Woodhands

Woodhands
Maybe we should start off with you guys telling me a bit about the history of Woodhands?
Dan Werb: There are two chapters: there’s pre-Paul Banwatt and post-Paul Banwatt.
Paul Banwatt: Wait. Post-Paul Banwatt?
Dan: Okay, pre-Paul Banwatt and Paul Banwatt. And the Paul Banwatt chapter is when he helped me find my voice, in a lot of ways. And Paul’s entry into the band coincided with personal and emotional turmoil on my end that became a new kind of on-stage persona in the way of looking at music and performance.

How do you think the addition of Paul did that?
Paul: Obviously, it wasn’t all me. Dan was going through life changes at the time — you know, the changes in a young man’s life. And I think I just came in at exactly the right moment to be a catalyst to how that change would actually eventually take place. I just came at a time when that change was very logical.
Dan: I just got out of a very long relationship, I just moved to a new city, I was immersed into a whole new scene, I was all in this mid-20s life crisis thing — obsessed with sex — and I needed to somehow express that. And Paul plays with such power, and suddenly all the music that I had been doing for so long just got supped up like it was jacked up on steroids or something, and it felt amazing.
Paul: I feel like I really responded to the energy in that I heard in Dan’s music when I saw him play solo and I just felt compelled to beat the shit out of the drums when I heard it.

So how did you two meet each other?
Paul: We met at the Henri Fabergé and the Adorables’ CD release party last year.
Dan: We played right after each other actually.

So how would you describe the change from the early Woodhands stuff you were playing to what you do now?
Dan: I think a lot of the change was me embracing being a front-man in a lot of ways, and also part of it was moving to Toronto and being exposed to bands like Henri Fabergé and the Adorables and other rock bands because I had never really listened to rock bands or gone to rock shows before. And then suddenly I was playing in five rock bands and going to rock shows all the time and that energy — that kind of intense balls-to-the-wall fuck-you rock energy was suddenly in my life and it affected me. I was like, "I can do that.”
Paul: I do think the early stuff is really important, though, and I don’t think it’s lost in the new stuff. We are definitely not trying to make brainless dance music and it’s definitely rooted in Dan’s past efforts.

So when you got together did you guys consciously try to make a new sound?
Dan: You know, it wasn’t a conscious thing at all. We quickly realised what was awesome about the energy of playing together and just subconsciously gravitated towards that. It was a natural evolution where we started writing stuff together and went through all the back catalog and cut all the stuff that wasn’t working and then took the stuff that had potential and just screwed around with it, adding new beats and rearranging songs. So we had an idea of where we wanted to go with it.

A lot of what I’ve heard of the early stuff didn’t have nearly the same intensity as the new stuff. It was sort of chilled-out Boards of Canada-type laptop stuff.
Dan: I think there is an urgency to the newer stuff that separates it from Woodhands’ older material. The old stuff is just a lot more cerebral and contemplative and I think the newer stuff is more groin-based and just immediate — you don’t get the sense of someone thinking really hard about something and I try to express that in the performance and in the lyrics, which are an emotional reaction to something that needs to be expressed in that moment.

By a lot of your answers here you sound more like a rock band than a dance outfit. Do you think of yourselves as a rock band?
Paul: I think we bridge a lot of ground. You can’t say Woodhands is not electronic; it definitely is and that’s the core of it. But we definitely try to bring the energy of a live rock show.
Dan: I’ve never thought of us of a rock band.
Paul: Yeah, I guess we aren’t really but we do take lessons from everyone.

So how do you feel about your new album, Heart Attack?
Dan: Well, we think it’s fucking awesome.
Paul: Yeah, we are pretty sure it’s going to sell a million copies. [Laughs]
Dan: It’s a labour of love and I think it’s pretty bangin’. It really was an open-concept recording process — we had these songs, we had an end game, we knew the feeling of what we wanted to have in the songs. But we didn’t really have exact instrumentation and how the arrangements would be because a lot of our live show and a lot of our band is about exploring things and reinterpreting songs, so things were always shifting. But it’s still really fresh for us.
Paul: Yeah, it’s all pretty new to us. A lot of albums sit on the shelf for a long time, but this one was recorded over the last few months and it’s coming out really quickly. So it’s very satisfying that way.

So when choosing the songs for the album did you just cull a lot of your live material or write songs specifically for the album?
Paul: There’s definitely stuff from the live set, but a lot of it is just a snapshot of what those songs were like at that moment when we were recording. Part of what we love about the live show is we constantly change things up and improvise.
Dan: We had an arc to it. We knew what kind of feeling we wanted. We knew what kind of energy we wanted. And we sort of had a narrative arc to the album, and in those kinds of broader ways, we nailed what we wanted to do.

And what kind of feeling did you want?
Dan: With the album, we just wanted that immediacy of emotion and that urgency of not being able to hold something in — just this sense of this has to be expressed; there is no holding back. I’m guilty of saying shit that I shouldn’t be saying because it’s just going to make my life even more horribly complicated. And it’s so good for us that we live in Canada because we have ten-hour drives between tour dates so Paul and I can just unpack all the shit that’s going on in my head.

What about this narrative arc then?
Dan: Well, there’s an arc but it’s not really lyric-based. It’s not like the words of the songs flow into one another and tell a story. It’s more like the music and the way it moves you takes you through moods that are complementary. You know, the album starts with "Dancer,” which is our most straight-ahead bangin’ song, and by the end of it, you have "Straighten the Curtains,” which is a slow song, and "Sailboats,” which is still a dance track but more complex. And in between, we just pass through so many moods and they all link to each other and it doesn’t feel like any one song comes out of nowhere.
Paul: There’s a lyrical thread that all the songs deal with the same subject matter.

Which is?
Dan: Hmmmmm….the man’s heart. [Laughs]
Paul: How the heart and groin get want what they want. [Laughs]

Yeah, when people talk about you guys the subject of sex always comes up. Is this sexiness surrounding the band something you were aiming to create or something that just kind of happened?
Dan: I don’t think that if we wanted to do it, we would be able to do it intentionally. No, it’s not intentional, but I think people are attracted to seeing performers who give it their all. It’s raw energy. And we are sort of unassuming dude, and I think people are surprised when they see us and they feel they can trust us to take them to good places. It’s intentional in that we do what we do when we’re on stage and we do it consistently. But is the sex thing contrived? Fuck, no.
Paul: There’s something raw and physical in the music we play and, I think that comes off in some ways as sexual.

So Dan, do you think the fact you play a keytar is part of the reason you get all the sexual connotations attached to Woodhands?
Paul: Are you suggesting it’s phallic?
Dan: I think since you asked me that question you now have to ask that of every lead guitarist you ever interview from now on. But fuck, of course. I used to sit behind a Rhodes and play and sing and wouldn’t move at all. When Paul came and I switched to a keytar, that’s when I was able to be a front-man. And I think I’m still stoked on the fact that I can move around on stage and engage with the audience. But is it the altar of my phallic energy? Let’s say not intentionally.
Paul: It liberates you in many ways. [Laughs]

This is somewhat of another Dan-focused question, but I read somewhere that you felt you are not a singer and that beats feel like the most natural way to express yourself. Do you still feel this way?
Dan: I think beats are still partly the way I express myself. But I’ve grown — and I’m not saying this with any hint of ego — but I’ve grown as a performer. And I’m not Canada’s greatest singer, but I do alright. It didn’t feel natural back in the day, but we’ve played enough shows together as this incarnation of the band, and I feel like a front-man. I’m not scared of the mic. I’m definitely not scared of the mic — I love the mic.
Paul: I think people respond to any performer who just puts it all out there. That’s one of the things I saw a little bit in Dan the first time I saw him and now every time that we play a show. He just goes for it vocally.
Dan: And I think there is a difference to being a straight-up singer and just giving vocal energy to things, because a lot of what I do is just screams and just exclamations.
Paul: But you can croon.
Dan: Yeah, I guess I can croon a bit, too. But it’s not like, the song starts, I sing a part. and the song is done. It’s like throughout our show there is a certain vocal energy that is being portrayed. And I think the thing that has most influenced me in the way is hip-hop and MCing. Because good MCs will bring energy to an entire show, with or without the songs to back them, and that’s what I try to do.

At this point, you’ve had several people float through the band. I’m wondering why you have settled on this duo formation. Or have you settled on it?
Dan: We have settled on just Paul and me. And a lot of it is just circumstance. I was moving around a lot, and a lot of people came and went in the band, and it always sort of felt natural. There was a time where there was fluid membership, a time when I wrote and performed with Pat Placzek and Roselle Healy, a time when I was the sole proprietor of the band, and then when I started playing with Paul there was a moment where it was like, man, this is something new — this is something entirely new. This is an entirely new project and it’s special, and it’s clear that it’s about Paul and myself, and that relationship and all its different forms. Now that things are more stable, we don’t want to fuck with this formula.
Paul: Part of it is definitely practical and part of it is just how awesome it is to just have me and Dan in the band. We have a lot of control of the sound with just the two of us, which makes everything a lot easier and more consistent.
Dan: Also, I think it’s really interesting just having two people on stage. The way that we set up our shows now is that both of us are right at the front and totally engaged with the audience, but both of us are totally engaged with each other as well. And that kind of direct connection people seem to really enjoy. And being a duo allows us to do so much more off the cuff as we play live. And it’s intimate in a way. It’s a strange kind of intimacy that I’ve never experienced before. We are so locked into each other. And it does also keep things raw, in a way.

So at this point would you consider yourself more of a live band than a studio band?
Dan: Oh fuck yeah. We can bring it in the studio, but we definitely bring it live.
Paul: I think these days a band has to be both, and we were not trying to do the same thing live as we are trying to do in the studio. There are certain goals with each. By that I mean in both cases we want to bring the energy. There’s just a different approach to it on either side.

Do either of you have other projects on the go right now?
Dan: Yeah, definitely.
Paul: Both of us just love to play music and explore different things and I think having other things on the go makes us better generally.
Dan: So what other projects do you have, Paul?
Paul: I play drums in the Rural Alberta Advantage and I play guitar in a band called We’re Scared.

What about you Dan?
Dan: I’ve been working on this dance project with Gentleman Reg. And what I’m trying to do on my own time is more hip-hop production because I’m fascinated with that world.
Paul: Oh and we are both playing with Henri Fabergé and the Adorables now as well. Should we mention we are superstar DJs now?
Dan: Yeah, we’re DJs now and we’re also doing a bunch of remixes.

So what’s up with the remixes?
Dan: Well, they are fun and we really like doing them. And we should say that most of our remixes we do with Roger Leavens at Boombox Sound, who produced our album and, in a way, he is the George Martin of our little enterprise here.
Paul: I think we take a slightly different approach to remixes than a lot bands do. We really try to rebuild songs from the ground up. I mean, we put live drums in and try to change the melody as much as possible. I don’t mean to criticise other remix artists but I think we do have a little bit of a unique take on it.
Dan: Actually, we just played a DJ set with Sally Shapiro last night, and we had previously remixed one of her tracks.

What did you play during your set?
Paul: Well, I brought the Crystal Waters.
Dan: I brought the UGK, the Underground Kingz. And that’s not a joke.

Is the Crystal Waters a joke?
Paul: No, it’s no joke.

So ultimately, what do you guys hope listeners take away from your new record?
Paul: Well, it’s a fun record in many ways but ideally I would hope people are a little bit moved by it by the end. It’s a full experience we are trying to give people.
Dan: And I think we want what all people want from their records: for people to love it and play it every day of their lives. I mean, we hope people pump it at parties and just fucking dance to it.