Writer’s block is something that Woods has never had to contend with, the Brooklyn-based unit having released seven albums since forming back in 2005. Reached in a tour van that’s headed for Chicago, multi-instrumentalist Jarvis Taveniere notes that the band has always worked fast, often recording songs almost as soon as they are written. But even though that’s worked out fine, he and Woods’ main songwriter, singer-guitarist Jeremy Earl, decided that it was time to mix things up for the new outing, Bend Beyond.
“All of our records have been made quickly—we’ve literally been putting up the mikes while we were writing them,” Taveniere says on his cellphone. “What we’ve tried to do is capture ideas while they are in their infancy. That’s sort of been the whole idea of the band—it’s what we’ve always wanted to be. Our last three records were made completely under those circumstances. To do that again seemed, to me and Jeremy, kind of boring. We wanted to change up the way that we work.”
Following in the tradition of past Woods records, Bend Beyond had the two bandmates working close together in a glorified home studio, Taveniere hauling a bunch of recording equipment up to Earl’s house in upstate New York.
“It wasn’t a huge change, other than we really made an effort to let the songs marinate a bit,” Taveniere says. “A lot of times we make demos, listen to them in their rough shape, and go ‘This is great—we can release this.’ This is a record more where we listened to demos, and then used them as a jumping-off point.”
The new approach paid off handsomely, with Bend Beyond having received across-the-board raves, and not just on Pitchfork. In the past, Woods has walked a line between big-city folk and shroom-addled Americana. Critics have zeroed in on the way that the band has toughened up this time out, with the kickoff title track unleashing the kind of spark-throwing guitar work that suggests someone has tapped into his inner Crazy Horse. From there, the men of Woods get disorientingly mystical in the Afrobeat-tinted “Cascade”, dive headfirst into the psychedelic ’60s with the organ-saturated “Find Them Empty”, and drown dreamy pop in rolling waves of feedback for “Wind Was the Wine”. Still, it’s the epic title track that drives home the point that Woods is, more than anything, interested in moving forward.
“‘Bend Beyond’ is a song that Jeremy recorded a 10-minute acoustic version of,” Taveniere reveals. “That was the version we were going to release for the longest time. But we played it live over the course of two years and it started to become this other thing that you hear on the record—like a more condensed, focused, live rock-band kind of thing.”
“Focused”, he adds, is a pretty good description for Woods these days. In fact, he’s so committed to the band’s vision when there are days that he can’t believe how much he loves what he’s doing musically.
“When I was 15 years old and listening to the Ramones I don’t think I ever thought ‘Yeah, I’m going to be 30 years old and playing in a jam folk band,’ ” Taveniere says with a laugh. “Actually, a psychedelic folk band. It’s literally like, ‘What the hell happened?’ ”
Woods plays the Media Club on Saturday (October 13).