WIVES IS OVER! If You Want it: 2005-2015
We have interviewed them before, spieled love letters of admiration, and listened to their discography extensively, but yet we still feel obligated to say our last goodbyes to the one and only Wooden Wives. Consider this our indulgent farewell to the self-proclaimed “weird bleak beat bottom feeders” from Saint John, NB who have been making one of the most prolific and original rackets in Atlantic Canada for the last decade.
Workers! Strike Down These Enemies of Victory dropped this week, and it’s the final dispatch from the Wooden Wives camp. Workers! is quintessential Wives in its bold fluidity, though the release sways onto the harder edge of their eclectic sonic spectrum. Half of Workers! is comprised of songs reminiscent of the urgent and hardcore fueled version of Wooden Wives we’ve heard on the Dead Peasants single, while the other half is made up of Wives’ busy spaced-out soundscapes. This is the same diverse and challenging dynamic that has sprawled each unique release on Wooden Wives discography and has kept their outlet endlessly interesting.
I feel like I’ve exhausted my own words on Wooden Wives as of late, so I decided to
push guide guitarist, vocalist and saxophonist Jud Crandall down memory lane with one last correspondence. I wanted to dig into how it feels to look back at a decade of life through the scope of a musical project, test the extent of my instinctual record collector camaraderie, and get a hint of what lives after Wives is going to look at for Crandall and Co.
With Wooden Wives reaching some sort of finality, I’m curious about how the decade-long body of work stacks up against any early expectations, or long term plans made by you and your collaborators. Each individual release in the Wives discography seems consciously focused and premeditated as opposed to just collections of songs. Was the same approach that was applied to each EP, LP and single utilized in the long-term operations of the band?
Each recording we have released was intended as a record in the traditional sense, and never simply as a spare song dropped out on Bandcamp or Myspace just because. Whether a single, EP, a full length or LP, they were deliberate wedges of our broader body of work. When Wooden Wives were getting off the ground, many of us were huge record collectors, and so the idea was to record as often as possible, by whatever means were required within the band, and to get records out quickly.
All that said, I’m also a major fan of chance and consequence in creating a work ever since discovering Dadaism as a youngster, and so accidents and limitations encountered along the way have been integral to these efforts. Pierre renting a trombone and experimenting with a sampling of improvisation from our first drummer Steve Zaionz on our first EP Dead Meat is reflective of that recording experiment among members. Our debut full length Tail is quite lean due to a 4-track malfunction where the album’s bed tracks subtly skewed off key, making further overdubbing largely impossible. Hodge-podges of weekend tomfoolery make up Together We Make Sense Of Life because we then had lots of freedom to do overdubs. We turned towards more short and fast releases of EPs and singles after that. Dead Peasants was originally intended as a B-side, but when a computer error repeatedly spiked the A-side recording, our recent dub efforts were put to use re-imagining that tune as a potent little single release unlike anything we had done to date so we could get it out fast. It’s always been a combination of some kind of ambition to reach for something, allowing the process or circumstances to shape the outcome.
When did you realize Wooden Wives was coming to an end? Was it a more of a decision, or a gut feeling?
I guess you could say our end came about in a similar fashion as our evolving recording approaches in that it was unexpected but made greater sense over time and has emerged as the right thing to do. I do not wish to speak for everyone’s personal lives over the past year, but it is fair to say that a river both deep and wide flows beneath the bridge we find ourselves on together today as a group. The ultimate reason is simply that not all things can or must go on forever. Certainly some groups choose to embrace the idea of continuing ad infinitum; and while some of those groups continue building a life’s work, in my opinion many more wind up indulging in their own legacy or setting up some kind of franchise-like self-assembly line. While the idiom of rock & roll is very good at justifying self-indulgence, our goal has always been left of that center, and the gut feeling that has emerged and crystallized over the last year was that our work together had reached its conclusion.
Your latest and last output Workers is sort of an accumulative album, is it not? What was the process and inspiration behind making the LP? Is there a significance behind Workers as the final release?
It’s a long story, but the meat of things is that a proposed Wooden Wives retrospective to be released through 33 Records in Japan eventually took shape as plans for a third EP in 2012, and a subsequent collection of those records plus single tracks was to be released as WW3. We tracked beds in November 2014, but best laid plans took their course and Workers! is the result of the give and take between the idea and context I referred to earlier. There is an accumulative aspect to Workers! considering songs like ‘Gone With The Wind‘ and ‘TCHAMP//C4P/K‘ have been released previously elsewhere, but this is also present in things like stillborn words and sound recordings which have also now finally found homes. Even the triple-W text design gets to be carried forward.
In this sense, Workers! does serve to close the books on several lingering strains of ideas that have existed as far back as our inception. We have always lurked about abrasive, free and avant-garde musings, but Workers! hinges on them in a much more open way, especially on cassette. The allowance of two sides with distinct yet shared programs encourages a certain use of space and sequencing. There are few to no choruses to speak of and things are more rhythmic or textural in general. Side A is very hard and direct in this, while side B contains no more than a minute or two of structured music. Technically the other two thirds of it, depending on your sympathy for 10 minutes of ploughing sounds edited together from this past winter, combined with a sound collage from 2005, synthesizers and only a stitch of guitar, is simply sound.
It’s the synth too. This is something we’re excited to have on this record with our new member Dan Chamberlain, as together the distances between things like Black Flag, Cluster and Pharaoh Sanders are being reduced. Our friend Sleepyhead’s production of ‘Gone With The Wind‘ could not have been more appropriate in this, as with Pierre’s use of Rumi and the exploration of shedding everything at the bottom of the well. It is a record about practice, struggle, labour, opposition, human stuff like that.
Going into the whole retrospective mode must be weird though, right? It’s not every day that you stop and reflect on the last decade of your life. Even if it’s just a ten-year streak of recording weird punk tunes, does the history of the Wives invoke strangely personal snapshots for you?
Absolutely. It’s curious to really think on the mechanics of how much has changed and things you have experienced, and in a way, this is part of the how and why of our band’s ending. It’s just the ongoing role of being human. Everything you have done is there, nobody has gone back in time and removed your contributions. It’s OK for a thing to end because it was what it was during that time and it is still there in those moments when they have and will again occur. My grandfather used to always tell my brother and sister and I as kids when we were upset he was leaving after a visit that if he didn’t leave, how would he be able to come back for another? That excuse served us well enough. Ten years of these weird punk tunes in this family has been a defining slice my adult life, and I can’t think of a more appropriate compliment to this period than to allow it its own sunrise and sunset.
A lot can change in ten years. What were the biggest changes to how Wooden Wives operated throughout the decade? Inside and outside of the music.
Honestly, not very much. Certainly interpersonal relationships have evolved, chemistries in the music, all of these things have turned over, but as with when I say we have never wished for self-indulgence through self-perpetuation, I mean that too with the form of the band. Ten years is how long we ended up being around, and the people who have come to and from the band have been part of the organism at those times. It’s not merely self-preservation or constant coat hangers. The band has operated how the people on-stage have worked it, and that is something that has never changed.
Collectors and folks with a neurotic musical appetite tend to fixate on specific genres and eras for “a kick.” With an eclectic array of influences peppered throughout the discography, how much did each Wooden Wives release reflect your musical interests of that particular period?
I have a tendency to play tourist a bit in terms of my listening, but in such a way that when I hear something that rings true for me, I want to visit there for a while. I want to know where it came from, who else was a part of it, where it has gone since. As a record collector, you are compelled to exhume all of these skeletons you keep discovering. It’s like deciphering a code or following a map, and part of the great thing about playing music is that you get to re-route the map yourself, or write new code. You get to bury new skeletons of your own for people to discover. When people like Greg Ginn or John Coltrane or Patti Smith adopt and re-imagine ideas that move them, these same processes are open to anybody to follow suite with in doing the same. There’s no reason why you can’t thoughtfully contribute to pushing a broader conversation forward, or conducting research as it were in your chosen field. Certainly, each record or pursuit we have put ourselves into is a kind of attempt at research in reconciling an evolving love of music and the common elements that exist among divergent styles, whether it is Fairport Convention, The Stooges, The Kinks, Hawkwind or Neil Young. For some reason these musics share space in our imaginations, so you want to make the concerted effort to move that space into the real world through making your own records or creating your own gatherings.
I’ve drawn assumptions before regarding Wives flirtation with anarcho punk aesthetic in the form of conceptual album art, and the smorgasbord of musical homages to Detroit era proto punk, space and kraut rock, 80’s hardcore, free jazz and so on. For my own sake, am I even in the ballpark with these associations?
Oh yes, you’re hitting a home run into outer space with those assumptions. When Sean Boyer joined the band, it was a great opportunity for the group to steer itself more directly towards some of those sounds. As someone who has listened to hardcore since I was a kid, as Sean has, and with things like proto-punk, jazz or krautrock already on the table, it only made sense to want to experience making more of that kind of music over time, to connect those dots for ourselves. I remember Pierre bringing krautrock to my attention way back, and it took time to go from simply finding interest in it, to really understanding and appreciating what those musicians were each trying to accomplish, and how they shared an agenda of sorts with other music I love. You mention this being manifested in our artwork as well, and it’s very true. While the hardcore aesthetic certainly helps in terms of keeping printing costs low by always working in B&W, it is really also an extension of those communities’ politically and creatively. It is there in groups like Crass, being out of step, contrarian, being a kind of official opposition, not out of spite but out of the illumination or hope. I guess the great value in these contrarian music or design ideas is not just to disrupt, but to create and maintain spaces in which new ideas might continue to develop.
I couldn’t imagine the end of Wives would signify any slowing down for your musical output, and sure enough you mentioned to me earlier today about a rehearsal for a new project. What is on the post-Wives come up? What do you think will set it apart most from the catalog Wives is leaving behind?
Certainly there are existing efforts that are in full swing. Sean plays in numerous groups, but is most especially involved in his work with Tasty Wangs and Reagans Rayguns. Pierre has worked for several years with an improvised and free music group called Tire Fire who released an album on Little L Records out of Ireland recently, but has spent the last year on a project with Adam Mowery called Papal Visit. Alex, Dan and I have participated in both of those, and I would look for more of Alex’s solo work at some point as well. Dan also has a project called Old Punks that runs a gamut of electronic and synth sounds. Personally, I have a desire to begin putting together some dub music, as well as something that seeks to fill in some gaps between stuff like Art Ensemble of Chicago and Faust or Cluster. Honestly, I am looking forward to not playing any rock guitar for a time, and to see what comes of it. I want to learn how to actually play the saxophone I’ve owned for a few years now, and I find myself more and more interested in soundmaking than songwriting. So we’ll see what develops from that.