Noise Annoys: Wooden Shjips sail back to Belfast, Optimo for God's Waiting Room
IT'S been about five years since US psyche rockers Wooden Shjips last visited Belfast. In the time that's elapsed since then, the formerly San Francisco based quartet – Erik 'Ripley' Johnson (vox/guitar), Dusty Jermier (bass), Nash Whalen (keyboards) and Omar Ahsanuddin (drums) – have split themselves between two different cities, with half the band now living in Portland, Oregon.
They've also put out a magnificent new album, V: released in May, the follow up to 2013's Back To The Land finds the Shjips' ever-evolving drone rock mesmerics continuing to mutate in new and interestingly easy-on-the-ear ways.
While it is indeed the band's fifth LP, the title actually reflects the quartet's defiant mood while recording last year. The record was intended as an sonic escape capsule for a time of American and international unrest, the cover art featuring a hand making the 'peace sign' – or Churchill's 'victory V', if you prefer.
Currently on the road in Europe, the band land back in Belfast on Monday for a show at The Empire. Noise Annoys's emailed enquiries regarding the group's recent activities were answered in a pleasingly prompt manner by keys man extraordinaire, Nash Whalen.
How is the tour going so far? Are you looking forward to returning to Britain and Ireland?
The tour has been going real well so far. After playing festivals in Switzerland and Macedonia, we settled in to the van in Berlin and are currently driving through France.
We always have so much fun playing in the UK and especially Ireland. The crowds are always so enthusiastic that it is a real pleasure rocking out with them.
Congratulations on V, it sounds great. It was conceived as an ‘upbeat’ record that you wanted to make quickly. Did things go according to plan and do you always set out with such a specific goal when approaching each new record?
Thanks so much. Our plan worked out fairly well. We recorded over a week last September and we managed to keep things upbeat in the studio and that definitely translated to the sound of V.
I think this time we were a little more conscious about how the record should feel because we wanted it to be a bit more dynamic and spacious. Usually, we just go for it and just rock out on all the songs.
In terms of the lyrics, do the albums tend to serve as time capsules for certain periods of your life?
All the records are snapshots of where we are at that moment, but I think the lyrics often draw from all sorts of experiences. Sometimes lyrics are floating around in your head for years and then one day they do just make sense finally based on where you are at.
Do you have a song from the new record that you’re particularly pleased with? If so, please explain which one and why.
I really like Staring at the Sun. The song has great vibes and dynamics that really capture the essence of what we were trying to accomplish with the album.
The Farfisa sounds on that song turned out especially cool and really capture what I was envisioning during our rehearsals.
We owe a lot of that to the mixing by Cooper Crain. He was able to take our vision and make it come together in a special way.
Ten years and multiple albums and EPs into the band’s existence, how do you approach constructing the set-list. Is the most recent record always the starting point?
We usually pick the songs that we want to begin and end the set with and then fill in the middle. We like to start with songs that help us get into the groove and end with songs that have lots of energy and big finishes.
Everything in the middle is meant to showcase both new songs and old favourites in a way that keeps the flow going and the audience rocking.
The band are split between different cities – would Wooden Shjips be more productive/active if everyone was in the same place or does the status quo suit everyone?
When we were all in San Francisco, we rehearsed at least once a week and were available for local shows when other bands coming through town wanted us to join the bill. We also would record at the spur of the moment in our practice space.
So we were a bit more active back then, but since then all of our responsibilities have changed. Between families and the like, I do imagine that it would be hard for us to be much more active no matter how much we want to.
How much longer can/will/should Wooden Shjips continue?
I have always felt that as long as we are having fun playing together and people want to come out to see us, that we should keep on with the band.
We try to make music that is timeless so I don’t think it will ever go out of style. The main thing is that if we aren’t feeling inspired by the music, it wouldn’t be worth trying to perform it.
If you weren’t a musician, what would you be doing with your life right now?
Before I was in the band, I was working as a geologist, keeping people and property in the San Francisco Bay Area safe from geologic hazards such as landslides and earthquakes. It was rewarding, but I was getting burned out by it.
If the band hadn’t started when it did, I probably would have gone back to school to study climate change policy.
Finally, for the record, please state your favourite song, movie, book and food.
Movie: Ironweed (1987)
Tickets for the Wooden Shjips's Belfast show can be had in advance for £16.50 via Wegottickets.com/event/437443. Doors are at 7.30pm and support on the night comes from Dublin-based instrumental explorer turned solo singer-songwriter Cian Nugent, so be sure to get in early.
In other 'imminent event' related news, David Holmes's alternative club night God's Waiting Room returns to Belfast on Saturday September 22 at The Dockers Club with a five hour set from JD Twitch and JG Wilkes of Glasgow's Optimo empire.
Tickets for that one can and indeed should be got in advance (as it's likely to sell out, so don't dawdle) for £16.50 via Tinyurl.com/gwroptimo.