030 - Woo
English brothers Mark and Clive Ives were not even ten years old when they formed their first band together. Inspired by the music of the Beatles, the duo, along with a couple of friends, thrashed around on an old drum kit and some guitars in a South London garage, playing for anybody who would listen. Sadly the original foursome parted ways but many years later the brothers began recording together again as Woo, the group responsible for this week’s exceptional Métron Musik Mixtape.
Aged 13, Mark was given a clarinet by his uncle and soon taught himself how to play. His younger brother Clive bought a Roland synthesiser half a dozen years after that and it was then that they began recording music together for the first time. They released their debut LP in the early 1980’s, continuing to release records in the decades that followed. Though they often received critical acclaim the band never really found a home for their unique sound, often self-releasing their LPs to a cult following. But things changed for the band in 2012 when the excellent Drag City records reissued their 1989 album ‘It’s Cosy Inside’. All of a sudden people began to take notice and Woo’s work received closer attention, culminating in a run of reissues including most recently ‘Awaawaa’ which was reissued this year by the excellent Palto Flats imprint. It was this record which led me to the bands music for the first time and I was immediately intrigued by what I heard. A collection of tracks recorded between 1976 and 1982, the music sounded to me like it could just as easily have been made in 2016 as 1986, this timeless and unique quality is very much a part of the charm Woo possesses in abundance.
Their sound is instantly recognisable to those who have heard the band before, their blend of trippy, obscure, 'folk-jazz' has been described as '‘Eno-esque’’ and ‘’like Pop music from another universe’’ and it’s an apt description of this weeks Métron Musik Mixtape, a retrospective look across their many releases. When I spoke with Clive he said he wanted to compile a mixtape that reflected the bands creative journey over the many decades they have been recording together. They decided to take a single track from 14 of their records dating all the way back to their brilliantly titled debut ‘Whichever Way You Are Going, You Are Going Wrong’ and present them in a single flowing mixtape. The results are wonderful and eclectic, showcasing the depth of sonic textures, musical cultures and singular songwriting techniques the band have perfected over the years.
For me their music plays out like an animated dream from an Ari Folman movie. A kind of magical and surreal trip into an imaginary realm where the colours are brighter and more beautiful, where your senses are forever overwhelmed. I really have fallen in love with their music, so it gives me great pleasure to present a retrospective look at Woo, a band any music lover should get the chance to listen to.
All the tracks selected in this mixtape, and the records that they come from, are available for purchase on Woo’s Bandcamp page.
I spoke with Clive and Mark about playing music together for forty years and the recent spike in interest in their work....
JH: Thanks for compiling this mixtape for us, your output over the years has been so varied and the range of sounds showcased within this mix are fascinating to hear. It was intended as a kind of retrospective of your musical output over the past few decades, what about these tracks specifically led to their selection?
CI: I sat down with Mark and we did what we have always done with every decision: find a choice we can both agree on. We wanted to select one representative track from each album. We were really surprised how well the tracks flowed with each other.
JH: There’s a huge variety of instrumentation within your music, as a duo, are you playing all these parts yourselves or do you use a lot of samples and/or guest performers?
CI: Over the forty years that we have been making music our recording setup has varied enormously and we have spent a lot of time experimenting with sounds.
Basically, it’s been just Mark and I. Mark plays guitars, bass and clarinet and I play percussion and synths. Within this simple structure, there has been a multitude of ways in which we have processed and combined these sounds. We love to use vocoders to treat the instruments, and many of our early recordings were created using sequencers triggered by Mark’s guitars.
We haven’t used many samples until recently. Now we have Native Instruments’ Komplete Kontrol samples and modules, which includes fantastic vocoders and gizmos I could only dream of forty years ago.
We have guest singers like Ruby and Freida Mai. On our latest release on Bandcamp ’Woo Romantics’ Larry Lloyd played guitar.
JH: Your musical style is incredibly unique, which really is a rare thing to say in 2016, tapping into aspects of so many musical genres - what do you both listen to & which musical voices do you think have inspired your sound?
CI: My strongest inspiration comes from:
Todd Rungren, David Bowie, Frank Zappa, Eric Satie, Prokofiev, Debussy, Beethoven, Kraftwerk
MI: Artists who inspired me:
Bonzo Dog Do Da Band, Carol King, Van Morrison, The Temperance Seven, The Beatles, Django Reinhardt, The Cream, Spike Jones, Frank Zappa, Todd Rundgren, Gabriel Faure, musicals and film music.
My early musical favourites were funny songs I would hear on the radio on Saturday mornings. For example ‘Sparky's Magic Piano’,
Danny Kaye songs and any song that had a story in it. Our Uncle Ivor would play us Jazz records. Stan Getz, Ella Fitzgerald, Lionel Hampton etc. I liked the pop music at the time and romantic classical music.
JH: My brother and I have always shared a musical bond, both as young kids all the way to present day as ‘grown ups’. I can only imagine that spending over 40 years creating and recording music together must feel like quite a special shared experience?
CI: Yes… it’s had its challenges, but ultimately it’s been a very special experience. I think having a shared interest is a big help in maintaining a strong bond. We both have different skills and passions, and like with any partnership the results are so much richer than with a solo project. We grew up with the inspiration of the Beatles, had an uncle who was a jazz sax player and a granddad who played the bugle in the Royal Marines. We started our first band when I was 6 and Mark was 9 doing gigs in the garage for our friends. We started recording as teenagers and spent 20 years or so intensely recording and exploring what has always felt like uncharted territory. And we are still enjoying the journey, recently focusing on compiling and remastering our old recordings, and also creating new music.
JH: Do you see yourselves continuing to make music together for the foreseeable future?
CI: Well, this carries on from the previous question…YES!
Only a couple of weeks ago, when we were recording, Mark said he felt the same excitement he did when he was eighteen and we began to record. The difference is the technology, but the thrill of creating is the same. And with this new technology is the ever unfolding expansion of new possibilities.
JH: I understand Awaawaa was the fifth record of yours to be re-released over the past few years, it’s a truly wonderful collection of tracks and it’s what turned me onto your music a few months back. I sense there’s been a recent upsurge in interest in your music, what if anything do you attribute this to?
CI: We had a lucky break with Drag City re-releasing ‘It’s Cosy Inside’ in 2012 and everything else has unfolded from there.
Within the past twenty five years, many people have been able to listen to more diverse musical styles. Many of us have become a lot more open and accepting of what music can be. It seems that people who might have found our sound a bit odd or challenging in the 80’s have now become more embracing of Woo’s style. The music outlets on the internet are an incredible window into so many very personal unique universes of creativity. These days anyone can have their own record company or radio station!
JH: Finally, we always like to ask contributors to select a few records that they love that we might never have heard?
Todd Rundgren’s - A Wizard A True Star. But I bet you know that one!
Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band - Gorilla
Praful - Into Being
Tracklist: [Album title in brackets]
1. Harmonic Drive [Robot X]
2. It's Cosy Inside [It's Cosy Inside]
3. Venus Rising [Live from Venus]
4. Ready for the Moon Trip [A La Luna]
5. The Frogs Fandango [Into the Heart of Love]
6. The English Style of Rowing [Whichever way you are going, you are going wrong]
7. Baa Lamb [Christmas Presence]
8. 1001 Decisions [When the Past Arrives]
9. The Spell [Ruby Past Lives]
10. Dobbins lost his Coconuts [Dobbins lost his Coconuts]
11. Way Forward [Awaawaa]
12. A Boy like A Bird [Waxwings]
13. Starlight [Woo Romantics]
14. Taking Distance [Planing for a Miracle]
Original artwork for the mix created by Jack Hardwicke.