowly like this, you create relationships within the band. It feels like the family business we set out to do.”

“I do think this record in some ways is our best yet,” he admits. “We’ve learned it is the most us. As a team, we enjoy working together and everyone has strengths they bring to the project. We’ve taken the time for all those strengths to meld together into the band we have become. That doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a while to turn those skills into trust and mutual respect over the years.”

Having found success with two wildly distinctive trios over the course of three decades, it isn’t hard for Wood to keep himself busy these days.

“It’s sort of all music, but the process is really different and the way we function as bands is really different,” he says. “Ultimately, when you’re up on stage performing, whether you are playing a song a million times or you are improvising, it should feel the same. But what you do to get to that point is definitely different. How you prepare for it, the craft of songwriting and working on shows, are all completely different. With MMW, it was more important to have some good meals and some good wine and feel connected as opposed to planning it all out. With The Woods Brothers, we’ve got more of a live show. In the end, it’s all work I love.” | crystalbaycasino.com