The Morning After Woodhands
"We're all sluts, but that's not a bad thing," says Paul Banwatt, the drummer for Toronto dance rock duo Woodhands. Banwatt and his band-mate Dan Werb are trying to explain the gist of their new song "Sluts." They say that it's in defence of promiscuity, and that there's no judgment involved. "That song is ripe for misinterpretation," says Werb. "But that's alright."
Woodhands' first album, 2008's Heart Attack, was like a little black book full of pick-up lines and twisted daydreams. It openly fantasized about sex either through Werb's lyrics or the music that made their live audiences get sweaty. So it's obvious that for their second album Remorsecapade, their metaphorical bed sheets would be aired out as dirty laundry. Remorsecapade is the anxious point in a relationship and its heartbreaking finish, which is referenced as "doubling" on almost every song. But don't let this sombre note let you believe that Woodhands are too traumatized. Their lyrics might be more mature, but their music is even more fun.
On first listen, the album sounds lonely and remorseful. But once it starts to get into its groove, you realize that it's not to be taken seriously as a break-up ballad. Apparently Woodhands know how to get through the rough parts of a relationship easily and subjectively. "A lot of this record was not so much based on my own personal experiences," says Werb. "Because I can only write about one subject, I was trying to figure out ways to write about that in different ways." Werb ended up still writing about girls and the angst-filled experiences that come with them, but created "environments" around them by writing them into scenes and then multiplying his keyboards and synths. For some, Werb completely abandoned attempting meaningful lyrics, instead forming them around the music.
Banwatt and Werb are a perfect team in many ways, working off each other and even finishing one another's sentences. While the two-headed monster made Heart Attack with a focus on the studio ― figuring out how to play it as a big dance party later ― Remorsecapade was the opposite. "If we were to write songs based on our live set-up, we might just write songs that are way easier to play," says Werb. But that's not what they were looking for. Werb added two new synths, but the keytar is still his main instrument. Paul hasn't changed his set up, but he has been fascinated with electronic drum kits. Instead of switching teams, he has been looking into ways to combine them. "I think the beats in electronic music can sometimes be much more innovative because they're coming from a completely different mindset in possibilities, so that's what I want," says Banwatt. "They're not limited; they play a different role than a drummer would."
There are lyrics about girls and music that wishes it could be the soundtrack to a rave, but Woodhands haven't become dance floor producers. They're still pop, they're still rock, and that's exactly where they want to be. They want to play the fun, galactic, shameless hooks and breakdowns, and Remorsecapade rides that fine line. "Practically all dance music is about sex but it's so superficial," says Banwatt. "Our music is an emotionally invested version of that. Why can't the dance floor be packed with all the confusing feelings that go along with sex? Why can't it have all that emotional content? It gets deeper and heavier and you get a dance party that's more interesting and it's not literally about human bodies bumping against each other." Woodhands' upcoming live shows will make their fans bump into each other ― that can't be avoided. But if the fans are as carefree and aware of the hilarity of the situation as Woodhands are, then that shouldn't be a problem.
The writing process began during a tour with Cadence Weapon in 2008. The duo has never really tried to write on the road before, but found that playing with Edmonton's poet laureate was influential, even when they were trying to outdo each other. They started to veer off in different directions during their sets, which ended up being useful; different riffs and breakdowns on Remorsecapade were born out of just having fun. Weapon gave them the power of feeling free to experiment. The rest of the writing was done in early 2009, and recording during that summer. Side projects such as Banwatt's other band the Rural Alberta Advantage, Werb's electronic collaboration with Gentleman Reg and Werb's solo album that will be released in the fall made the process slower but actually helped Remorsecapade. When they made Heart Attack, they felt rushed in recording and didn't end up with any extra songs. For the new album, they had time to shape each song (and then some) and push in a direction that exits remorse and angst and moves to acceptance. "We found ourselves exploring a different part of a song and trying to get into a big dance break," says Banwatt. "So now we just write them into the songs. And it will probably go on for many minutes longer live."
Whether they're busy dissing old flames or inspiring new ones on the dance floor, Woodhands' creativity has spiralled out of hardly giving a damn. Even the album title, Remorsecapade, is a funny inside joke about remorse and ice capades. They're not quite anything specific and that's what's so interesting; they flirt with the awkward and ignore a streamlined quest for perfection. They can dance and rock out with the best of 'em. They get around. They can make a break-up sound like a party. So, if their first album was the sex and the second was the heartbreak, what's next?
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