Woodsmen carve their mark

Despite being a fairly young band, the eclectic indie-rock collective Woodsmen has quickly made a name for itself within the tightly knit Victoria community. Even before releasing their debut EP, Woodsmen has shared the stage with such acts as Jon and Roy, Kytami, and The Zolas, and has received airplay through CBC Music. The band’s opening track “For Keeps” was nominated as the Island Song of the Year in the 2013 Vancouver Island Music Awards. Members Maryse Bernard and Sean Kennedy talked recently with Chris Ho about their successes.

Woodsmen has been described as “an accessible blend of blues, jazz and rock” with “unconventional time changes and experimental song structure.” How do you find a balance with accessibility and experimentation in your music?

MARYSE: I wouldn’t say it’s a conscious thing—that we sit down to write with the intention of creating music that surprises without distancing the audience—but it is an important balance to keep in mind. I think the best songs evoke in us both a sense of familiarity, as well as the unexpected. It’s always fun to throw in some wacky time changes, but songs still need to follow a certain structure. We aim to deliver new discoveries without pulling people out of the listening experience.

SEAN: Yeah I’d say it’s pretty spontaneous. A lot of the cooler parts of our songs come from mistakes we made while writing that we thought sounded awesome. The hard part is to  recreate them and incorporate them into our songs.

I have to say Maryse’s vocals definitely tie our songs together in terms of accessibility. They’re really emotive and draw a lot of attention, which I guess distracts from some of the strange things going on in our songs. For instance,  “Memo” changes time signatures 4 or 5 times and “Not the Same” has separate vocal and instrumental choruses, but you’re focusing more on Maryse’s melodies and lyrics throughout those songs. Essentially we all get weird behind the veil that is her voice.

Was the recording process of your debut EP just as experimental as your musical style, or was it by contrast very straightforward? What was your overall vision for the EP, as far as song selection and general soundscape goes?

MARYSE: We generally stuck to the same vocals as when we perform, but came up with the three-part harmonies for “Not The Same” in the studio. I’m a creature of habit when it comes to singing, so it was fun to add more of a spontaneous side and come up with parts right during the recording process. We carried them into our live shows, and I love now getting to jazz-geek out for that part of the song. I think Sean also got experimental with the keys for “Memo”?

SEAN: Yeah we reversed some of my key parts in “Memo,” added some reverb, then used the sound for transitions and building tension in certain parts. We also put a microphone in a refrigerator for some of the drum parts to make them sound more dirt-nasty.

MARYSE: Vision-wise, the songs go in chronological order of when we wrote them. It was our first time recording “Memo” and “Not The Same”, but we also wanted to include a revamped version of “For Keeps,” since it’s one of our favourites from our 2012 Demo. Hopefully there’s some growth that can be heard both in sound and content over the course of the EP. To me, each song brings up a distinct chapter in its theme.

What would you say are the ideal listening conditions for your self-titled EP, and why?

MARYSE: I can’t assume this for everyone, but I like to think of it as a really good driving soundtrack. When Sam Weber first sent us the rough tracks, I listened to them during a road trip to California, and that environment of looking out at the passing landscape to the music kind of stuck. Our friends recently took the EP with them on their drive to whistler. They said afterwards that whenever a Woodsmen tune came on it made everyone feel good, which is one of the best things musicians can hope for: for it to be enjoyable in a group setting, but also appreciable on a more personal level when listening to it alone. I hope that when people really pay attention to the lyrics, they can find something that rings true with them.

Would you describe your band as being unified in its musical influences and preferences, or is there quite a bit of diversity?

MARYSE: I think our influences are all pretty diverse, and that that creates one of our sound’s best qualities. I love that everyone comes from different musical backgrounds and brings their own flavor to the conception of our songs. It inspires lyrics and melodies I may never have come up with otherwise. I was trained in jazz with heavy RnB and blues influence, but also adored punk rock as a teen, so it’s awesome to create this fusion that becomes our own genre of alternative. In the studio, Sam Weber called us the “Motown Grizzly Bear.”

Oftentimes a band’s perception of their best song doesn’t line up with what others perceive as their best song. Is this the case for your track “For Keeps,” which has evidently garnered attention through its nomination in the Island Song of the Year?

MARYSE: In my opinion, if you’re making music for the sole purpose of it being popular, the lack of substance is going to be obvious. If it doesn’t resonate with us, then it probably won’t with fans either. What’s great about “For Keeps” is that it can be taken as a lighter track—danceable and a little poppy—but also as a darker confessional when you listen to it closely. There was some heavy turmoil going on when writing the lyrics— the fear of essentially being broken when it comes to relationships. So I think it can be connected to on a number of different levels, depending on how listeners want to approach it.