Inspired By Sleepless Nights, The New Woods Album Is 'Strange To Explain'

May 23, 2020
Originally published on May 23, 2020 9:17 am

The band Woods has always incorporated diffuse influences, taking inspiration from lo-fi rock, Ethiopian jazz and psychedelic folk sounds. Guitarist and vocalist Jeremy Earl, who recently became a father, says his group's latest album, Strange To Explain was influenced by something else — a lack of sleep.

"Those first few months or first year of having a newborn kind of put me in a dreamlike state," he says. "And that was my escape: to start writing."

NPR's Scott Simon spoke to Jeremy Earl about how his sleeplessness affected his creative process, collaborating with his long-distance bandmates and how frog sounds made their way onto the new album. Listen to the radio version in the audio link above and read on for highlights of the interview.


Interview Highlights

On how becoming a father affected his songwriting

Starting to write the record was an escape for me from my everyday reality and anxieties. Being in those first few months or first year of having a newborn — everything circling around sleep for both [my daughter] and myself and my wife put me in a dreamlike state. And that was my escape: to start writing.

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On collaborating with his bandmate Jarvis Taveniere, who moved to California from Brooklyn, and creating remotely during the coronavirus crisis

This was our first record recording it that way. And while things didn't change that much, we couldn't meet up spontaneously to rehearse or anything anymore. We just had to plan things out. But in the state that we are in now, we're starting to think about recording remotely and doing it over email. We've been working together for so long that it's easy for us both to work in our own spaces and kind of collaborate remotely, just from being used to the way each other work for so long. We've known each other for two decades now.

On the unique sound effects on the song "Where Do You Go When You Dream?"

The spring peepers — those are the frogs that you're hearing — that's in my area of Stoneridge, N.Y. If you're out at night in the spring, you can't hear anything else. So during the writing of that particular song, "Where Do You Go When You Dream" that's what I was hearing, that was on my mind, and it seeped in there.

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(SOUNDBITE OF WOODS SONG, "WHERE DO YOU GO WHEN YOU DREAM?")

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The band Woods takes inspiration from lo-fi rock, Ethiopian jazz and psychedelic folk sounds. Guitarist and vocalist Jeremy Earl, who recently became a father, says that his group's latest album was influenced by something else - lack of sleep.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHERE DO YOU GO WHEN YOU DREAM?")

WOODS: (Singing) I see old friends when I sleep. Where do you go? Where do you go when you dream?

SIMON: That's Woods from their new album "Strange To Explain." And Jeremy Earl joins us from his home in Stone Ridge, N.Y. Thanks so much for being with us.

JEREMY EARL: Yeah. Thanks for having me.

SIMON: How do you think those what I'll refer to as restless nights affect your creative process when you were writing this music?

EARL: I guess starting to write the record was an escape for me from my everyday reality and anxieties and those first few months or first year of having a newborn - everything. Circling around sleep for both her and myself and my wife, I guess it just kind of put me in a dream-like state. And that was my escape was to start writing.

(SOUNDBITE OF FROGS CROAKING)

SIMON: I want to ask you about the sounds on this album. Sometimes, we hear frogs.

EARL: Well, the spring peepers - those are the frogs that you're hearing. That's in my area of Stone Ridge, N.Y. If you're out at night in the spring, you can't hear anything else. So during the writing of that particular song, "Where Do You Go When You Dream?" that's what I was hearing. That was on my mind. And it seeped in there.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHERE DO YOU GO WHEN YOU DREAM?")

WOODS: (Vocalizing).

SIMON: I gather that in addition to, obviously, this new young life in your family, your band, Woods, went from being Brooklyn-based to a bicoastal enterprise when Jarvis Taveniere, your bandmate, moved to California.

EARL: Yeah, exactly. This was our first record recording it that way. And, you know, while things didn't change that much - you know, we couldn't meet up spontaneously to rehearse or anything anymore - we just had to plan things out. Yeah. But now, you know, in the state that we are in now, we're starting to think about recording remotely and doing it over email.

SIMON: Yeah. What are the special demands of that?

EARL: Well, you know, we've been working together for so long that it's easy for us both to work in our own spaces and kind of collaborate remotely just from being used to the way each other work for so long.

SIMON: It helps to have the good foundation of a working relationship, I gather.

EARL: Oh, yeah. Definitely. I mean, we've known each other for probably two decades now.

(SOUNDBITE OF WOODS SONG, "WHERE DO YOU GO WHEN YOU DREAM?")

SIMON: I want to ask you about another track, if I could. And this one is called "Can't Get Out." I suspect a lot of people might take that as a theme song now.

EARL: I know.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CAN'T GET OUT")

WOODS: (Singing) Can't get out, can't get up (ph)...

EARL: So this one was kind of - it's about depression, and it's sort of my way of kind of helping cope with depression. And I tried to add a sort of, like, light, sunny vibe to the music to kind of help push it along. But it's a dark song for me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CAN'T GET OUT")

WOODS: (Singing) Crushing the weight inside, kept you coming for more. Can't get out, can't get up, can't take a breath. Can you see (ph)?

SIMON: Do you know about depression personally?

EARL: Yeah, yeah. It's something that I'm recently coming to terms with. A lot of it right now is just being positive and writing music. And just being with my family right now has been helping out a lot.

SIMON: This a particularly tough time given what's going on?

EARL: Oh, yeah, definitely. I think, you know, everybody's feeling their own anxieties and whatnot a little bit heavier than normal right now, you know?

(SOUNDBITE OF WOODS SONG, "BE THERE STILL")

SIMON: What do you hope for Woods in the days ahead?

EARL: Yeah. So the record just came out on Friday. And I'm really excited to finally share it into the world and see what people think of it. And, you know, in the future, we just hope to get back on the road. We had planned to be on tour this spring, summer and fall, and that's all been canceled. So hopefully next year we'll be able to do it and play these songs live.

SIMON: Jeremy Earl of the band Woods - their new album is called "Strange To Explain" - thanks so much for being with us.

EARL: Thanks a lot for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF WOODS SONG "BE THERE STILL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.