The Wood Brothers go (a little) electric at Belly Up Aspen
The Aspen Times
If You Go …
What: The Wood Brothers
Where: Belly Up Aspen
When: Thursday, Dec. 10, 10 p.m.
How much: $25
Tickets: Belly Up box office; http://www.bellyupaspen.com
Two years ago, Chris and Oliver Wood moved to Nashville, marking the first time the brothers had lived in the same city since their high school years in Boulder.
The pair, who with percussionist/“shuitar” player Jano Rix make up the folk band The Wood Brothers, soon began working on what would become the recently released “Paradise” — their fifth album in the 10 years since the band’s founding.
“It was much easier,” guitarist Oliver Wood said from home before embarking on a tour that brings the band to Belly Up Aspen tonight. “It was relaxed, being able to work on things in each others’ living rooms, rather than writing things over the Internet or backstage on tour.”
In Nashville, the trio often gets together to play just for fun — jamming and improvising and talking about music without a timeline or a studio clock running. It’s fostered a more organic songwriting process.
“Free-form, we’ll talk over what we’re doing and we’ll find musical ideas, and those are the seeds of what become songs,” he said.
They recorded “Paradise” at Dan Auerbach’s Easy Eye Studios, where the Black Keys frontman — a “vintage gear fanatic” in Wood’s words — has a stable of gear that helped shape the ambitious, grittier sound of the new record.
“Everything in that place is so cool and old. It’s this fun workshop where you can experiment and try different amplifiers and drums and keyboards,” Wood said. “That has a lot to do with what the record sounded like.”
Most noticeably, that sound includes some touches of electric bass from Chris Wood — a first for the band — and the records rootsy folk-blues songs have a slightly harder, rock-oriented edge than in the Woods’ past work and albums such as 2013’s “The Muse” and stripped-down earlier outings.
Wood said the bigger sound was likely a subconscious preparation for the bigger venues the band is playing these days. Formed in 2006 after the brothers each had separate, long-running successful careers — Chris with Medeski, Martin & Wood; Oliver as frontman for King Johnson — The Wood Brothers have become a summer festival staple able to fill large venues at solo shows.
“We can’t help but picture, when we’re writing a song, who is going to hear it and where we’re going to play it,” Wood said. “If we’re at a festival in front of several thousand people, something subtle and acoustic may not translate. What happened with it is, we are thinking, ‘We have to play Bonnaroo this year, we’ve got to rock!’”
Of course, as the Woods’ sonic ambitions grow and go a little electric, there are still subtle and acoustic songs on the new record, and an intimate venue like Belly Up is still the ideal place to hear them. On the current tour, the trio has been playing a mix of the new tracks — usually six or seven a night — along with songs from their five-record catalog.
The Woods have played Aspen regularly over the years, in performances that are something of a homecoming. Their father was a microbiologist, who, through much of the brothers’ childhoods in southern California in the 1970s, brought the family to Aspen in the summers when he wrote textbooks with a locally based editor. Chris and Oliver were among The Aspen Times’ paperboys in those days. The family later moved to Boulder, and continued spending summers in Aspen.
Though the Woods were never working musicians in Colorado (both left Boulder after high school), Oliver noted that all of the first big concerts he saw in high school were at Red Rocks Amphitheatre, and Aspen Music Festival concerts were a norm in the summertime. Their dad, who played in bands in his youth and remained a folkie, reared the boys musically, playing around the house and on camping trips and taking them to see the pioneering Colorado bluegrass outfit Hot Rize.
“He had a great repertoire and a great record collection,” Wood said. “That definitely shaped us.”