It’s hard to remember that February even happened, and why would you want to now that spring is well underway? Here at Ca Va Cool we have a pretty good memory, at least where music is concerned, and we think back to those chilly February days and remember that Woodhands had a new album less than a month old and were playing a show in Vancouver that would put some serious heat into our bones.
I had a chance to sit down with Paul Banwatt of Woodhands and The Rural Alberta Advantage a day before the show at my favourite coffee shop in Kitsilano. Having just reviewed the recently released Remorsecapade, we thought we should sit on the interview for a while. Now, a few months later Woodhands has released a remix album, obviously titled Remixcapade, featuring some substantially dialed-down remixes by touring-mate Diamond Rings and others. It’s available for free download from Paper Bag Records.
Justin: The new album just came out, are you happy with the result?
Paul Banwatt: Yeah. It’s a weird thing, we were super excited about it but also kind of scared. It’s really different for us then Heart Attack was. We felt like it was a little bit deeper and darker and maybe a little less instantly appealing. It might be a couple of listens before you start to feel some of the songs on there. The response from critics so far has been so overwhelmingly positive that we’re like “People are getting this, this is awesome.” It makes us really confident going forward to keep pushing ourselves that way. It’s like, if this is still cool, then watch out.
Justin: Is there even crazier stuff in store? Is there new stuff that isn’t on the album?
Paul: Well we always do, because our songs tend to come from a lot of different places. A lot of them come from jams we just come up with while we’re in the middle of a show. We use to do a lot more just straight improvisation than we do now, but we still do a lot. There was a time when we use to have a residency in Toronto every month and we would just play hour long shows of just pure improvisation. Those kinds of things are where a lot of the songs come from and they can get really crazy. Just weird electro-freakouts that we realize sound kind of cool and try to turn into a song later.
Justin: Where was that residency?
Paul: It was at the Rivoli. It was after a comedy show. They would turn it over to us after the show to just do what ever we wanted.
Justin: In terms of improvising live, and then in terms of the recording process for Remorsecapade, how do you go from the band having such a live energy to sitting down in a studio and saying this is what the song is going to sound like.
Paul: It’s so different. We honestly try not to conflate the two at all. When we record, we’re recording, and we don’t try to treat it like a live show. We’ll record forty layers on a song and then start peeling them back and arranging them and putting things in the places they will be. Sometimes we don’t even know what the hook is going to be until the end of the process. It’s a very different process. When we play live, it’s like we’re trying to recreate something we did in the studio without any consideration of how hard it was going to be to pull off live.
Justin: Because one of the things that’s so appealing about you guys is that there is no mystery. There is no computer, no drum machine. So if you do something, how do you translate it to just two people playing.
Paul: Well there is a drum machine, but it’s doing simple stuff and I’m trying to do the heavy lifting on top of it. But I think that’s just kind of what’s fun about it. When we did Heart Attack we had already been playing those songs live a lot so we kind of knew that even if we recorded them and put more layers on top, we’d still be able to play the versions we’d been playing before. With Remorsecapade we hadn’t been playing these songs live yet, so when we recorded them we could have been like, “We can’t do that because it’s going to be too hard live,” but instead we were like, “No, we’re just going to do whatever is awesome” and then figure it out later. This turned into a bit of a nightmare when we realized, “God, we actually have to play these songs for people now,” but it’s kind of what’s exciting about it. You’re right that there’s no mystery in our live show, but if Dan looked like a mad-man before playing multiple things, now he’s an octopus. His arms are going everywhere, he has two new synthesizers and a new keyboard. Everything is going everywhere. If you listen to Heart Attack, a lot of the songs are just simple loops; he could just play a loop, record it, and then play over top of it. Now these loops are not simple, in fact they’re not even loops, he has to play pretty much every bass line live because there are so many changes in it throughout the song. It’s crazy. It’s a lot crazier for him.
Justin: What about in terms of your drumming, do you think it’s changed on the new album?
Paul: It’s changed a little bit, but I would say I’ve stayed fairly consistent. Way more than Dan, I’m kind of obsessed with pop music and wanting drum hooks. I want something where people hum a melody the next day, maybe just humming the beat, thinking the beat, or tapping it out on something. I want to give that to people, so I really tried to think about that harder this time and make sure that every song had that kind of driving beat that would be in your head the next day.
Justin: Your drumming style for Woodhands and also for RAA is inspired from techno and electronic music, would you say that’s a fair comment?
Paul: Yeah, definitely. Totally fair. I love electronic music. I remember listening to Prodigy and thinking, why don’t rock drummers just actually drum like that? You know what I mean? What seems like something I could possibly play, I never actually played in a band. That was the start of it, listening to that Prodigy record and thinking, I want to play songs like that.
Justin: Which record was that?
Paul: The one with Firestarter on it.
Justin: Was that Fat of the Land?
Paul: Yeah. I’m not going to say that was a main influence for me, but listening to it on the radio, I wanted to try something like that. And then I started listening to more Daft Punk, and listening to Kraftwerk and feeling really uninspired by the beats, and thinking I could do something even better than that.
Justin: How long have you been drumming and at what point did you realize that you could do what some people only do with a drum machine or on a computer?
Paul: I don’t want to say that I can do it, I aspire to do it. I’ve been playing drums for about 15 years and I guess that got into my head about ten years ago. In a big way. In a way where I couldn’t be in a band without starting to think about it. It’s not like I wanted to turn every song into a dance song, because that’s not what it is, it’s more like, when a guy whose never played drums before sits down and programs a beat, they’re not thinking about all of the things that someone who’s learned rock drumming is thinking about, the standard trap kit rhythms that you’re supposed to play over everything? They’re so free from it. Even when you listen to the Postal Service, it’s so much better to me than someone who’s a drummer just sitting down and playing time. I just like it a lot more.
Justin: Not to stray too much from Woodhands, but with the RAA, who realized that you could play those kind of beats with more emotional, more laid-back songs than Woodhands?
Paul: It was just me and Mills jamming. We used to have an open mic night in Toronto where no one would come, so we’d spend three hours playing to the bar staff. We wanted our free food and beer, so we would just go through his repertoire of songs he’d been working on, little bits that he’d been jamming out with. He’d play a song like ‘Ballad of the RAA’, and I’d think, that just sounds like a house beat to me, and I’d want to play a house beat under it. ‘Don’t Haunt This Place’ was originally a guitar song. Early on I was always trying to convince him to turn all of his guitar songs into keyboard songs, because when you play guitar, you lock in a lot of rhythms that trap a drummer. But when you play a keyboard, it’s just so flat that you can literally play drum beats that go straight to the vocals. That’s why I like Woodhands so much, because there’s so much freedom. I can just listen to the vocal melody and write a beat around it instead of feeling like I’m trapped by these other rhythmic barriers. So with ‘Don’t Haunt This Place’, I was like, keep that vocal melody, but play it on a keyboard. Let me play exactly to that vocal melody.
Justin: Do you ever wish that you had Amy’s extra drum out at a Woodhands concert?
Paul: All the time. You know what, a secret fact about Dan is that he’s a very talented conga player. And we’ve had this dream of a big drum breakdown at some point [Laughs]. We’d bring out a set of congas and really go at it. Me versus him. Hopefully it will happen someday.
Woodhands play the Sled Island Festival July 1-2 in Calgary. The Rural Alberta Advantage play the Winnipeg Folk Festival, July 7-11.