From their upcoming August album release, No Matter Where It Goes From Here, check out Grammy-nominated Wood & Wire’s bold new single.
Texas-based Americana roots quartet Wood & Wire is gearing up to release their second album, No Matter Where It Goes From Here, on August 28 (Blue Corn Music) — and we’ve got the premiere of the bold and telling first single, “Pigs,” right here.
The new release follows the band’s North of Despair, which was nominated for a Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album in 2018. Did they feel a heightened pressure or expectation when they started creating the new record?
“The Grammy nomination was all bonus and completely unexpected,” says Tony Kamel (vocals, guitar). “You can’t ignore it, but we try not to think about it and just do what we want, make what we like, and not worry about it. That’s what we’ve always done and truth be told, it’s the only way this band works. The moment we try and satisfy any expectations or heightened pressures, is the moment the music will begin to suffer.”
The music — which is sometimes described as grassicana for its spirited blend of Americana and bluegrass — certainly doesn’t suffer here. Instead, there’s a heightened insistency, even righteous indignation, powering the almost gospel-tinged “Pigs.” And they’re not singing about the highly social and intelligent animal. Rather, it’s a damning indictment of human behavior.
We talked with Wood & Wire about their new music and got their latest-listens playlist.
Cowboys & Indians: Tell us about the new music. What’s the story behind “Pigs”?
Tony Kamel: It’s a social commentary for sure — mostly around money. Money, divisive profit-driven news cycles, profits over people, constant consumption and waste — you know all of those uplifting modern hypocrisies.
I wrote the tune a few years back after seeing a few things on TV that bothered me: a few ridiculous moments from a reality TV show and a video of a TV evangelist trying to convince his congregation to help him buy a new private jet, and of course some divisive news show. It touches on the Biblical concept of “wolves in sheep’s clothing” (Matthew 7:15).
Honestly I don’t usually write songs like this, but what can I say? I was pissed and felt like calling some people out.
C&I: Your press materials say that this album was recorded at The Zone in Dripping Springs, Texas. What was that like?
Trevor Smith (banjo): The Zone feels like home to us. It’s a world-class facility with a vibe that suits us as people, and our desires to experiment, try things out, and record live to tape. Pat Manske, our co-producer and head engineer there, is fantastic.
C&I: What were some of your favorite moments creating and producing this record?
Smith: We had a lot of fun experimenting with a bunch of old amplifiers and analog effects to add a unique sound and feel to the record. I don’t think you’ll find many bluegrass records with a mandolin being run through an old Fender Twin!
C&I: What are your favorite lyrics from the song “Pigs”?
Kamel: The second verse: False prophet on the TV screen / Says the “Lord almighty speaks right through me” / “So open up your wallet and open it fast” / He screams from a mountain of cold hard cash / “Jesus is my guide and truth / Have you listened to him, son?” / I said, “Yes sir I’ve read his words / Seems you ain’t read a single one.”
It’s rare I call out anyone in my writing, but TV evangelists that contribute nothing to society, prey on vulnerable people, and literally steal their money are (in my opinion) the absolute scum of the earth. I don’t know if hell is real or not. If it is, I’ll surely see them there.
C&I: Talk a little bit about the lyric video.
Kamel: Well, it’s funny — this is one of the most spontaneous things we’ve done and what you see is about as DIY as it gets. Because of the pandemic, we had to scrap plans to make videos. So, in an effort to make something interesting, we reached out to our buddy Danny Barnes (the great banjo player), who also draws comics. He listened to the tune and drew some pictures. I started making a video with lyrics around the pictures and decided to try and learn some basic animation to make it a little more interesting. It took me forever, but I’ve enjoyed learning about it.
C&I: What song off the new record are you most looking forward to performing live?
Kamel: We’ve been performing most of the songs live, including “Pigs.” Generally we work up the songs on stage so that by the time we’re in the studio, we can just lay ’em down live. However, we’ve played some of these more than others. For me, “My Hometown” is a tune Billy Bright wrote that has a lot of improvisational room. I’m looking forward to seeing where that goes when we can get back to the stage.
C&I: What would you like your fans/our readers to know about the band?
Smith: Tony is from Houston and spent a lot of time in Galveston growing up. You can hear Galveston mentioned in some of our songs. Billy [Bright, mandolinist] grew up in El Paso and the song “Hometown” is about that. I’m from Tucson, Arizona, and Dom [Fisher, bassist] is from Rochester, New York. We all at one time or another have lived in Austin and Dom still resides there now. The rest of us are spread out around Central Texas but still are very connected to the Austin music community.
C&I: How did the band form?
Smith: The band was formed through all of us being a part of the Austin bluegrass scene. I had been touring with Austin-area bands Green Mountain Grass and the Asylum Street Spankers, and Billy had been playing with Two High String Band, which was also based in the area. Tony at one point took mandolin lessons from Billy and I played some gigs with Billy in the years leading up to the formation of the band. Tony and Dom started picking in the campgrounds at the Old Settlers Music Festival with former South Austin Jug Band member Matt Slusher. They made up the original formation of the band and we met at a weekly bluegrass night I hosted with other local bluegrass musicians and asked him to join. The band formed in 2012, and after Matt had moved on to other projects Billy joined the band in 2014. There is a small but budding bluegrass scene in Austin and we are proud to be a part of it.
C&I: What are some artists each of you grew up listening to?
Smith: I grew up listening to a lot of Earl Scruggs, J.D. Crowe, Alan Munde, Bela Fleck, Hot Rize, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Hella, Converge, Botch, Dillinger Escape Plan and a bunch of other stuff.
Kamel: My early influences are wide-ranging, from Frank Zappa to Willie Nelson to Doc Watson.
C&I: Who are some of your musical influences now?
Smith: Run the Jewels, Mississippi John Hurt, Immortal Technique, Black Star, Tony Rice, Grateful Dead, Baths. Just to name a few.
Kamel: Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of Little Feat, Levon Helm, and tons of standup comedy (I know that’s not music, but it helps clear the music in my head).
C&I: What have you all been doing during lockdown?
Kamel: We’re all doing different things. Nothing interesting really. Not playing shows is a bummer, but I think we’ve all tried to look at it as positively as we can and enjoy time with our families that we wouldn’t have had otherwise.
C&I: How have you kept the music going while sheltering?
Kamel: As a group, we’ve mostly been working on things surrounding the release of No Matter Where it Goes From Here. However, we did contribute to a compilation album with some of our fellow Austin musicians called No More Silence. It’s available on Bandcamp and proceeds go toward the Austin Justice Coalition and it focuses on amplifying black artists in the Austin area.
C&I: Austin is renowned for its music scene. What should we do when we’re in your town (home and current)?
C&I: What’s next for you?
Kamel: Well, given these weird times, we don’t really know. But we’ll take whatever comes our way that’ll let us keep putting our music out there. We certainly hope that we’ll be able to get back out and play shows again sooner than later. The title of the record speaks to that uncertainty. No Matter Where It Goes From Here, we’ll take it in stride.
Wood & Wire’s Feel Good Playlist
“Not sure all these songs lift spirits, but it’s definitely a random assortment of tunes a few of us have been listening to!”
“Bertha” — Grateful Dead
“Fare Thee Well” — Tony Rice
“Black Myself” — Our Native Daughters
“Small Town Saturday Night” — Hal Ketchum
Combat Rock — The Clash
“Roll Um Easy” — Little Feat
“My Last Days on Earth” — Bill Monroe
“This Land” — Gary Clark Jr.
“Keep On” — Jackie Venson
“Too Low to Get High” — Kalu & the Electric Joint
“A-Alike B-Alike C-Alike” — Cappadonna
Photography: Images courtesy Alison Narro