Will Wood answers a simple question about holiday entertainment with an idea for a song called “Grandma Was Annihilated by a Reindeer.” The song hasn’t been written yet, but that doesn’t stop him from describing it in gory detail.
“Imagine, if you will, a fragile old woman in twilight of her life,” Wood begins, “bludgeoned and stamped to death by the cloven hooves of a 600-pound beast of the arctic. [I’m] not saying I’m going to sing that; I just can’t promise I won’t.”
This kind of talk shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone familiar with Wood’s music and live show. The pianist and singer-songwriter’s avant-pop stylings—on display at Juggling Gypsy Saturday night—depend as much on his flair for the unexpected as they do his impressive musicianship.
“I like to go into shows like this with as little planned as I can without showing up totally unprepared,” says Wood, who has been known to perform with a mysterious third eye painted on his forehead. That eccentricity extends beyond the stage: For a time, Wood told interviewers he had a daughter named Millie—inspired by the “Stranger Things” actress Millie Bobby Brown.
It’s not that Wood can’t give straight answers. It’s simply that he doesn’t find them as interesting.
Born in 1992 “despite the use of three forms of contraception,” Wood began experimenting at an early age. “The first song I ever wrote was in response to a series of unsettling hallucinations I was experiencing in my adolescence,” he says.
Taking influence from Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong and anti-humor comics Andy Kaufman and Eric Andrew in equal measure, he started playing shows in New Jersey’s DIY spaces. In 2015, he released an album, “Everything Is A Lot,” with his band The Tapeworms. A 2016 follow-up, “SELF-iSH,” was written in six months and featured a bevy of guests. The album (and its accompanying, Wood-directed music videos) received sterling reviews; it established Wood as an exciting voice to watch.
Wood last played the Gypsy in 2018. It’s a perfect match of venue and artist, as its multi-purpose space caters to his sui generis, experimental music. “I don’t know anything about mainstream music, to be perfectly honest,” he says. “The point is exploration, experimentation and liberation.”
It also appeals to Wood’s love of visual art. When he’s not on tour, the singer creates trippy, technicolor paintings and drawings, including cover art for all of his albums. He had his first gallery exhibition in Asbury Park, NJ, earlier in the year, and regularly takes commission requests from fans.
Those same fans helped make his forthcoming record, “The Normal Album,” a reality. In March Wood launched an Indiegogo campaign to fund the album’s recording. Within 12 hours of its launch, he had raised over $16,000. After just a month, that total was $27,720—far surpassing the original $15,000 goal. Funding his work in this way allows him to take a more holistic approach to making art. It also allowed him to hire multi-platinum producer Matt Squire (Panic! at the Disco, Ariana Grande, The Used, One Direction), who helped him hone in on new sounds.
“It’s not navel-gazing and screaming about Buddhism and suicide, nor is it a series of growled drunken mistakes,” Wood says. “This album was crafted carefully, using my head as much as my heart—if not more than my heart. It’s at times gentler, yet also much harder-hitting. It’s more cynically outward-facing and has an overt sense of humor, even in its melancholy and desperate moments.”
New instrumentaion comes in the form of a horn section, strings, synthesizers and marimba. But lest fans of Wood’s previous work worry he’s lost his trademark sense of mischief, he’s here to put such concerns to rest.
“It’s mostly Seal covers,” he says.