“Close sittin’ on the front porch, ice cream in my hand, meltin’’ in the sun, all that chocolate on my tongue, and that’s good enough reason to live . . .”
A few years ago, my soon-to-be husband made me a mix CD and included the Wood Brothers’ “Chocolate on my Tongue.” It’s a simple song about the literal and figurative sweet pleasures in life. It features the kind of song writing that brings any listener into the story. Its imagery managed to make me taste chocolate and maybe even hypnotized me by the thought of a pair of loving eyes looking my way. Did the inclusion of the song make me fall for my husband? Well, it didn’t hurt.
It’s been almost a decade since The Wood Brothers released their debut studio album “Ways Not To Lose” in 2006, which featured this sweet little ditty. At the time Chris Wood was known as the third man of Medeski, Martin and Wood, while his brother Oliver had six albums with his band King Johnson. When the brothers came together, their roots in folk and Americana storytelling deepened with each project. Now, with a new album in tow, The Wood Brothers will take to the Port City stage at the Brooklyn Arts Center (516 N. 4th St.) on Sun., Nov. 15.
Chris Wood (bass, vocals and harmonica), alongside his brother Oliver (guitar and vocals) and Jano Rix (drums, vocals, keyboard, shuitar—a portable percussion instrument with a wide variety of sounds), released “Paradise” just last month. The title—stamped below a sketched image of a donkey being led by the proverbial stick and carrot—is indicative of the record’s theme: the search, longing and desire to reach paradise.
It’s one of The Wood Brothers’ most collaborative and unique works to date, with Chris playing electric guitar on tracks for the first time. Guest musicians like Derek Trucks (guitar) and Susan Tedeschi (vocals) make an appearance on “Never And Always,” along with more friends who pop in on other tracks. Thematically, the album doesn’t go quite into an optimistic or pessimistic perspective of life; it leans more toward a realist’s point of view of the pursuit of happiness or fulfillment.
Recorded at Black Key frontman Dan Auerbach’s Easy Eye studio in Nashville, “Paradise” captures the longing and inevitable search for greener pastures. The two Wood brothers are no strangers to the drive of wanting and searching for more.
“I think desire gets a bad rap,” Chris says. “It’s also why we get up in the morning and do things, too. I think a lot of people go on spiritual quests to get rid of desire, but I expect you can’t. So maybe you have to accept it instead of trying to get rid of it.”
It wasn’t the concept they set out to tackle per se. Yet, when they started writing and assembling songs they began to notice a theme developing. “There’s a lot of different ways to talk about desire and salvation,” Wood tells, “and so maybe surrender and acceptance to the reality of that is what we’re writing.”
The things that people do in life, Chris says, aren’t necessarily always good or bad. They just affect our lives and perspectives. “American Heartache” reflects upon the idea of not really being happy until one has it all. “Stuck in a dream,” the chorus goes, where everything needed is “blowing in the breeze” and what’s wanted “is just down stream . . . I only feel bad when I can’t have it all.”
In some ways it is one of the more lighter tongue-and-cheek songs, but also very true for Chris. “It’s just another take or version of desire,” he continues, “where I’m sure that feeling is strong everywhere, but particularly strong in America where we always seem to be unsatisfied with what we have—and we have a lot.”
Most of the growth and progression he sees within the entire album comes from simply being able to work more closely (literally) with his brother and band mate. He and Oliver now live in the same city, which allows for less time coordinating schedules and more time spent collaborating. Their ideas grew organically as they began working on the record.
“[On] the last record [‘The Muse,’ 2013], we kind of had to come up with ideas separately,” Chris explains. “One of us would write the lyrics and the other did the music, and [we would] slap them together. Luckily, a lot of the time that worked. With this record, we could build the song from the ground up together.”
Often, they would jam through a tune to find the story. “Snake Eyes” features a train taking passengers to paradise. It’s funky instrumentals include electric guitar at the forefront. The band wrote the music first and then the lyrics.
“It was something we all played together at a rehearsal and recorded,” Chris tells.
“It can start with a very simple rhythmic idea or a riff (something that gives you a feeling) that inspires the song, and maybe it goes with something else that isn’t finished. There’s so many different ways [a song] can begin.”
More often than not the brothers collaborate with a producer, who guide musicians through the record-making process. But “Paradise” is the first album The Wood Brothers self-produced entirely on their own.
“[Producers] can have a lot of influence on the way a record can turn out,” Chris admits. “They have these ideas and make all of these choices along the way that affect the way the album sounds. This is the first time we did all of that. . . . So it just felt very much our own. We really own this record artistically—and literally because we put it out on our own label.”
It’s motivated them even more as musicians and professionals. More so, it’s sparked a different drive for mastering their art. “We live for the creative process,” Chris says. “That’s where the real fun is—besides performing, which we also love and we’re doing now. As musicians, as writers, as artists, we love that process of creating or always thinking about what else we can do. Often we don’t know what that is; we just know what it isn’t based off what we’ve done already.”
The road to paradise with The Wood Brothers leads to the Brooklyn Arts Center on Nov. 15. For tickets or details, visit www.brooklynartsnc.com.