“Kingdom in My Mind,” the latest album by roots trio The Wood Brothers, came about from what guitarist and singer Oliver Wood called “spontaneous composition.” In collaboration with Brook Sutton, the engineer who worked on the band’s 2018 album “One Drop of Truth,” Mr. Wood, his bassist younger brother Chris Wood, and drummer/keyboardist Jano Rix built their own recording studio that allowed the trio to experiment without time constraints.
In the new workspace, the band used the luxury of time to jam and its improvisations became the basis for their latest songs, which will be featured alongside cuts from their previous seven studio releases at a March 6 UCSB Arts & Lectures concert at Campbell Hall.
After Mr. Wood, his bandmates, and Mr. Sutton erected their new studio, the band entered a playful period of discovering what they sounded like in the room. Completely taken with its sound, there was no doubt in the minds of the band members that it would also be the sound of the next Wood Brothers album. The elder Wood brother remarked that “Kingdom in my Mind” was a “really fun” album to record because of how many musical ideas the band managed to come up with as it improvised on jams, portions of which became a majority of the songs on “Kingdom in my Mind.”
“It was really fun because there was so much discovery and so much experimentation… There was a childlike feeling that this is our clubhouse and we’re just playing in here,” he said.
Because of this creative method, the album documents the band approaching new musical ideas in a manner more subconscious than premeditated. Once the trio determined which sections of its jams would make up the new songs, its members wanted to approach these song skeletons differently than they did on “One Drop of Truth” in terms of lyrics and production, albeit not in an overly conscious way.
They didn’t begin recording the album with any thematic concept in mind, but looking at the songs in retrospect the group found that there were some dichotomous characters within the stories they told. For instance, the opening number “Alabaster” tells the tale of a woman liberating herself by leaving the eponymous Alabama town for another life somewhere else. The theme of female liberation is a relevant one in 2020, but its presence in the song is more because of osmosis from the surrounding time period than an intentional effort to write about the subject.
“It’s not consciously meant to be about that, but you can’t help but take in what you’re exposed to all the time,” Mr. Wood said.
Whereas the album opens with the perspective of someone leaving behind an old life for something better, songs such as “The One I Love” are about a man wanting to return home to a woman that he loves. According to Mr. Wood, throughout the album this particular character is shown to be “someone who has come to grips or accepted the fact that he’s not in control all the time and that he has to and can live with the human condition, which has got plenty of darkness to it.”
The “Kingdom in My Mind” album takes its title from its third track, “Jitterbug Love,” a song about the stories that play out in the mind of every person and produce thoughts and feelings like anxiety. Visualizing a kingdom as something that is capable of falling and getting destroyed, the song likens the mind to one as people can just as easily feel terrible anxiety as they can feel like they are on top of the world.
For Mr. Wood, the recording of “Kingdom in My Mind” was not only a special time in the studio for his group, but performing its songs on tour has thus far been his favorite experience transitioning new tunes into a live setting. He strongly suspects that there’s a connection between the two, the joy of creating this music in the studio has naturally spilling into the concerts.
“I think maybe it’s because we’re having so much fun doing it and it translates really well to the audience,” he said.
At next week’s concert, Mr. Wood hopes this will be the case as the new albums are showcased alongside fan favorites from the band’s previous seven releases. Intent on giving their new songs stage time and playing fan favorites to satisfy their long time listeners, Mr. Wood, his brother, and Mr. Rix will attempt to do as much of both as possible.
Mr. Wood said, “Whether folks there have seen us before or not, I hope they will be open to hearing new music. We’ve been doing this for a long time and have many albums and many songs, so there are many fan favorites that people want to hear… I think people should expect to hear a lot of both.”
Tickets for The Wood Brothers’ March 6 concert can be purchased online at www.artsandlectures.ucsb.edu. The concert will begin at 8 p.m. at Campbell Hall, located in Building 538 on the campus of UCSB.