San Francisco residents WOODEN SHIJPS are set to release their third studio album West and to mark the occasion Happening's GRAHAME BENT got on the transatlantic blower to hear about the thinking that has shaped this latest chapter in the band's evolution with Shjips' stickman Omar Ahsanuddin.
"We had been playing some of the songs on West while touring last year so we a had a good sense of what the record would be before going in to the studio. West isn't really a concept album but the idea of the west, its history, the myths and the symbolism is present in all of our music. We're all originally from the east and the middle of the US so I think it has a more symbolic meaning for us having moved west for that promised freedom and the title pays tribute to that."
What is beyond interpretation is the hard fact that West represents something of a major break with Wooden Shjips previous established working practices given that for the first time the band chose to locate themselves in a bona fide recording studio and work with a bona fide recording engineer in the shape of Phil Manley (Trans Am, Edie Sedgwick, The Fucking Champs, Oneida, Jonas Reinhardt et al) having previously opted for a much lower key and more home grown approach on their earlier releases.
"Our self-titled debut album, Dos and the material on the singles collections were self-recorded in our rehearsal room. So, after a couple of years and a lot of tape, we were ready to try a new approach but what was unknown to us was how we would sound working in a proper studio with an engineer rather than recording ourselves. Working in a studio allowed the band to capture a fuller sound, we had access to quality microphones and gear as well as recording in a room that sounded much better than our own rehearsal studio. The main difference, though, was having Phil Manley engineer the session. Not only did it free the band from thinking about and executing the technical details of recording but Phil added a valued and knowledgeable opinion to the process."
Throughout their lifetime as a working band Wooden Shjips have found themselves attracting numerous comparisons with an extensive checklist of Anglo American and even Krautrock sources and influences so it seems only appropriate that one of the guiding lights behind one of the band's most oft cited points of reference - the hallowed Spacemen 3 should have been invited to contribute to the album by having Sonic Boom take care of the mastering.
"It was great to have Sonic master the record. Last year Wooden Shjips opened for Spectrum in San Francisco and we also played a couple of songs with Pete while he was playing a solo show in Louisville. So, in addition to the fact that he’s recorded a lot amazing music himself, he knows our what our musical sensibilities are and what we sound like live which, while intangible, added to his perspective as he approached the mastering."
But when the dust finally settles on the new album and a degree of perspective is allowed to settle in where ultimately where will the new improved sonics of West be seen to sit within the evolving discography of Wooden Shjips to date ?
'To anyone familiar with other Wooden Shjips recordings West will stand out instantly from a sonic perspective. I also think partnering with Thrill Jockey for this album gives it a different feel as well. Dos sounds a lot different from the self-titled album and West sounds a lot different from them both. With this record it feels like we're just starting to tap into our potential in the studio and we'd like to continue to explore that in the future. '
West will be released on Thrill Jockey in August