In the past 10 years, The Werks have released a handful of albums, starting with “Synapse” (2009), “The Werks” (2012), “Mr. Smalls Sessions” (EP, 2014), and “Inside a Dream” (2015) in between several live recordings. Last spring, however, they debuted their “first truly multi-genre album” to date.
“There’s kind of extended palette of sound on this album, and we’re only looking to do it more so over time,” keyboardist Dan Shaw observes.
The title track and “Compares to You” were two songs Shaw was most responsible for curating and taking through the recording process on “Magic.” The song “Magic” is by far the furthest departure from anything the band has done previously. So it was a bit risky. From Shaw’s perspective, it was just good sound.
“I didn’t really care what had come before,” he explains. “I had a hand in the songwriting process before, but I had never really written freely. I was always reverse-engineering a song to fit our crowd, to fit our genre, to fit our festival scene; this is one that I just said, ‘Fuck it! This is what I want, and that’s what we’re going to do.’”
“Magic” wasn’t intended to be the title track at first, but because it was so different they thought it would be fascinating beginning to this new chapter in their catalog. Unlike a handful of songs off of this record, “Magic” was not played live before heading into the studio. In fact, it sat as a partial demo on Shaw’s computer for years. Once he brought it out, and dusted it off, they constructed a bridge and a couple other parts to create more of an ostinato—a hypnotic song that’s magical and its own way because of the repetitive nature.
“It was meant to be somewhere between Tool and Radiohead—that was kind of where I was going in writing the song,” Shaw continues. “It’s very different from anything that we had done before.”
Being a multi-genre act is one of the most liberating things for them as musicians and a band, and has allowed them to transcend their roots in the jamband/festival scene in way of electronic rock, funk, pop, since their inception in 2006.
“You can really stretch out and show your muscle in a variety of ways,” Shaw says. “Being confident and authentic in different styles of music is one of the great studies and crafts of being a musician. Making this our flagship multi-genre album was the point, that’s what we were going for.”
However, they still play plenty of festivals and just hosted their own arts and music fest, The Werks, in their home state of Ohio in August. And curating that live experience is just as important as being proficient in the instruments played and chords sung.
“The light show that self is part of the experience,” Shaw observes. “One particular act that I find inspirational is The Flaming Lips. The show is kind of over the top, a little absurd, with the puppetry, the lights, the videos. . . . The big thing that was always hammered into me is catch and release—build the tension and then release. We try to create an experience worth remembering.”
The Werks are on their FireWerks Tour, currently, which will bring them to ILM’s Blue Eyed Muse with Passafire on September 10.
While Shaw is somewhat of an outlier because he joined the band after its inception in 2006—he was running in a couple of hip-hop bands and instrumental funk groups—founders Rob Chafin (drums, vocals, samples), Jake Goldberg (bass, vocals) and Chris Houser (guitar, vocals) cut their teeth in the jam world. But as far as Phish, The Grateful Dead and the like, there’s still quite a bit of distance between them and The Werks on the spectrum.
“There’s an incredible amount of range you can get with just the things that we perform live, and really, with the proper planning, almost any sound can happen,” Shaw says. “The studio exponentially increases that and ultimately exploring sounds that sound good is the end goal of making good music—not necessarily trying to add bells and whistles for bells and whistles sake but we’re not limiting our imagination to the sounds that we’re just familiar with.”
“Into the Moss” is one track that has taken the most flight on the live stage. It’s an instrumental track primarily written by guitar player Chris Houser. However, the most surprisingly “difficult nut to crack” has been “Moon Set”— a heavily electronic song that they try to translate on stage with synthesizers and Shaw emulates some of it with his keyboard.
“[‘Moon Set’] has probably had the most transformation between recording and live performance,” Shaw adds.
Some of the material on “Magic” was written under the gun, so to speak. They started off with maybe a handful of songs but had to come up with the rest when in the studio last fall. However, they’re wasn’t any “reverse engineering” involved with trying to “match” those songs already written and performed live with those still in production. Having a strictly cohesive album wasn’t the goal, per se—especially in our current streaming generation of music fans.
“It’s a fascinating time to write music,” Shaw says. “‘The album’ has kind of taken a back seat because people are trying to catch up with technology. . . . It’s certainly not gone but the priority in the industry now, since the advent of MP3s, singles have been the emphasis. . . . So we decided that we weren’t going to limit ourselves and whatever we started writing at the time would make it in [‘Magic].”
It’s a hard thing to calculate; whether new, old or future fans will like certain songs. However, for The Werks, this is the ideal time for soundscape and genre exploration. And album track orders or themes are becoming less important these days, but that gives them more freedom.
“I’m not exactly sure where that puts the idea of the album in general,” “Shaw continues, “but I think at the end of the day, no matter what collection of songs are packed together, if it’s high-quality material and something that’s meaningful to you, meaningful to people and tells a good story, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.”