Band Booking: The Wooden Birds

Posted by Tobias Carroll

Andrew Kenny’s work as singer and guitarist of American Analog Set neatly blended tone and sentiment: this was a group equally comfortable writing catchy, nuanced pop songs and exploring ambient/drone avenues. With The Wooden Birds, Kenny’s songwriting began using acoustic instrumentation and exploring vocal harmonies; their latest album, Two Matchsticks, further develops these qualities. It doesn’t hurt that Matt Pond has now joined the band, and Leslie Simon’s lead-vocal turn makes for an interesting (and memorable) shift in perspective. Via email, Kenny and I discussed the new album, books about science, and cable-tv procedurals.

Two Matchsticks is, as far as I can tell, the first time someone else has handled lead vocals on a Wooden Birds album. What’s different about this album that prompted you to change the — for lack of a better phrase — voice of the band?
When we started working on “Baby Jeans”, everyone in the group agreed that the song worked better from a woman’s perspective and Leslie came to rehearsal and really owned it. So from the first demo it was always clear that Leslie would sing it on the album and it turned out to be a cool moment live as well.

You’ve been known to revisit American Analog Set songs in Wooden Birds sets — what approach do you take when revisiting an older song?
When you’re doing a cover, I think it’s your band that needs to shine. Of course you love the song. You wouldn’t be covering the song if you didn’t love it, right? So American Analog Set or not, it needs to sound like a Wooden Birds song. Our cover of “Aaron and Maria” was an easy one because it sounds like a Wooden Birds song to begin with! And the AmAnSet never played it live.

What have you been reading lately? You’ve studied biochemistry extensively — does this also have an effect on your recreational reading?
The last two books I read are How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer and This Is Your Brain On Music by Daniel Levitin. And before you ask, the answer is yes I do get a lot of my reading list from the Radiolab podcast! I’ve read a bit of fiction over the years when someone recommends something to me, but if you’re looking for me in a bookstore, I’m probably on the science aisle.

Many of your songs play out like extended character studies — has any fiction had an influence on the lyrics you’ve written?
I’m sure there’s a bit of fiction in there but it’s rarely intentional. “Baby Jeans” was inspired by a particularly good episode of the USA network original program, Psych, staring James Roday and Dule Hill. That one was intentional.

I am working on a project right now writing songs for people that have sent me stories from their lives. I suppose it’s non-fiction to them, but it’s as good as fiction to me. So far it’s been really inspiring.

(Photo: Chris Phelps)