The Woodentops’ sound, and songwriting
The new Woodentops single Third Floor Rooftop High is already generating a lot of excitement ahead of their album.
The Woodentops sound
When we met Rolo a little while back, great reviews of The Woodentops’ retrospective album were just starting to come in. The 52-track 3 CD album - Before During After - is out on One Little Indian, and features a huge range of tracks from ones that club DJs like Paul Oakenfold, Carl Cox, Andy Weatherall, and Danny Rampling seized upon, to Adrian Sherwood and Arthur Baker remixes and a more electronic sound.
The new album is a mixture of not very new but remastered, but also a few tracks that we weren’t able, for whatever reason, to get out at the time. So there is new material in there. There are also some selections from tracks that were recorded before we took a break. It’s really a compendium of everything we did through the 80s and I am immensely proud of it.
Fans of the band include David Bowie, and theres’ a famous 80s quote from The Smiths’ Morrissey - “Anyone sane living in this world will realise on hearing ‘Plenty’ that The Woodentops bring with them a new age of enlightenment”.
The band were indie/dance pioneers but at first they didn’t know just how much they had taken off on the Ibiza club scene - until one enthusiastic clubber buttonholed Rolo back in the UK.
He was the first person to tell me about it, that he’d been going out to these clubs and they were playing Why Why Why and people were going crazy!
The thing is most of the records that were being played were all studio recordings and then bang in the middle of it, there was Woodentops live so you must understand it was quite bizarrre but you know kind of touching, too.
The Woodentops and the Balearic explosion in Ibiza
The Woodentops were on the indie rock circuit, and started playing huge club nights on the Spanish coast, but sadly never got to play live in Ibiza. Rolo says they never set out to write for the scene, their sound just fitted it beautifully.
It’s a tricky one because to me that was just a feel and a mood of the times and nobody particularly knew that it was going to explode. From our early days, a lot of our songs were written quite often from basslines and rhythms and they grew over the top of that. If people were dancing then we felt we were doing well.
It was just a natural thing for us to be doing what we were doing and then getting sucked into the movement that happened. I mean I don’t think we necessarily pioneered it. We were just there, we were ready and I think there were people far more focused on house beats and disco beats than we were.
We were a cross between something like electro and maybe Fela Kuti, and we were very influenced by James Brown. So a song like Why Why Why which was the one that really got picked up in that movement, that had all the elements in one song, but also over the top of it, it really had the wood blocks and the percussion thing going.
Because of the acoustic guitar we always had a flamenco-y thing going on even if it was sort of cod flamenco, it wasn’t like real flamenco but all of those ingredients are just the ingredients that were coming out of Ibiza.
We were just perfect for it, we didn’t need remixing or anything like that, we were already doing it.
Keeping The Woodentops’ sound fresh
The Woodentops have never stood still, and their sound has developed and changed a lot over the years.
Well some people would say that our sound has got worse and worse over the years, it started great and it’s got worse. And others would say that we have moved with the times, taken influences on board and kept with it!
For me I would say the real pointer to how our sound has changed is just the desire not to record the same tune over and over again so you know we just keep trying to come up with something different to what we’ve just done before.
There’s got to be light and shade, there’s got to be all kinds of contrasts, there’s got to be invention and at the same time there has to be the occasional point that people can recognise. Let’s say for example that somebody like Jimi Hendrix who played way way out guitar, people could only really accept him if he threw in the odd scale, nicely done and then they’d go, woo he can play.
How Rolo writes for The Woodentops
Rolo has many different approaches to songwriting for the band.
When I write there’s kind of no real rules. I would say that quite often the bass is really important, probably a drum machine, but it can be I’ve just got a set of lyrics and I’m just trying to find something to piece around them.
Occasionally it’ll come from guitar chords, like I remember particuarly the song Well Well Well from the early days, I remember just walking around the house playing guitar for hours on end.
I generally record pretty quickly when I’ve got an idea, and multitrack. I’m a jack of all trades and master of none, so I could piece the idea together.
The key thing is solitude, solitude. If I have solitude then the ideas just flow.
The importance of the live show
The Woodentops are famous for their amazing live shows that get people on their feet instantly. Performing is what Rolo loves most of all.
It is of paramount importance. It is the moment in my life when I am most alive, when all of my skills and every chromosome of my body is 100% full on and it is the moment where I feel that I’m a live human being for a reason and that now I must deliver.
It is the best thing in my life. That doesn’t mean to say that I don’t make a mess of it sometimes, I definitely do, but it is the most switched on moment in my life and I’m just so grateful that I found that out.
New Woodentops material out soon
There’s going to be more treats for fans this year too. A new album is nearly done.
It’s what’s coming out in the next few months after that, that I’m really focused on, which is our first bunch of songs recorded since we began to play again. I can’t wait to get that out and hear what people think of it. I know what I think of it.