I’d love for you to explain to me, how a band from the Pacific Northwest sounds like the best post-punk band I’ve heard in ages. The Woolen Men share as much in common with the early sounds of The Fall as they do with fellow Portland, Oregon natives, The Wipers. It’s a lo-fi sound that owes less to Guided By Voices than it does those early 80-s British bands like Joy Division and Wire. But wherever it’s coming from, we’re on board for the ride. The Woolen Men are Alex Geddes, Lawton Browning and Raf Spielman. Todd talked to the band about the process of recording one of the most exciting new albums of 2013.
Todd: Let’s start with the recording process! Did I hear correctly that the new record was recorded on a 4-track?
Raf: Four different tape machines were used: two cassette 4-tracks, a 1/4″ 8-track and a 1/2″ 16-track. The computer only comes into play when it comes to mastering and sequencing, so at the very end.
Todd: You’ve definitely got a great “live” sound on the record, that isn’t exactly “lo-fi”. Was that the goal?
Raf: Because all three WM are songwriters and because we almost always self-record. The music really acts as a document of a specific time/place. We consciously wanted the record to reflect that, with deliberate changes in sound quality, songwriting, and recording method. And yes, we track the songs live — the foundation of our recordings are always the three of us playing together in the same room.
Todd: The album feels like a departure from “Tour Tape 1″, which has a Fall/Joy Division feel to it at times and a punkier feel to it elsewhere. Am I on the right track?
Raf: The Tour Tape represents our most recent recordings and is definitely more overtly influenced by punk music than the record. That said, the last few songs we finished for the LP point towards the tape in that they bear the marks of the Wipers, Swell Maps, the Fall, etc. So, not a departure exactly.
Todd: I hear that this record is the result of five different sessions. Can you talk about the differences in each session? In each case, did you have the songs essentially written and arranged before walking in or is there some improvisation going on during the process. And what are you going to do with all the extra songs that apparently didn’t make it onto the album?!
Raf: The entire record — except for the last two songs — we recorded in our practice space, so the main differences between those sessions are time, experience and the varying tape machines. The last two were recorded in Alex’s basement by his roommate Greg Olin. His house has a specific energy, and we chose songs that would fit that energy.
In terms of arrangement, the songs were all “road tested” in that we’d played them out at least a handful of times and knew that in their basic structure they were sturdy and didn’t need any help in the studio in terms of overdubs or editing.
Some of the overflow wound up on a tape and a few songs will ultimately be re-recorded. Another seems destined for a 7″.
Todd: Are the songs on the record listed in the order that they were recorded or did you mix it up?
Raf: Completely mixed up although “Mayonnaise” was in fact recorded first.
Todd: I’ve found references to you guys, dating back to a video you did for Boomerang in 2010. How long have The Woolen Men been around?
Raf: The band rolled into existence in late 2008.
Todd: The first song that I heard by you guys was Mayonnaise (which I loved btw). I love the attack on suburban hell. Are you guys from the suburbs, desperately seeking escape?
Lawton: I grew up in a city, but was definitely always aware of the rest of Oregon as a separate rural/suburban space. When I wrote that song I was trying to capture some of the profound ambivalence that comes with growing up in a protected zone “on the kitchen floor”. Like many songs that I’ve written the singer in Mayonnaise is a mixture of myself and a character that I invented to get certain feelings across to the listener.
Todd: At some point will you want to move to a bigger studio and go for a bigger sound or do you like where you’re at right now? Channeling a little Guided By Voices, perhaps?
Raf: It’s nice to work in our own space in terms of being able to capture inspiration as it hits but going into a studio isn’t out of the question. Maybe not for a bigger sound but for a better one.
Todd: You’re signed to Woodsist, which is one of our favorite labels. What led you to go with them?
Raf: Psychic bond. We always thought Woodsist would be an ideal home for the band but never contacted them. Then out of the blue — more or less — they got in touch.
Todd: What’s next for you guys? Any chance you’ll make a video for one of these songs?
Raf: Yes! Our very good friend Jeff Kriksciun is currently at work on an animated video for the song “Hold It Up.”
For more information about the band, visit Facebook!