Published Nov 28, 2013Throughout Wooden Shjips' career, the San Francisco rock crew have sought to strip away psychedelic music's aural clutter, creating music that's as much indebted to the Velvet Underground as their Haight-Ashbury forefathers. Their latest, Back to Land, follows in its predecessors footsteps, further paring down the band's sound.
Taking a minimalist approach to rhythm is what's allowed Wooden Shjips to continue to chip away at their sound, as drummer Omar Ahsanuddin and bass player Dusty Jermier search for the perfect and simplest groove.
"With minimalism and repetition, small changes sound really big," Ahsanuddin tells Exclaim! "When people lock into these minimalist patterns, and you do something like a cymbal crash or change dynamic, moving the volume around, all that stuff kicks way harder because it breaks that pattern."
Back to Land doesn't veer too far from the template the band created on their previous three albums, but Ahsanuddin says the minimalist rhythmic approach impacts other parts of the band as well. For example, Wooden Shjips tracked an acoustic guitar on some of the new record's tracks.
"[It] isn't an earth-shattering adjustment, and it comes through on tape much different," Ahsanuddin says.
Wooden Shjips usually road test new songs, sometimes for months, prior to laying down music to tape. "When you have a song – especially live – it sort of evolves from where it was initially born with the band," he says. "These songs are sort of the opposite of that. The recording captures where these songs were early in their life."
After touring duties for 2011's West were completed, the band took a year off from playing live, reconvening for six weeks to hash out Back to Land's eight tracks. Their rehearsal time was compounded by the fact that both Ahsanuddin and singer/guitarist Ripley Johnson now live in Portland.
"Getting together becomes a very literal rehearsal and not just jamming with the band," he says. "You have to be more focused with what you want to accomplish and have more goals — be thinking about what it is you're getting ready for be it a tour or recording or whatever.
"It's not necessarily a bad thing, but it's definitely different. The songs for Back to Land were us working on them for six weeks or so, but then the recording captures a certain freshness of a song, so it's different than when you're playing them a lot. It takes some logistical hurdles, but nothing insurmountable."
In support of the new album, Wooden Shjips have several European and North American dates lined up, including a Canadian stop in Vancouver on January 18. You can see the schedule here.