Aaron "Woody" Wood has been a fixture of the Asheville music scene for nearly as long as there has been an Asheville music scene.
Wood is quick to note this fact, but somewhat conflicted about its implications.
“I was here before the Orange Peel, I was here before Emerald Lounge, I was here before Stella Blue, I was here before Jack of the Wood. The only club that I wasn't here before is the Grey Eagle, and they were in Black Mountain when I moved here. I've been here for so long it's ridiculous. It's almost embarrassing.”
In that time, Wood’s versatile guitar stylings have not gone unnoticed. From a tenure with local blues-infused, alt-country outfit The Blue Rags — who released two albums on Seattle's famed Sub Pop Records — to a win on CMT's Big Break reality series in 2007, he’s had a number of brushes with fame. Until now, though, the lifelong guitarist was without a record of his own to showcase the full scope of his talents.
That's about to change.
For the past three years, Wood has been been hard at work crafting his long-awaited solo debut, an 11-song collection simply titled Aaron Wood. Recorded at Echo Mountain with producer Roger Alan Nichols, the record is, on the one hand, just what you'd expect: a soulful offering of Southern rock and blues, complemented by Wood's gruff wails. On the other hand, there's a markedly uncharacteristic pop sensibility, clarity and gloss to the recording, a reflection of Wood's newfound appreciation for the business side of music.
"That's the thing with music these days, you've gotta get your f—king foot in the door," he says, acknowledging the shift. "But at no time did I ever feel like I was writing some plastic-ass bullshit or selling myself out to do this. At least I've got these tunes, and we worked it this way to where I feel confident and true to what I'm doing.
"The truth about what I put out musically and what I put out at each show is very important to me," he continues. "I don't really give a f—k if I sound like somebody else. I couldn't give a shit about that at the end of the day. What I care about is if you get a feeling out of what I do."
The decision to make a proper solo effort and pursue bigger opportunities was spawned partially by his win on Big Break. During that time, a number of music-industry professionals expressed interest in Wood, but each had the same advice: Make a record of your own.
Tired of "being this guy that plays in bars in Asheville," he heeded their words and began demoing songs. Then, Wood received what may have been his biggest break to date when Jessica Tomasin, manager of Echo Mountain Recording and head of the now defunct Echo Mountain Records imprint, offered a hand.
"I've known Woody for five years," says Tomasin, now Wood's manager. "He can play anything and has always come through for [Echo Mountain]. I wanted to help him because I had watched how hard he was working, and he just seemed to be stuck in one place. I kept thinking, 'How could someone this talented not make it?'
"But here's the thing, in this day and age, you can't just be talented. The playing field has been leveled in the music industry due to home recording and the Internet and things like Kickstarter. An artist has to be business savvy, and if you're not, you need to align yourself with people that are."
Tomasin, it turns out, is very business savvy. She helped Wood set up a Kickstarter page early on in the project and began hosting parties and shows to stoke interest in the endeavor. Fans came out of the woodwork to offer their support, and eventually the campaign earned more than $9,000, funding nearly the entire record.
With the album finally completed, Tomasin is now throwing her business savvy behind the official release party, to be hosted at Highland Brewing Company, with a promotion that offers fans a chance at some free swag. And who doesn't like free stuff?
The first 150 people to text "Woody" to 411669 will receive a poster, koozie or button at the show. In addition, those who text "LaZoom" to the same number can catch a free ride from downtown to the record release on the LaZoom tour bus.
The party doesn't stop there. After the official release, Wood is continuing the celebration with another performance, this time at the Emerald Lounge, where the LaZoom bus will be picking up and dropping off fans. That show, he says, will consist entirely of covers, offering locals a chance to cut loose and dance with the raucous, unpredictable Wood they've come to know and love.
"At the CD release party, there are no rules," he says. "But the after-party, there are rules: all covers. Stevie Wonder, Al Green, Black Sabbath, Sly and the Family Stone, a bunch of New Orleans music, just dance and get freaky kind of shit."
— Dane Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
who: Aaron “Woody” Wood
what: CD-release party
where: Highland Brewing Company (after-party at Emerald Lounge)
when: Saturday, April 2 (9 p.m. $10/$12. highlandbrewing.com. Shuttle departs from Emerald Lounge and returns there after the Highland show)