Barman, bouncer, tour manager, psychiatric nurse, multi-instrumentalist band member and now solo country/folk recording artist, Will Wood has an attitude, as well as a name, bred for success. Though his newly released album is entitled ‘Broken Man’, as he tells Matthew deKimble, the recording process was the happiest time ever. He’s now dead keen to begin his new life making a living as an internationally touring musician.
Brought up playing classical music on the piano and violin, Will Wood picked up his first guitar in the last year of high school, intending to play guitar in a band. Awkwardly his bandmates did too.
“Me and my three best friends at high school wanted to make a band, but we all played guitar. One said, ‘I’ll play the bass’ and the other two were better at guitar than me, so I played the drums,” admits Will. “I realised if I wanted to play in bands, being a drummer would make it a lot easier because everyone plays guitar.”
He fell in love with the drums and behind the kit he stayed until a couple of years ago. A good friend, who was looking for someone to support a touring musician, knew of Will’s talent with a guitar and roped him in.
“My very first solo show was to an empty room in Bar Bodega,” Will recalls. “The only people in the audience where the members of Band of Horses and I got so nervous that I vomited before I went on stage!”
Getting over those initial nerves he began playing solo sets when time permitted, insisting now, “I never wanted to be a singer/songwriter, I just wanted to play in awesome bands.”
The idea of a solo record came in early 2013, as the first step in realising his dream of being a full-time touring musician. Most of the songs on the album were already written, the earliest being the fast-paced, foot stomping single, Sick Of It All.
“I’d never really written a song,” he muses, “Sick Of It All was just a weird coincidence, I wrote it by accident.”
A number of songs were conceived while working as a psychiatric nurse at Auckland’s Middlemore Hospital.
“I get a huge amount of inspiration from my work, it’s got tragedy, violence, happiness and a lot of frustration. When you’re in really weird, high pressure situations you wouldn’t normally find yourself in it stimulates you emotionally.
His album was recorded in Lyttelton studio The Sitting Room, and will be released by Ben Edwards’ Lyttelton Records. Will says he is the first ‘out-of-towner’ on the label but that it doesn’t feel that way.
“All my friends, the people I’ve been playing shows with for years and love to hang out with, record at The Sitting Room. It’s nice to be part of the family.”
The recording took a fortnight and despite the album’s title, ‘Broken Man’, Will says it was the happiest time of his life.
“My best friend Thomas Landon-Lane did all the slide guitar and lap steel, and Dave Khan did all the violins and mandolins. Reb Fountain did all the female vocals, and Delaney Davidson was called in to play Telecaster,” he smiles.
Lyttelton Records’ provided session musicians for the rhythm section with Ben Woolley on bass and Joe McCallum on drums.
“It was a pretty big deal for me getting another drummer, he confesses. “But I know Joe is freakishly good and that took a lot off my mind.
Recorded and mixed by Ben Edwards, and mastered by Ben Delany the album is a well-constructed traditional composition. Side A opens simply with Will, his guitar and harmonica. Instruments and vocals are added track by track, and the momentum builds. Interestingly the drums are omitted until the first track of Side B.
“I wanted a record that starts and then goes somewhere, not just a collection of songs.”
He was adamant that the album be pressed on vinyl too.
“I don’t think I’d bother making a record if I wasn’t going to put it on vinyl,” he says bluntly. “CDs are how you get your dinner money when you’re on tour but I would feel like I hadn’t made an album if I just made some CDs.”
While such vinyl purist ideals may not be universally shared, they are reflective of the unabashed honesty in his lyrics.
“I can’t write about something I haven’t experienced, but that’s why I like country music. These songs are all real stories adapted from stuff that I’ve gone through.”
Lyrically, the songs are bound by emotional turmoil. From the desperation of an atheist’s prayers, to homesickness in a Singaporean whorehouse, to the heart breakingly melancholy Hymn, Will knows how to write country. Musically too, the album is undeniably country at its core, though no two songs sound the same. He blends country blues, bluegrass, folk, rock and roll and even a little garage rock to create what can only be described as an eclectic country album.
Shortly after the NZ album release, Will Wood embarks on a five-week solo tour of Europe.
“It’s fucking terrifying,” he says plainly, “but I’m at a point in my life where I’m desperate for something new. This record is an attempt to find something really awesome and get that dream of being an internationally touring musician as a living.
Six years of observing bands come and go through Whammy and Wine Cellar (where he has worked various roles), his own experience of touring, hard work and passion may just prove; where there’s a Will, there’s a way.