Words with Wooden Wives
When I was asked if I would be interested in contributing a piece about a band from New Brunswick, my past and future home province, the first band I thought of was Wooden Wives. I decided to think on the matter for a while, consider some of the other great bands that began or are based out of N.B. (what up, Mouthbreathers?) but, even with this extra thought and consideration, I always came back to Wooden Wives. They’re just the best — great musicians, great dudes.
Both of my bands have had the pleasure of playing shows with the Wives and every time has been equal parts excitement of being associated with such a killer band, but also extreme pressure of having to live up to the example and inevitable comparison with such a solid live act. I recently sent Jud Crandall some shitty questions about his band, which he then elevated with his thoughtful, informative, and downright educational responses.
Scott: Since this zine is coming out in Newfoundland it’s going to reach people who likely haven’t experience the Wooden Wives live experience or maybe even haven’t heard any of the recordings. Could you start things off by introducing yourself and your role in the band while telling a little about the band’s history?
Crandall: Wooden Wives kicked into gear in 2006 as a fairly amorphous, boozy, stoner-rock party that sought to somehow mash together Blue Cheer and Fairport Convention.
Along the way, folks came and went from the party and things got harder and tighter rhythmically, until our chain gang was refined down to an R&B, proto-punk diamond tip more indebted to kids like The MC5 or The Damned.
It’s always pretty all over the place though stylistically – all that genre stuff is more like aesthetic guidance, the trick being to see what kind of garbage like free jazz you can sneak in, so that it is in this constant conflict that both perverts and exploits convention at the same time.
I have played guitar along with other odds and ends all along, and we’ve made lifers outta Pierre Cormier on bass and Alex Keleher on drums, who was not a founder, but whose kinship goes way back, and even much farther that this band. Finally, coming up on our third wedding anniversary, Sean Boyer has brought a whole other kind of brainy brawn to the guitar department.
We’ve been very lucky to have more friends like founders Adam Mowery and Mike Dionne helping steer the good ship over the years, so while the band has had many fruitful eras and frothy overhauls, the engine still turns over with every twist of the key.
Scott: Wooden Wives have always had a punk edge and it seems like that has always been a part of the sound, mixed with classic pop and heavy rock elements. Your recent single, “Dead Peasants” has, to my ears at least, more of an 80s hardcore sound than some of your previous recordings. What brought this about?
Crandall: Our first tune out of the gate was this White Light/White Heat mash-up with some Sister Anne going out the back, so yeah, it’s always been there in various incarnation. Even stuff modelled after some tougher moments by British Invasion stuff like The Kinks, Who, Move.
Once we were compressed to a four piece though, we got really down to brass tacks and started acknowledging that natural process, so the engine got tighter and weirder still.
“Dead Peasants” is just the latest stage of that compression, and comes out of a camp more indebted to this gorged out, fat kinda hardcore that you get from folks like Discharge, or The Misfits’ Earth AD record, or really, even Rick White’s hardcore leanings. Nothing but a slab of rhythm buried beneath so many guitars, so much reverb, and sheets of feedback like Coltrane’s sheets of sound reduced drastically. Just really impure, confrontational music, but still primed for the party, y’know?
It’s still designed to move your ass, but firing on all kinds of different cylinders, form and function acting in concert at all times.
Scott: Sticking with your sound and possible influences, I know that you are a big dub and reggae fan. How has that influenced Wooden Wives recordings? It’s an influence that maybe wouldn’t be obvious to those only just getting into the band, or who haven’t heard some of the deeper cuts.
Crandall: That’s something else, we have only really started explicitly referencing those styles recently. However, through the idea of rhythm, space and vistas created by echo, reverb, delay, all those great psyche and krautrock, elements of dub have always been there.
The Clash once collaborated with Lee Perry; the idea being that Perry would bring his own manic, austere muscle to this punk band that was so heavily influenced by reggae. It didn’t end up yielding the desired results, and The Clash actually remixed his recording, but I would have loved to hear what such a beast could have conjured up.
Go listen to something like Blackboard Jungle by The Upsetters, and imagine the cacophonous kind of Spartan rock & roll music you could create within that aesthetic. So much post-punk like Ruts DC, or junky psychedelia like Thee OCs, emphasize on the parts and how they interact to make up the whole rather than trying to fully integrate everything in a nice cozy way. It can be radical and uncompromising production.
We had dubbed and spaced out tunes all along, but the Janitor’s Version dub B-side to “Dead Peasants” is our fair crack at the real thing, albeit a deconstruction of Discharge, Black Flag, that sort of music cannibalised instead of reggae. Some of the new songs and performances are stretching back out and beefing back up as of late though, so we’ll see where the vessel takes us from here.
Scott: What’s the earliest musical memory you have of hearing something and thinking “holy shit this is cool”?
Crandall: Honestly, I would have to say listening to Nirvana’s Never mind in the old church basement at youth group. I was already listening to stuff like Soundgarden and REM, but Nirvana, even on that candy clean major label debut, felt for this kid at the time, patently disconcerting and a little uncomfortable. A little sick feeling, but still so unusually muscular and dynamic.
I hate the idea that Kurt and that band are reduced to crying statues and t-shirts for saps, when they were really responsible for secretly delivering this exciting stoner post-hardcore underground stuff into the mainstream with such a sense of execution that it was this irresistible thing.
All that aside though, at the time I was just mainly thinking that this was a band that my Mom was really not going to like or understand by any conceivable stretch of the imagination, and I was right. It felt like I shouldn’t have been listening to it but, it was too late to turn back; corrupting me horribly through a friend’s headphones right there in the church basement.
Scott: You and the rest of the Wooden Wives are based out of St. John, N.B. What’s it like living and performing in that city? What’s the scene like?
Crandall: I’ve taken to comparing Saint John to Detroit – it’s something I’ve always felt concerning the company town, post-industrial nature, but especially ever since we started hearing from folks in places like Halifax that, apparently, we were this seriously rough place, which was a total surprise to us.
Whether that’s true or not I can’t say, but Saint John is a pretty great place to be in my opinion. The city is a canvas and there’s absolutely no reason why someone can’t fill any void they perceive in town, or in their personal lives, with agency, hard work and creativity.
You can gain a more substantial and purposeful sense of satisfaction through creating a different kind of body of work someplace like this, than you can in the places that may be easier, more convenient or more coddling.
There are always at least a handful of wonderfully strange bands going on, birthed purely from the loins of this city, more than from any kind of prescribed legacy or influence, the likes of which you can easily plug into in larger centres.
That’s not at all to disparage those opportunities in those places, but just to celebrate the alternate potential that harder times in smaller towns so often facilitate to the benefit of an artistic community. Our legacy is one of necessity and even desperation.
So to name names, you got duelling guitar pyros Little You Little Me, you got Stegosaurus’ tuneful post-punk and their Sharktooth tape label, there’s the guitar-assault-pop group Hand-Drawn that you wanna bring some earplugs for, Learning recalls some teenage punk version of Women, and, well hell, it’s not close to over: Bad People, Plaster Lungs, Howl (RIP), WORM, expats like founding Wife Adam Mowery or David R Elliott, both of whom continue to haunt our shores, folks like Babette Hayward morphing into the cheapskate electro of Vogue Dots. The list goes on.
Scott: What venue in St. John would you recommend touring bands try to play?
Crandall: Right now, depending on your intent, you can go to Peppers Pub and play hastily for most of the door, which can be pretty good, or you can go to Pub Down Under and have more fun even if you make a little less money getting all of the door.
Basically, if you hope people will please like your band, if you know and care what these stupid things called “tracking calls” are, if that’s stuff you think about when you say your prayers, go to Peppers. If you want to have a good time with very supportive and diverse people who are there solely to cut a rug with you because who the fuck cares how I finish the sentence from there really, you want to go to Pub Down Under. From there, other places like Taco Pica, BJ’s and more have begun taking up the torch as of late. Things often feel slim these days, but more and more people are responding to that sense of need.
Scott: If you had to pick a Wooden Wives song that you think would be a good representation of the band, or good entry point, what would it be and why?
Crandall: Concerning what’s out there now, I would have to go with what has kinda become a mainstay of sorts, “Do The Seizure” off our record Tail. We have tighter little punk rock & roll numbers like “Twistin’ At The Knife”, more fully realized never-hits like “Fuckin’ Up Love”, and more abstract freak-outs like “A Pox On All Yr Houses”.
But [Do The] Seizure still seems to hang in there as this amalgam of contorted convention and rock & roll jargon, a disjointed dance number, but one that still gets pretty hairy and shapeless. It comes and goes in the set these days, but it’s still a pretty good access and launching point, like any reasonable head shakin’, hip thrustin’ platter oughtta be.
Scott: What are some future Wooden Wives, or Wooden Wives related, projects that people should look out for?
Crandall: Based on some of the conversation thus far, there are a few of us who have got a roughneck ska band just getting started, called Sir Lord Usurper, eschewing completely college reggae or novelty ska, both of which are just fucking dismally popular misrepresentations of Jamaican music. It’s a thumper of a band, like real tough original ska from Kingston or the 2nd generation kids outta the UK.
We’ve got a brand new hardcore band that’s also just started rehearsing called Catholic Black that’s going to be just dreadful.
Alex recently released his third solo album called Try Your Best, that’s a sublimely arranged little lo-fi pop platter, Pierre is still tripping on his improvisational noise and krautrock recording project Tire Fire, and Sean plays in about a dozen bands, including Reagans Rayguns and The Taste Of Piss, which together reflect what is clearly a pretty unnerving psychic playground for him to exorcise Zappa, No Means No, regressive pop and more such flotsam and jetsam.
As for the Wives’ own future, we’re looking at releasing a compilation of recent singles and EPs soon, and are looking at getting down to brass tacks for our next full length. Otherwise, we’re trying to stay abreast of bringing miscreants to town, hop-scotching around the Maritimes, and generally abstaining from resting our stupid wicked selves.