Amelia’s Magazine | Tide: an interview with Wooden Arms

Wooden Arm Music Illustration by Alice Jamieson
Wooden Arms by Alice Jamieson.

Mixing lush orchestration with percussive vibes, the Norwich based band Wooden Arms present a haunting debut album with Tide: be prepared to fall in love. Vocalist Alex Carson answered my questions.

Wooden Arms by Sarah Parris
Wooden Arms by Sarah Parris. ‘I felt the music was quite dream like so the image is a combination of photographic and illustrative. I like the sound in the sky with the look of woodgrain. Wood and trees just seemed right as I listened to them…

How did you get together as a band?
We formed rather accidently about 2 years ago, I had been writing some songs on a piano I had recently inherited from a kind neighbour and I was put in touch with a work colleagues sister, Jess Diggins (Violin). She was clearly brilliant and I began writing violin lines as well as vocals and piano. I met Fynn Titford-Mock (Cello) busking on the street – that’s not entirely correct actually I saw him pack up a cello AFTER busking and then approached him. I never heard him play 1 note but I still knew cellists were in short supply around Norwich so I asked him over to see how things would work and lo and behold he was great too! So that was the core of it at the time. Jeff Smith (trumpet / guitar / vocals) joined later on an ad hoc basis when he had bigger shows to do and he soon became invaluable and a great writing partner as well. I knew Jeff from years ago when we were both in Indie bands on the same record label so it was an easy fit. Milly Hirst then joined as our original female vocalist couldn’t commit to the the gigs we were getting. Milly is a great singer/songwriter in her own right and a has a great following here in the UK – I had also helped with the release of her debut EP the year before so again, it was an easy fit. Alex Mackenzie (Drums) was the clearest choice for a drummer – despite being all the way in Lonndon! I had worked on a few of his solo recordings as he was dating my house mate at the time, and I was always struck at how sensitive he was to musical moods. He always knew when to ramp things up and make a racket and also when to take a step back and let other instruments take the lead. With so many of us performing (we were at times a 7 piece as we had 2 female vocalists for some shows) this was a crucial part to the rythmic elements of Wooden Arms.

So in some ways it was accidental meetings at the beginning that sparked creativity within me to write for more instruments – and once we had the ball rolling I had a clear idea of where the band was heading and knew the right men and women for the job.

What is the process of making songs?
It has varied over our time together, at the beginning I would literally write everything. So: lyrics, vocal melodies and harmonies, piano, violin, cello, guitar etc… I would then take all my scribbled sheet music to the band and teach them their parts, over the course of live shows and rehearsals the songs would change and be mouled by their individual playing style and character and it would become a Wooden Arms song. However, now-a-day’s a few others get a bit more involved in the actual writing process – I often bounce a lot of ideas off Jeff and Mackenzie first before sending them to the rest of the band and they also come up with their own songs that we then work on together. So the process has become steadily more collaborative. I would say I still write a majority of the music but I feel the next record will be more of a joint effort from all 6 of us writing wise.

Wooden Arms
How does being based in Norwich affect your music making?
I adore Norwich with all my heart. I grew up 20 miles East of here and there was a part of me when I was younger that thought I needed to be in London, New York or Paris… Some MASSIVE city that went on forever. But being based somewhere reasonably small with a very tight knit and vibrant community has been the best inspiration for me ever. I’m heavily involved in the music scene here and although being a small city we have a buzzing community, almost every night there are at least 2/3 gigs on that are worth your attention. In some ways that made it tricky to stand out as there was so much going on – but also meant you always had opportunities to play and meet other musicians if you put yourself out there.

I have always said a good music scene is what you make it. It’s made by enthusiastic people that follow their own initiative and make stuff happen. I actually promote gigs here in Norwich and try to put on loads of local up-and-coming talent as well as some of the bands we meet on tour.

The album is quite melancholic in feel, what inspired the lyrical content?
I can definitely hear how people can interpret Tide as melancholic however I have always felt personally that it has a neutral tone to it. Neither sad nor happy – just that life is what it is and that is that. A good majority of the record is about consequence and how inevitability rules our lives – I’m brought to mind of the movie The Dead Poets Society where Robin Williams explains to the class that one day they’ll all die and be nothing but worm chowder. This absolute consquence of death has always been something that fascinates me and drives me to do anything in fact. I can definitely see why people would think that would be quite melancholic! However, I grew up in a strict orthodox religion that taught that if you obey God’s laws you will live forever. I left that faith many years ago and began forging my own ideas about life and there is a lot of that in this record.

The idea that we’re all going to die one day – and that’s okay. We shouldn’t be afraid of that or bargain with some deity for a second chance once this one is over. I’m not a militant atheist or belive that my ideas are necessarily the correct ones – but they’re mine and it’s just my viewpoint. The line in Vicenarian sums up most of my feelings actually: “Life is simple, life is sweet, but not yet quite complete…

What next for Wooden Arms?
I have reams of sheet music ready for album number 2. Some have thought that this record is quite short at 6 tracks (although it still runs at nearly 30 mins like a lot of records!) so I would like to do a slightly longer record next time – i’m definitely keen on keeping brevity with albums and I HATE when a brilliant album is marred by 1 or 2 mediocre songs that just didn’t need to be there. We’ve talked about the expansion of our sound into more electonric avenues – using samples and synths etc… and really playing around with the production of our songs – especially in the studio. This record was a very ‘naturally’ recorded album, we played a lot of the time all together to get the energy we have at a live show recorded with only minimal layering of other instruments. I would definitely like to get even more layers going on in the studio and really experiment with not only the composition of our music but the textures and the timbres within the instrumentation that we’re using.

With regards to live shows we hope to be everywhere all the time. We LOVE touring and we’re blessed with a great number of things happening in the new year – we’re back on the continent with shows in the Netherlands, France, Germany, Switzerland and we’re really hoping we can get up to Scandinavia and play some shows. We’re also hoping to play a lot of festivals over the summer and get this music out there. We’re also starting to explore bits of the UK we’ve not had too much contact with, we’ve never played too far North that much and we’ve got TBC shows in Leeds and Manchester in the new year for sure, and also talk about Ireland and Scotland.

Tide by Wooden Arms was released this week on Butterfly Collectors Records. Catch them live TONIGHT 17th October 2014 at St Pancras Old Church in London, details here.

Categories ,Alex Carson, ,Alex Mackenzie, ,Alice Jamieson, ,Butterfly Collectors Records, ,Chamber Pop, ,Fynn Titford-Mock, ,interview, ,Jeff Smith, ,Jess Diggins, ,Milly Hirst, ,Norwich, ,Orchestral, ,review, ,Sarah Parris, ,St Pancras Old Church, ,The Dead Poets Society, ,Tide, ,Wooden Arms

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