‘It’s going down’

Seeing through the music industry with Woods

“Too busy to pose in front of a brick wall, man.” So, Woods—who stop in Sacto this week—pose in the van.

“Too busy to pose in front of a brick wall, man.” So, Woods—who stop in Sacto this week—pose in the van.


Woods plays with the Fresh & Onlys and G. Green on Wednesday, July 27, 9 p.m. at Sol Collective, 2574 21st Street; $7-$10; all ages.

Sol Collective

2574 21st St.
Sacramento, CA 95817

(916) 832-0916


That the music business has changed dramatically since the millennium is pretty much a given at this point, but the effect it’s had on the process of making music and the subsequent product is perhaps less understood. Just as the advent of Nielsen SoundScan in 1991—which changed how the Billboard charts were reported—led more or less directly to the rise of country, rap and alt-rock, file sharing has not only change the music biz but helped usher in the age of bands like Woods.

Those that haven’t heard of the little Brooklyn band shouldn’t be concerned, but the buzz around them and their label, Woodsist Records, is reflective of the changing landscape. Leveling the tastemaking power of radio and the major labels has made it possible to discern things broadcasting at a lower frequency.

Just a couple weeks ago, indie-folk artist Bon Iver’s idiosyncratic second album on small Bloomington, Ind., label Jagjaguwar debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard charts, powered by little more than anticipation bred on the blogger buzz that greeted his claustrophobic 2008 debut, For Emma, Forever Ago.

“People have accepted that it’s going down and that these small labels are doing just as well as majors used to be doing,” explains Woods multi-instrumentalist Jarvis Taveniere, who creates all their music in cooperation with singer/guitarist Jeremy Earl in his house, as opposed to a studio, another expression of this sea change.

“Younger kids in their 20s, they don’t think, ‘I have to be signed to a major label.’ They’re like, ‘I can get signed to this kind of smaller label, that’s pretty rad because I see bands that are on those labels, and they’re doing all right.’”

It’s these currents that bring Woods to our shores. Their shimmering lo-fi sound floods your senses like beachside glare off the ocean on a sunny day. Their songs ring with a sweet melodic warmth and often understated simplicity that harks back to classic ’60s pop, in particular the psychedelic/sunshine pop of California acts such as the Mamas & the Papas, the Turtles and the Grass Roots.

Woods’ leader Earl also runs the label Woodsist (by himself), producing a passel of 7-inch, tape and CD releases by a large cadre of similarly minded artists, including Sacramento natives Ganglians, who released a self-titled 12-inch on the label.

The interest generated in these artists has been self-perpetuating. It’s hard to say whether it’s Earl’s abilities as a tastemaker, the acts’ vaguely similar aesthetics or gathering coincidence. But within the last two years many have been cited as some of the best new acts these days, including Wavves, Kurt Vile, Crystal Stilts, Sic Alps, Psychedelic Horseshit, Real Estate, Thee Oh Sees, Vivian Girls and the Fresh & Onlys. Just being associated with Earl and his label is a boon, as Ganglians frontman Ryan Grubbs notes.

“It was just a very small kind of label for music nerds and stuff, and it’s really crazy how it all happened,” Grubbs explained. “It totally changed things for us and a lot of those bands he initially signed—it changed things for everybody. I remember talking to [Wavves leader Nathan Williams], Jeremy had asked us to do stuff at the same time basically. Then Wavves released a cassette, and Woodsist kind of blew up overnight.”

Like the label, Woods’ beginnings were auspicious. It grew out of the combo Meneguar, featuring Earl, Taveniere and Christian DeRoeck, though the real catalyst seemed to be proximity. Taveniere and Earl attended Purchase College in New York state together and moved to Brooklyn together, too, when they graduated.

Woods was initially just Earl and his home recordings—in particular a 2005 double-cassette release How to Survive in/in the Woods—but in 2007 he brought Taveniere into the fold. They began to record together in their East Williamsburg apartment, dubbed Rear House because the building exists within a courtyard behind a tenement building. Woodsist began a little earlier with a pair of 2006 LPs by Iowa’s Raccoo-oo-oon and San Diego’s Night Wounds; Woods’ debut LP At Rear House was Woodsist’s fourth release.

At Rear House garnered some attention from bloggers, and they’ve steadily built on it with full-length releases each subsequent year. Their prodigious release schedule is a product of their aesthetic, which focuses on writing and recording at a good clip, and not being overly obsessive about the act of creation. They strive to keep it spontaneous and fresh.

“The more you think the more you stink,” is Taveniere’s piquant comment. “Obviously we’re not the biggest band out there. Maybe that has something to do with our laid-back nature, but it’s what works for us.”

Earl moved out of Rear House more than a year ago (it remains their practice space and Taveniere’s recording studio) to Warwick in upstate New York, about 90 minutes from the city. Taveniere buses up there, and they’ll record, perhaps taking a break in the middle of the session to go swimming in a nearby lake. This is how they finished their luxurious May release, Sun and Shade. (They’ve already recorded another half-dozen songs, many of which will never be heard. “Every record there are 10 songs that never get finished or are halfway done,” Taveniere says. “I keep thinking we’ll revisit them, but we never do.”)

Sun and Shade is more expansive and experimental than last year’s At Echo Lake, which rather stood out from its predecessors. Some commented on how polished and focused it was, which, as it turns out, was as reflective of the band’s circumstances as it was a conscious choice, though both played a role. Indeed, it’s their only release where they set about making a record, rather than just assemble what they’d been working on.

“We did so much touring for [2009’s] Songs of Shame that Echo Lake was the first time where we had less time, and it was more of a ‘We’re making a record’ kind of affair,” he says. “We had made four kind of stranger records, and we were listening to [the Grateful Dead’s] American Beauty a lot on tour, so we were like, ‘Let’s make a nice pop-barbecue record.’”

While Earl still writes many of the songs and fleshes them out with Taveniere’s, this time they explored a more improvisational approach. A couple of the songs are jams that turned out so well they made it onto the album.”

While it feels like a groundswell is building at their feet, Taveniere is simply happy there will be people in the audience. “We don’t feel like the toast of the town,” says Taveniere.

Nor can he offer much explanation for the exploding interest in Woodsist bands. “There’s a lot of great music going on now, but I think a lot of people who make good music are looking to the past,” he says. “Maybe that’s something that often unites us with other artists, like hanging out with those guys and everyone has similar record collections or likes to argue about the same record.”

That’s the funny thing. After years where music was a big business, we’re returning to the idea of music as simply a shared passion.