Woolen Men

The Woolen Men’s Temporary Monument captured a certain fever of the current world we live in, so we knew we had to reach out to the band to learn more about them and the creation of their latest album. Luckily for us, band members Raf Spielman and Lawton Browning were more than hospitable to our request. What ensued was a fantastic talk about the current state of the music world as we know it, and an education on the amazing work of the Pacific Northwest was given as well. And of course, you can get the band’s latest album at the Woodsist Store.

Your statement about music being rendered powerless and is white noise in an echo chamber is pretty poignant. Do you feel like there’s some hope left out there, or is this just the unfortunate world we’re a part of now? 

Lawton:  I think as long as people continue to look to things like Facebook “like” numbers, follows, or comments, in fact the whole panoply of chatter that we now think of as discourse on the internet, then what you are going to get will be white noise: artificial, controlled by corporate interest and inherently false. That trend towards mass culture is everywhere: it’s in music, it’s in movies, and books too, and the reason why is because the moneyed interests want it that way, because then they control the conversation.

Raf:  Yeah, it’s really a hard moment right now for any kind of art or music that isn’t tailored to the really intense hype and PR cycle that seems to dominate the culture world.  I mean, for the last fifty or sixty years most of what most people have consumed art-wise has been pretty bad, but there seems to be less and less of real value that is able to slip into the main stream.

Coming from a very rich history of music from the Pacific Northwest, does that play into the sentiment? There are lots of great acts, but there’s also just a lot of bands in general from up there. Does it kind of feel like too much of a good thing? 

L:  I think without the music history of the NW we lose one of our most important cultural assets here. I mean it’s Oregon: it’s out of the way and it’s rural a lot of the time and what people still like to do on a Saturday night is go see a show; that’s a real tradition here, and I never want to take it for granted, because it’s beautiful. I mean you go to a place like LA, and half the time the only reason the bands are showing up is if they think they can get something out of it by being there; there’s no community uniting them except self-interest.

R:  No, the Pacific NW is still kind of a dark spot on the map for most people I think.  There are labels in Seattle, like Hardly Art or Sub Pop, that can take a regional band and put them on the national radar, but there’s nothing like that in Portland or for most of the region.  I think a lot of the great music being made here doesn’t reach nearly as wide an audience as it could or should.

How about the festival scenes? It seems like there’s a new one every week. Is it just the way things are going? People looking for as much music in one place for as cheaply as possible? 

R:  We played three mini festivals in Portland this year and somehow wound up feeling like the odd-man-out at each of them.  There’s a strong enough community in town right now, though, that I think we’re just going to DIY it next summer — just get organized with all of the bands we respect and love to play shows with and put something together ourselves.  If local promoters and the hype machine are training the listening public to consume music as beer-tent-entertainment, we’d like at least leverage that into a festival that celebrates our scene and the values we stand for.

Looking on the brighter side of things, how did landing on Woodsist come about? We’d be lying if we said we don’t swoon for that label. 

R:  Both me and Jeremy Earl, who runs the label, are coming at the whole rock and roll/band-thing from the ferment of the cassette tape underground of the early 2000s, so I think that’s the background of being on the Woodsist radar in the first place.  He’s been a huge supporter of the music that I’ve been a part of, and I’m deeply grateful for that.

L: Woodsist and Jeremy are straight arrows: no contracts, no bullshit.

When it comes to rising above the noise, what’s the philosophy for you all to rise above it all?

L:  Never stop working.

Temporary Monument is, in our eyes, one of the few albums that just seems to capture the frustrations of a gap generation really well in recent years. But it also seems like there’s some hope to it all in the end. What was the tightrope walk like behind the creation of the album? 

R:  I don’t think we explicitly set out to write about themes that occupy the album; they were just the themes occupying all of our consciences, so they were what came out of us.  And I do think there is hope, for sure, because we remain optimistic about the art and music communities around us and that good people will stick it out and continue to create the kind of art that makes living in a place like Portland so worthwhile.  So in hindsight it wasn’t a “tightrope walk” or challenge at all, just a projection of the thoughts on our minds.

I love how the album feels frantic yet refined, especially “Life In Hell.” Was the recording process reflective of that, or did the production behind it just hone in on what you guys were hoping for? 

R:  I think we all felt the power of the songs was not going to be in overdubs or studio effects but in making the lyrics and the playing as clear as possible.  I don’t think we’re a virtuosic band and all, but compared to all of the psych-rock bands around who really go for style over substance and just bash out these crappy versions of crappy versions of stuff that’s on Nuggets or Back From The Grave we wanted to be clear that the arrangements have been thought through, that we’ve worked these songs until their own compositional logic emerges.  That we’re not just singing about parties and rock and roll stuff.

How about releases or bands from this past year that you all got pretty excited about? 

R:  Landlines, Honey Bucket, Lithics, Mope Grooves, all from Portland.  Great records from Home Blitz, Lame Drivers, Sun Foot, the Mantles.  I caught an acoustic set by Peacers this summer; I look forward to checking that record out.

Finally, any plans for 2016? Where do you all expect to go from here?

R:  The band is starting to feel to me like it did when we first started playing together, which is great.  We continue to write new material and push ourselves in the directions that interest us, regardless of what the listening public at large, or even our fans, want or expect.  The Portland music scene is really coming together again in a way that hasn’t been the case for quite a few years now.