Speaking of Wake Up & Sing, I understand that it wasn't necessarily completely planned, or at least, the album wasn't your next step? How do *you* hear Wake Up & Sing as being different from your first two _Deep Woods_ albums?
Yeah, Wake Up & Sing was a bit unplanned. I had been corresponding with Dean about the possibility of recording together, and at one point we even talked about recording Deep Woods Revival with him. But I decided I wanted to use my local community of musicians for that record, so instead I scheduled a couple of days with him when I'd be on the East Coast for KindieComm.
I had some leftover songs that didn't fit on Revival that I thought would make a nice six-song EP. Six songs in two days seemed like a good goal. But Dean is a fast worker, so we got through those six songs quickly and he kept coaxing out more songs that I didn't intend to record. Rhymes I'd written when my son was born, animal folksongs that hadn't found their way on a Deep Woods album, etc. We ended up recording at least the skeletons of 12 songs, 11 of which made the final cut (after months of passing tracks back and forth to add layers and ideas).
Unlike the Deep Woods albums, which are part of this ongoing project I've been working on for 8+ years, this album feels a lot more spontaneous. Dean's additions were unexpected and delightful, and he challenged me to include songs that weren't part of my grand vision. That translates to a more light-hearted and playful album, still with a few moments of darkness. I give a lot of credit to Dean for drawing out this particular set of songs and for encouraging me to give them all a fair chance. And for filling the album with so many sweet and surprising sounds.
Any particular favorites, or songs whose final product surprised you (e.g., because of their final production)?
"Molly Cottontail" was a surprise. We recorded guitar, vocals, upright bass, and some light percussion live. While I loved the recording, I thought I'd save the song for the next Deep Woods record and give it an epic Springsteen treatment. Dean added the balafon - or whatever that mallet instrument is he plays - and it just blew me away. It amped up the quiet intensity of the track and made it a keeper.
"Wake Up" is another favorite. We started with just the guitar, lead vocal, and rhythm section. Dean added some layers to help with the gradual crescendo. I can't even identify all the layers - vocoder beatboxing? synth bass? one of his dinky keyboards? Finally, Dean came up with the brilliant echo vocals and we invited Morgan Taylor to join the gang. The finished product is so much richer and more dynamic than the original live track!
"Wake Up" is great - so much energy! What's it like to have a producer suggest different production approaches than you might be used to (or most comfortable with)? "I Had a Rooster" also has, to my ears, a more "modern" sound than most of the "Deep Woods" tracks.
It was exciting to work with a producer like Dean, who takes a very active approach in shaping the sound of the recordings. I had to open myself up to new possibilities and let go of my sense of control over the sound. Fortunately, I approached this project without strong expectations about the finished product - I just brought a handful of stripped-down songs and an openness to where they might go.
Songs like "I Had a Rooster" evolved quite a bit during the recording process. We recorded one version of "Rooster" on our first day together, just guitar and vocals, with the idea that Dean would add some weird percussion layers. But my timing was off - I kept rushing every time I barked like a dog. So I suggested that we try it again on the second day when Jed the bass player was there. We jammed on the song for a while and Jed came up with that sweet bass line, which gave the song its defining groove. Dean polished it up with more percussion and funky keyboard sounds and it became the catchiest song on the album.
How do you integrate these songs into your regular shows? Now that you've recorded them, do you integrate them differently?
Several of the songs on the new album - "Wake Up," "I Had a Rooster," "Hop Little Squirrel," "Clap Your Hands" - were already staples of my live shows, so I've continued to perform them frequently, whether solo, in a duo with my wife Jessie, or with the band. Several evolved through the recording process, so I've updated my live versions to try to match the energy of the recordings.
But some songs work better as recordings than live - particularly songs that don't have obvious interactive elements. While I love the recordings of "Hound Dog Song," "Fourth Day of July" and "By the Light," I haven't found a great way to work them into my live show. I often end my shows with a lullaby, so "Welcome to the World" and "Sleepy Song" have filled that spot nicely.
This album has allowed me to venture out of the Deep Woods for my live shows. While I used to start every show with the Deep Woods magic spell and theme song, now I start more shows with my wake up songs. I commissioned a beautiful new fabric backdrop that echoes the new album cover - a farmland scene with a sun rising on the horizon.
Finally, what's coming up for you?