A Conversation with Oliver Wood of The Wood Brothers
Brothers Oliver and Chris Wood, along with multi-instrumentalist Jano Rix, make up The Wood Brothers, a talented trio with a unique sound that is as much influenced by jazz and funk as it is by blues and country. Chris is a founding member of Medeski Martin & Wood, and older brother Oliver has played for years with Atlanta-based King Johnson. What started as a sibling side-project has turned into a full-time gig. Both brothers have now moved to Nashville, headquarters of Zac Brown’s Southern Ground Artists, the band’s label. I recently spoke to Oliver Wood about the move, the band and The Muse, the band’s latest release.
“Oh, absolutely. (It’s) front and center for both of us,” Wood said about the band. “We both moved to Nashville to be able to work together better, also, of course, to bring our families closer together. This is the first year since the band has been together where we actually live in the same town,” he explained. “I lived in Atlanta for the last 20 years before I moved to Nashville, and he (Chris) lived up in New York, so it was always a challenge for us to write and rehearse, and things like that. Now we’ve made that a lot easier, so I think we’re certainly investing in this being sort of our family enterprise and art that we give most of our energy to.”
The Muse was released on Southern Ground Artists, a label launched by country musician Zac Brown in 2011. Wood sees advantages to being on a musician-owned label. “It’s just cool to have a guy like Zac Brown be the president of the label because he’s not some guy in a suit that’s out of touch with what it’s like to be a musician out touring and to be an artist. He’s an artist, too, and although what he’s doing is completely different than what we’re doing, he understands what it feels like, and so I really like that.”
The label gave the band plenty of freedom and creative control when working on The Muse. “I think Zac was a fan first before we were on his label, so he already knew what we did and how we did it, and he liked it. He’s very supportive in that regard,” Wood noted.
Buddy Miller produced the record and even contributes some guitar. “He’s the most humble guy in the world,” Wood says of this music legend. “I think it’s very subtle how positively and how much he affects the process…and then also to have him play a little bit with us was just magical. I think he’s one of those guys whose gift is partly just that he makes you feel good. He’s just a fun guy to be around. He inspires you, and he makes you feel comfortable, and he gets the best out of you by being himself.”
Except for one cover, all three members of the band share songwriting credits on The Muse. Wood has enjoyed the chance to write with his brother Chris. “One thing that’s been great as writers between my brother and myself is that we have a shared family history with all its baggage and good and bad memories and things that go along with that,” he commented. “We were both screwed up by the same parents, and that gives us a lot to talk about,” he added with a laugh.
While family dynamics and brotherly harmonies are essential components of this band, Wood is quick to acknowledge the unique talents and contributions of third member, Jano Rix. “We’re so psyched that he’s playing with us. He’s such a valuable, such a musical, magical guy. He’s added so much to our sound. We really owe him a lot for the evolution of what we’re doing,” Wood said.
If you’ve seen the band play, you know what Wood means. Rix, who has played with everyone from Loggins and Messina to Damian Marley, plays the “shuitar”, an acoustic guitar rigged up as a percussion instrument from which he elicits a wide-range of amazing sounds. He’s a skilled pianist and vocalist, as well. “The fact that he can go back and play the heck out of the drum kit or piano or melodica…Every once in a while, we’ll play a room that has a great piano on stage and he will just freak people out because he plays piano as well as he plays drums, and he sings so well. He’s an MVP,” Wood commented.
The Wood Brothers hit the road again at the end of January with a string of dates on both coasts. Check out their tour schedule here, then do your best to catch them live. I guarantee you’ll love the show.