“It’s easier because we both have the same booking agent for both groups and the same management and they’ve learned to do it quite well,” Oliver says, speaking by phone from his Atlanta home. “Plus, MMW is actually playing a lot less. They’re really cutting back on their schedule, and they all have other projects they’re doing, so it’s opened up a lot of space for The Wood Brothers to pick up the slack. (King Johnson) has a reunion every once in a while, but one of the fellows passed away last year, and one of the guys moved back home to Indiana. Basically, we’re retired, and King Johnson is a band of the past at this point.”
On Thursday, April 28, The Wood Brothers will return to Workplay. Singer/songwriter Carsie Blanton will open the 8 p.m. all-ages show. Birmingham is a market that exemplifies the foothold The Wood Brothers are gaining as they tour and expand their fan base. Oliver is the first to admit that the project has grown to a level he couldn’t have foreseen in its earliest days.
“We had no expectations in the beginning,” he says. “We did it because it seemed like a fun idea. Lucky for us, it’s grown into a serious enterprise where we feel like it’s the best of everything. It’s a family business—we’re able to hang out together and spend time together. We live in different parts of the country, so it’s nice for us to be able to work together and hang out and do this creative thing that we love to do. When you’re away from home, at least you’re with some family.”
Those that attend the Workplay show will hear songs from The Wood Brothers’ forthcoming album, Smoke Ring Halo (Southern Ground Records). The disc is set for a late summer release.
“There’s a couple of songs that we’ve been working on for a year,” Oliver recalls. “The album was finished last summer, so by the time it comes out it’ll be a year old. It’s unfortunate, but it’s normal for this business sometimes—you can’t move things through that fast. The songs were all created for that album, and mostly we wrote all new songs. For us, it feels like a natural evolution. We become more collaborative as we go and we’ve learned how to work on songs together.”
In addition to signing with the record label owned by Zac Brown (Brown served as Smoke Ring Halo’s executive producer), Oliver and Chris added a third member to the fold.
“The biggest difference for this record is that we started touring with a drummer last year,” Oliver offers. “We’ve always done this as a duo, but a couple of years ago we added a soundman and a tour manager, so the next step was to add a drummer as things grew. We started writing songs that we just felt like could use some drums or percussion and, rather than hire a studio musician to do an album, we wanted it to be more like a ‘band’ record. So, we toured with a drummer. His name is Tyler Greenwell and he used to play with The Codetalkers and he currently plays with Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi. He toured with us for several months before we made the record and recorded the album with us, so the album feels a little more like a real trio record, and that’s how we’re touring right now.”
After performing for several years as a guitar/ bass duo, Oliver admits that he and Chris underwent a transition period upon adding a drummer. However, Oliver feels that the addition of a third member has opened up sonic possibilities for the band.
“We really had to learn how to do that,” Oliver recalls. “We were used to really trying to fill up a lot more space. It was a challenge on some levels and a relief on other levels where we could leave a little more space and relax a little bit and let the drums fill in some of the holes instead of us. The drummer we tour with now is Jano Rix. He is a fantastic singer as well, so it’s nice to incorporate three of us singing at times. It gives us another gear we can go into.”
Fortunately, both Oliver and Chris have existing fans that attend shows alongside newfound listeners. Given that commercial radio airplay isn’t a current reality for them, The Wood Brothers are able to expand their audience via the Internet and word-of-mouth.
“I think I’m of the generation that’s on both sides of the transition from the world before Internet and with Internet,” Oliver says. “I do love how accessible the music is and I love being able to find anything I want so easily. As a writer and publisher of music, I’m definitely frustrated because I know and remember how people used to buy albums. I think it’s a real double-edge thing. The live music industry is thriving, maybe more than ever, and The Wood Brothers business has been great lately. I attribute that to the fact that we’ve been touring for a while and are very accessible online. I wish we could sell records and I wish I could make ‘mailbox money’ by writing songs. You still can if you get something in movies, but it’s not like it used to be.”
But Oliver isn’t prone to spending an inordinate amount of time lamenting the current state of the industry. For the remainder of the year, he and Chris will do what they enjoy most—performing live.
“It’s so fun to make records but, ultimately, playing in front of people and interacting with people is what it’s about.”
Tickets to the 8 p.m. all-ages show (presented by Reg’s Coffee House) are $15 and can be purchased at www.workplay.com
Brent Thompson writes about popular music for Birmingham Weekly. Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.