Even though the time change is on his side when traveling west, singer-songwriter and guitarist Oliver Wood says he prefers moving east. That works out well since The Wood Brothers (with sibling Chris Wood and brother-from-another-mother Jano Rix) just did a European tour. “We had good shows in Germany and Switzerland, but our booking agent is Dutch and got us some great gigs,” says Oliver. “Holland was really good to us — somehow that market is a good fit for us.”
The magic of The Wood Brothers — who return to Asheville for a show at Pisgah Brewing Co. on Thursday, June 25 — is that they kind of don’t fit anywhere (jazz, blues, folk, rock), and so are able to fit everywhere. While many brother bands start when the siblings are young, the Woods first pursued individual careers. Chris is a founding member of Medeski Martin & Wood; Oliver was the guitarist for bluesman Tinsley Ellis and fronted his own blues-rock (with an expanded palette) outfit, King Johnson.
“Even though [Chris and I] went in different directions, we started out listening to our dad’s blues records,” says Oliver. The guitarist got into improv jazz for a while, and his bassist brother studied at the New England Conservatory of Music before meeting John Medeski and Billy Martin. After 15 years of separate musical projects, King Johnson opened for Medeski Martin & Wood, and Oliver sat in with his brother’s band. “It was a creepy experience, like watching myself,” Chris says in his bio. “He had a lot of the same impulses I did. Part of it was influences; part of it was blood.”
The resulting collaboration, including Rix on inventive rhythm instrument the shuitar, has produced five studio releases, two live albums and newest effort, Paradise, due out in October. “It’s the first time we’ve produced our own record,” Oliver says of the album. (It’s not such a stretch: Oliver works as a producer when not on tour; everyone in the group has extensive recording experience.) Because all three musicians now live in Nashville, it’s also the first time they worked on songs while in the same room. “Being able to hang out together more meant we could be more collaborative,” says Oliver. “It’s good for morale.”
Also good for spirits, and a takeaway from recent European concerts, was that fewer fans overseas used their smartphones during shows. “It takes you out of the moment,” Oliver says. “I understand the impulse that when you see something cool, you want to take a picture.” The trio posts some great photos through Instagram. But the experience when band and audience are in sync, sharing the energy of the show, “That’s ecstatic,” he says. “It’s all-inclusive, everyone’s connected.”
He adds, “[If] you’re any sort of creative person, it’s pretty awesome when your subconscious stuff comes to the surface. In order for that to happen, you’re really in the moment.” For those willing to go there, The Wood Brothers’ stripped down, folk-influenced, deeply organic songs are instantly engaging. Theirs is music that feels lived in and appeals to the dance instinct as much as the intellect. There’s contagious groove and smart songwriting — and more of that to come on Paradise.
“Every song is written in different ways,” says Oliver. “We have a song I’d been working on for a couple of years and had basically finished all the lyrics. When I showed it to Chris, he completely deconstructed it and reconstructed it. It took me out of my box.” Some musicians might resist that intense level of collaboration; The Wood Brothers seem to embrace it.
After all, this has been a lifelong pursuit. Oliver recently celebrated a milestone birthday, one he says is bittersweet. “It seems like just a few weeks ago I was in my 20s and had my first road gig,” he says. “It flew by.”
Then again, referencing Malcolm Gladwell’s theory that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at something, Oliver supposes he’s put in three times that. “I feel lucky that I didn’t peak when I was 30,” he says. “I haven’t peaked yet. What a cool thing, that I can still feel like I’m growing.”
WHO: The Wood Brothers with Acoustic Syndicate
WHERE: Pisgah Brewing Co., pisgahbrewing.com
WHEN: Thursday, June 25, 7 p.m. $25 advance/$30 day of show/$55 VIP