Over the past couple of months I've been singing the praises of Magnolia, the first release from Andrew Kenny's new project, The Wooden Birds. In fact it's going to be hard to top as my favorite album of 2009. So imagine my excitement when Andrew agreed to take some time to answer a few questions from The Ash Gray Proclamation via e-mail.
Andrew is best known as the creative force behind The American Analog Set. However with the sparkling and downright beautiful indie pop found on Magnolia, you can add The Wooden Birds to his already impressive resume.
The Wooden Birds play TT The Bears tonight with support from Hacham Social and Other Lives.
Thank you to Grant MacCallum at Barsuk for his assistance and especially to Andrew Kenny for his time.
The Ash Gray Proclamation: After the end of Amanset you worked with a handful of bands including Keven Drew & Broken Social Scene, can you tell me what led to the forming of your new band The Wooden Birds?
Andrew: After the AmAnSet stopped touring I was really depressed for months. When I started playing bass with Ola Podrida, it was a great opportunity to not be "the guy" and just have a good time performing music that you like. That definitely put some wind in my sails so when Kevin asked me to join his tour for a while I was ready to start traveling again. They also kept an acoustic guitar on their bus where I finished up a few of the songs on Magnolia. When I left the Broken Social Scene, I knew I was ready to put something of my own together.
AGP: How did the signing to Barsuk come about?
Andrew: I've been a DCFC fan since the first time I saw them in 1999 so Barsuk has been on my radar for a decade. We'd spoken a few times over the years about the AmAnSet and so I knew they were aware of me as well. I was happy to hear from them too! I think The Wooden Birds are a good fit here.
Andrew: I used to demo songs by pounding out beats on my guitar top and then playing along. It was always my way of explaining the feel of each song to Analog Set drummer, Mark Smith. Over time I started liking the way those beats sounded on their own.
When I started putting songs aside for Magnolia I chose songs that would take advantage of those kinds of beats. It will be the next Wooden Birds album that I will get to write a few new songs specifically for and I'm really looking forward to that process.
AGP: I've read that the new record was inspired by heartbreak, can you tell me why that theme seems to keep creeping into your music?
Andrew: I'm not special. Like everyone, I have a lot of heartbreak to write about. These days I'm happily married so I'm mostly writing about things that happened in my past. Eventually I'll run out of sad things to write about though, huh? Maybe 2030 or 2035. The 90's were tough.
AGP: The Other One sounds like it could have been an Amanset song, speaking of your former band, can we expect to hear any Amanset material when you play Boston?
Andrew: There are a few songs on Magnolia that began as AmAnSet demos but maybe didn't make sense on an American Analog Set record. I presented The Other One as a song for Set Free in 2004 and everyone said, "Um.. you already have one Aaron and Maria, you need two?".
We're playing a few AmAnSet songs on this Wooden Birds tour. We play Kindness Of Strangers. And yeah we play Aaron and Maria as well which is a lot of fun because The AmAnSet never did!
AGP: Can you tell us how Hard To Find, the newly released Amanset rarities compilation came about?
Andrew: There was a tour only 12" called Everything Ends In Spring that we took with us on our last tour in 2005. It contains a coupe of my all time favorite AmAnSet moments and as an EP, I couldn't be more proud of 30 min of AmAnSet music. We'd always talked about making that EP available in some kind of digital format. And then other songs emerged as moments that were special for some reason. A 7" that was never released.. Hard To Find b/w Make It Take It. Another 7" that sold out quickly... New Equation. I love that version of Sharp Briar that Matt Pond sings on. And for years we opened every show with the slowed down version of Promise Of Love that we called, Stoney Chariots, though we never made it available officially. It just made a lot of sense to sequence them all together and make them downloadable.
AGP: Magnolia has been called your best work by your new label? How does that statement make you feel?
Andrew: I've written a lot of music over the years. It's a dangerous cycle to fall into to think that you have to top yourself somehow every time you write or record. My goal has always been just to make music that I believe in and when I get to share it with people, it's a wonderful feeling. So is the bridge on Never Know better than the moment when the vocals kick in on Continuous Hit Music ? Are the lyrics on Hometown Fantasy better than She's Half ? Aaron & Maria and The Other One are really similar songs but is one better? I'd rather think of myself as the guy that over the last 10 years wrote all 6 of those songs and many others and might have a few gems left in him. (I hope more than a few!)
AGP: What is the status of your other career as a biologist?
Andrew: Oh gosh. It's something that I think about every day, but resuming my career in science is going to be a major undertaking. I'd be a clumsy menace in a laboratory right now. It's in my future though. Laboratory science is the only thing I've ever done in my life that I've ever felt good at. I'd like to have that satisfaction resume someday.
AGP: Do you write on the road or do you prefer to focus on playing the songs you've just recorded?
Andrew: That's come up recently. I have a few bits of music recorded on my little cassette recorder and so I think about lyrics a lot while I'm driving. But as for the whole band, we're still working on making our set / show better. that's our #1 goal.
AGP: Here's question I like to ask all touring bands, what have you been listening to in the van?
Andrew: I'm never the van dj, but when I get a little backseat headphones time I've been listening to the newest Phoenix album which is absolutely going to be my favorite record of 2009. I also like the Land of Talk record that came out late last year. Also Grand Archives and Night Control. I've been enjoying a renewed interest in the House Of Love lately. I also just got a mix cd of Li'l Flip freestyles that I'm 'bout 'bout.
AGP: Four years have passed since you released Set Free, please tell us we won't have to wait another four years before we get the next Wooden Birds album?
Andrew: Ha, ha, right? The Wooden Birds is what I'm doing these days. I've been on tour for almost 3 months so when I'm home I'll need to spend at least that long proving to my wife that I'm worth putting up with the hassle of absentee husbandism. And then I'll start working on the next round of Wooden Birds songs. I'd like to keep my album cycles a little tighter with this project. We'll see.