Making Blood Oaths

Last February, I posted that we were back in the studio making another Wooden Wand record. Well, after a few delays, the record is finally out January 8th on Fire Records. It’s a record I’m extremely proud of, and definitely not the record we went into the studio expecting to make.

The Wooden Wand band over the past two records has been an odd assemblage of Birmingham musicians, with Brad Davis and myself from Plate Six and Broken Letters, Janet Simpson of Teen Getaway and Delicate Cutters, and Jody Nelson of Through the Sparks making up the core band. The Briarwood recording was only the second time we had all played together and we went in not knowing what to expect. We had recorded a (still unreleased) 7″ together earlier in the year, but still hadn’t really figured out how we fit. On Briarwood, we made a conventional Southern Rock record, something that was well within our wheelhouse but not necessarily reflective of our interests. It was an easy default setting for a band still getting to know each other, and in it we made a pretty kick-ass record.

Our typical process is that James compiles acoustic demos, sends them all to us a few weeks before we record, and we go into the studio and hash them out as a full band. We work very fast, and often the take on record is only the fourth or fifth time we’ve ever played through a song. The demos typically have a very different feel from where a song ends up, but when we got the demos for Blood Oaths, they sounded like they were written with the Briarwood band in mind. It was easy to hear them as full band songs in the style we’d done before. Making this new record was going to be easy.

In the Studio

We made Blood Oaths in four days. On the first, we blew half the day just setting up and getting sounds. Brad, the consummate gear hound, had just gotten a harmonium and was insistent that we find some places for it on the new record. It’s a mesmerizing instrument, and we all obliged.

We started with some of the more low-key songs, songs we thought would be the quiet, moody exceptions on the loud rock record we were about to make. We worked through “Dungeon of Irons” (my first drum performance on record), “Days This Long”, and another one that didn’t make the final cut and felt pretty good about where we were, even if our drummer hadn’t yet played a real drum set.

Playing around with unconventional setups was a lot of fun, but we had time for one more song on day one and it felt like time to get into the “real stuff” and get some of that behind us. We cranked up the Skynyrd-style three guitar setup, Brad finally turned on his snares, and we pounded out “No Bed For Beatle Wand”. It turned out fine, a typical Stonesy jam full of exactly what you’d expect from an American rock band. You can hear a clip from this version at the end of “Jhonn Balance”. Satisfied, we packed it in and went home for the night.

New Blues

Fresh off a night of rest and reflection, I came in and talked to James about “Beatle Wand”. “It’s just wrong.” There was a special quality about the demo that we’d lost in this full band version. On the demo, the song is quite unassuming. But it slowly reveals itself to you verse by verse and five minutes in, you realize you’ve been listening to this incredible song for what seems like forever.

We decided it needed another treatment, if only to exhaust the possibility and cure our doubt. I tuned my guitar to open E and started working it out as a slow-burn drone. Brad started in on drums, Janet on keys, and James started playing live(?!?) drum machine along with us. We recorded it instantly, and finally the song felt right.

The success of “Beatle Wand” was the turning point and guiding force for making this record. We knew we had a very strong song in “No Debts”, a song that was irreversibly direct and had a quick payoff, and that became our justification for treating the rest of the songs the way we had “Beatle Wand”. We could do whatever we wanted with this record and “No Debts” would excuse any egregious indulgences.

That decision was scary, and as scary typically goes, quite liberating as well. We let go of the expectations we’d come in with and took a sharp turn towards something else. What came out was this new record, Blood Oaths of the New Blues.

To Turntable and Beyond

The record is available at your local record store and all manner of places online. You can also stream the whole record at Spin.com. I hope you’ll find time to listen to it, and I hope that the joy we found in making it comes through and maybe even gives you some too.

We’ll be embarking on a European tour in April, and playing lots of US dates to support it as well. So if we come to your town, drop in and say hello.

The first video from the record follows, a video for “Supermoon”. Besides “No Debts”, it was the other song that only worked one way. We put off recording it until dead last and were nervous that it wouldn’t make sense in the context of the record we’d made. I think it does, and I’m glad it made the cut. It’s definitely Blood Oaths at its most approachable.

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