The Wooden Birds | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
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The Wooden Birds

Everything Seems So Simple

May 19, 2009 Web Exclusive Photography by Aubrey Edwards Bookmark and Share

We've all been there: you're the frontman for a popular indie rock act, but you leave your beloved home state of Texas to pursue a PhD in Biochemistry at Columbia. Ok, maybe we haven't all been there, but that's where The American Analog Set's Andrew Kenny has been, and now he's back, a in Texas and on the indie music scene, with Magnolia, the debut release from his new band, The Wooden Birds.

What did you miss about Texas?

Andrew Kenny: I missed my friends the most. Specifically the Analog Set guys. Lee and Mark and Sean and Tom. We hang out now and almost never talk about music. Not because it's a bad thing. We're just older and we have a lot going on in our lives. It's a wonderful thing.  I also missed Mexican food, or Tex-Mex I should say. I know it's simple but it's my favorite and it doesn't really exist in Brooklyn. I'm not complaining, mind you. Brooklyn is the land of the proper cheese slice and I'm sure missing that now. But I gained my enchilada weight when I came back to Austin for sure.

How did The Wooden Birds begin? How long have these songs been cooking? Did you always know these songs were not AmAnSet songs?

This project has been in the back of my mind for a while. Before the last AmAnSet album. I guess there were always songs that didn't make sense as AmAnSet songs, and over time I realized they had a lot in common with one another. Also, I hadn't made a true 8-track record since The Golden Band in 1999 and I missed that process. You really have to have your shit together to pull off an album with just 8 channels to work with. There aren't any "maybe" channels. Either something is there because it's crucial, or it's not.

What was the Ph.D. you were pursuing, and do you feel that experience fed into your songwriting? How?

I was working on a Biochemistry PhD at Columbia when I decided to leave and make Set Free, the last AmAnSet full length. My love of recording music and my appreciation for the methods of science have a lot of overlap. Advancements in molecular biology in the late '70s and '80s were to biology what digital technology and non-linear recording were to music in the '90s and early 2000s. I can draw parallels all night...some profound and some barely interesting. All extremely nerdy. This may be a topic for another interview altogether. To answer your question: My music and science preoccupations seemed to work in blissful harmony within the boundaries of The American Analog Set. With The Wooden Birds, I just wanted to write the best songs I could and present them as simply and as consistently as I could.

Have you been dogged by any particular label that bothers you? Or, more specifically, what do you think of AmAnSet being called 'drone-pop'?

This is another epic answer and I'll try to be brief. I used to read every review I could find. When we first started, we were space rock. It was Spiritualized and Stereolab and so forth. Forgiving for a moment that space rock begins and ends with Hawkwind, of course. After that, it was indie-pop and Belle & Sebastian comparisons. Then it was Yo La Tengo. Then I stopped reading reviews and I was a much happier songwriter. The bottom line is: they're all correct. When I read a review for an album I'm considering purchasing and it's just a bunch of lofty adjectives, that's not enough for me. When it's put into context, I'm secretly thankful. Ok so it's focused, artfully compressed studio-born sex pop? My wallet is in my pocket. It sounds like the last Phoenix record? Yeah I'll probably like it. Thank you. Nowadays when it comes to anything I've worked on, I steer clear of reviews. There's nothing good in there for me. Good or bad.

Is there a particular mood, experience, or influence that started Magnolia?

I've been putting these songs aside for a while, so there wasn't an exact beginning. But I did get a little kick in the pants that started the recording timeline. I was on tour with Broken Social Scene when that "moment" happened. I was sitting on their bus in Boston, noodling on the guitar a bit and talking with the lovely and talented Rachel Demy, who was also on the tour that fall. She said, "Kenny, when you play guitar everything seems so simple." She went inside the venue and I sat and finished "False Alarm" and decided that I wanted it to be the first song on the album. I guess that's where Magnolia really began.

How has your approach to writing changed from, say, 10 years ago?

Ten years ago I was writing Know By Heart and I remember that feeling like a big switch from the previous years. My approach hasn't changed all that much since then, really. I think my voice is a bit stronger. I spend a lot longer working on lyrics, that's for sure. I haven't gotten any better at playing guitar but I can write to my style a little better. Over the last few years, the biggest change has been the separation between AmAnSet material and Wooden Birds material. I think the difference is really clear but there's still that moment that I get to ask, "Where does this song make the most sense?" Looking back, "Aaron & Maria," "Born On the Cusp," and maybe a few others would've made great Wooden Birds songs.

How deep into the playoffs do you think the Spurs can go without Ginobli?

That's a great question. It's gonna hurt. The Spurs face the Mavs in the first round. It's 1-1 right now but Tony Parker isn't going to score 38 points every night. You have to remember that the Spurs still have the same core team that has won 4 championships in the last 10 years. I'm happy with their defense and they've gained some speed with Mason and Gooden. I don't want to put this solely on Duncan's shoulders but honestly, it's his team. He's a leader and I have no doubt he's up to the challenge. If anyone's going to lead the charge, from the court or the locker room, it's him. My prediction? And keep in mind that I'm a football fan really... Spurs vs. Lakers is going to be the series to watch.  

Is it appropriate for my wife to floss in bed, or am I justified in thinking that's annoying? 

Is she brushing afterwards? It's my understanding that brushing should follow flossing. Once she's in bed, does she get up again to brush? There's something I don't like about it. I'm going to say no. It doesn't sound appropriate.

No Austin shows on this tour? Or did I miss them already?

You're right...we're not doing a proper Austin show on this tour. We're playing with Explosions In the Sky on July 4th. That will just have to be the big Austin show this time around. We'll play a proper Austin show before too long. Right now, we can play every last bit of Magnolia and a few AmAnSet songs for good measure and that's about 45 minutes. Once we get the material for the next album practiced up, we'll be ready. Right now, we can be Austin's best li'l opener.

Is there one song off of Magnolia that stands out for you as the heart?

I like different songs for different reasons. "Sugar" definitely stands out, though. It seems to be reaching people in an immediate way. It also does a lot of what Magnolia does best. It's got a little heart and a little soul. It's a little bit country and a little bit rock 'n' roll. It was one of the last songs completed and I think it benefited from the context created by older songs like "Believe In Love" and "Anna Paula."



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May 19th 2009

Great interview! Thanks.

Guitar Music Lessons
June 29th 2009

Thanks for sharing such a great interview.