Today we have the premiere of Woolen Men’s latest video for “Brick Horizon”. Their LP, Post, released September 1, 2018, marks ten years of releasing records for the Portland trio of Raf Spielman (Drums), Alex Geddes (Bass), and Lawton Browning (Guitar). On Post, Woolen Men ride the line between melancholic and uplifting with their contemplative lyrics, off-kilter pop hooks, and driving rhythms that carry you comfortably through each song. Woolen Men are like that favorite book you reach for time and time again: nostalgic and familiar in a way that reminds you that it’s good to sit back and dwell on your feelings sometimes—life just goes by too fast otherwise.
Read on for our chat about the new video, their recent European tour, and what makes Portland music so unique right now.
How did this video collaboration come about? Did you have a central idea you wanted the filmmaker to convey or central themes you both discussed?
Lawton: We had worked with Dino previously on the cover of our last record “Lucky Box” and he said he was getting interested in shooting and editing video, so it was easy to say yes when he suggested a vid for brick horizon.
Can you tell us a little about this song and how it fits into the wider theme of the new record?
Raf: There’s this Willie Nelson quote which was already third or fourth hand when I heard it, but the gist of it is that whenever he needs something to write about, he reaches up above his head and grabs it. Meaning that whatever is on your mind comes out in the song, and I think a lot of times you don’t even realize that’s the case. People often ask about the themes of our records, but the truth is that we’re all three of us just writing honestly about what’s on our minds at the point in time when we’re writing the record, and the theme that emerges is for the listener to feel and understand.
You just got back from a European tour, how was it, and what are music communities and shows like over there?
R: Communities of like-minded, DIY artists seem much smaller or nonexistent over there. But at the same time the umbrella of “culture” is understood to be wide enough to encompass what we’re doing, so that the normal rules of capitalism, e.g. that a band is judged by the revenue it generates and treated by the venue accordingly, are often replaced with a system where the cultural instead of monetary value of music is understood and appreciated.
L: two weeks back into the U.S life now and it’s pretty clear that European nations have us beat hands down on supporting the arts. It’s a weird irony that our unique status over there and the benefits we accrued (free housing, being fed, large consistent audiences) are a result of our American attitude and experience…
What was one of your most memorable moments on tour?
R: One thing I like about playing shows in Europe is that sometimes a DJ will start spinning records after the last band plays and people will just keep dancing late into the night. So we danced until 2 or 3 in the morning in Antwerp and then walked half and hour to the apartment we were staying at only to find the door locked, so Alex climbed up to the 2nd story and was able to pop a window open and crawl inside.
Has your perspective of Portland changed or been reinforced from experiencing music communities elsewhere? What aspects does Portland offer that other cities don’t, or what would you like to see more of here in Portland?
R: The Portland music community is confident right now in a way that’s very cool. What I mean is that national trends don’t seem to impact or sway our community in the way other communities or scenes are swayed. For example, the Burger Records sound so ubiquitous a few years ago never really caught on here, and more recently you hear the Coneheads/Devo sound all over America but much less so here. And actually you hear a lot of bands out there imitating Lithics. But the bands here seem to be following their own paths.
Did you find it more or less rewarding to self-release a record?
R: There’s an optimistic joy in releasing a record on a label — you can have that crazy hope that something big and unexpected and good could possibly happen after the record comes out. There’s a pragmatic joy in self-releasing a record — the realization that it’s something you can do again and again forever, that the connection you make with the people who buy the record is real and sustainable and will endure longer than a relationship mediated through a label.
This record marks 10 years of Woolen Men being a band, has your approach to writing and releasing music changed over the years? And if yes, in what ways?
R: It’s changed remarkably little. From the very beginning the most important thing for us was to write, record, and play shows as much as possible. Which might all seem obvious for a band, but I think a lot of people out there are spending their time trying to make the right connections, follow the right trends, and angle for the “big break.”
What are your hopes for the future of Woolen Men and the music community in general in Portland?
R: I hope that we all continue to challenge and impress and inspire each other. The music community here is small and we’re all listening to what each other are doing, and anytime anyone of us ups their game, the rest of us feel like we need to up our game as well.
L: In a way, Post came to fruition really easy after the real struggle of making temporary Monument. I have conflicting impulses: I would like both to expand our reach on the next record and make something that feels even more intimate too.
You’ve played a lot of shows, toured Europe and the US, and have released records both on and off of labels. What is something you’ve always wanted to experience as a band and still would like to do?
R: I’d like for one of our songs to be in a movie that’s shown in movie theaters.
L: I would love to tour internationally in a different context like Asia or South America.
It was not uncommon to see you guys change up instruments between the drums and guitar during your live sets, I heard that there will be less of that now, what prompted the change?
R: Neither me nor Lawton were drummers before we started the band but over the years I grew to love the drums and Lawton wanted to keep his focus on guitar, so we settled into those roles.