It’s time for another interview! This time we had a little wag of the chin with Duncan Wood, a singer-songwriter who perplexed my mind with the release of his Where Am I? EP. The EP was a wonderful collection of acoustic tunes alongside cameos from Jazzy instruments and Jazzy sensibilities, producing one of the more original sounding EPs I’ve heard in a long while. Make sure to support Duncan by checking out his Facebook and Bandcamp pages. Enjoy!
Hi Duncan Wood, how’s it going? Good Adam!
What’s the story behind how you got into music and why you wanted to create your own material? Like any musician I could give you a very long story about my involvement in music. As far as the very beginning, I grew up listening to my dad playing old Rotary songs at the piano, and my granddad and his brother playing 40’s dance music in their Big Band. In sixth grade I started playing French horn in my middle school band, and began experimenting with various instruments, especially brass and woodwind, but also keyboards and guitar. My love for classic rock music, especially Queen, Led Zeppelin and Rush, led me to focus on guitar. French horn has always remained a great passion, and I’ve spent a lot of time on trumpet, mellophone, flute, bass guitar and piano since then.
You’ve recently released your debut EP Where Am I? at the tailend of 2017. Are you pleased with how it turned out? As a beginner in the art of recording, I’m ecstatic that it sounds as good as it does. It seems you did things pretty DIY, having self-produced and engineered it.
How did you find being that hands on with it? For me the record was as much about the exercise in production as the music. As much as I love performing as a singer/songwriter, my aspirations recently are more directed toward creating musical landscapes and atmospheres with the tools available in the studio. I want to be able to spend a few hours writing and recording a chorus of French horns or finding the perfect mic placement for a fat rhythm guitar line. It’s a very different practice from learning guitar, and I’ve had a blast developing these skills.
As well as performing a lot of the instruments featured on the EP, you also brought a lot of friends to contribute to the record too. Could you name a couple and tell us what it was like to have that collaborative effort involved in the recording process? The genesis of the EP was in a lot of late night sessions with my band mates. While I was messing around and learning techniques in Stanford’s music studio I would construct a short repeating figure and ask people to come hang out and improvise over the changes. Even as the pieces changed drastically through additional recording and mixing, much of the musical content you hear was from a very early take of the songs, where the player was probably hearing the music for the first time.
Playing trumpet on big sur and santa cruz was Daniel Bereket, a fellow 2017 graduate and disciple of Miles. CRISPR-engineer and Thelonious Monk historian Aris Kare played guitar near the end of santa cruz and was around during the early development of the songs. Sebastian Green played mandolin and philosophized with me about the nature of relationships and communication. I’m immensely fortunate to have these guys as some of my best friends. A record can only tight if the people involved are tight with each other.
One of those people involved is Zachary Ostroff. What was it like working with him? It doesn’t feel like work with Zach, or really anyone else on the record. We’d go into the studio with a bottle of wine and just play. Or just listen. Then we’d take a walk around Lake Lagunita, or sometimes the entire campus. It’s always effortless. Of course, when he gets an idea he’s laser-focused. But it’s not a mechanical focus, it’s organic and full of the same energy as when he’s telling a story or car-dancing to Off The Wall. I would come to him with a simple idea or a guitar riff, and his bass and drum additions would take it from James Taylor to Radiohead, all while empowering and never overriding the original statement. It was flattering, his ability to find the potential for a huge sonic landscape all within a finger-style guitar part. But from his additional foundations I was able to branch off into higher-level melodic and harmonic structures. We’re always building off each other.
How are you planning to spend your 2018? Are you looking to release more music? I’m taking some time attending classes in Lexington, KY, practicing and performing guitar, writing and recording music (including for Sebastian Green’s and Zachary Ostroff’s respective upcoming releases), and considering starting a PhD in Physics in the Fall. Although I have been recording my own music, I’m going to be patient about putting it out. Now that I have something out there, I want to focus on honing my craft.
Finally, if you could close out this interview with one final thought, what would it be? Thank God for Quincy Jones.