Growing up in Albuquerque, there were times in which AJ Woods’ family would pack up the car and drive out into the expanse of the New Mexico desert with no clear destination or timetable. It takes a certain kind of patience to head into an uncertainty in which the pathway is can feel dry and uneventful. But along the way, with few overwhelming distractions, it’s easier to appreciate the more subtle and introspective moments that inhabit these spaces. My own experience of listening to AJ Woods’ new album The Fence is not unlike how I imagine these family road trips he took as a child. My first interactions with this collection of songs came without any prior of his music. I entered the journey blindly. With a slow, steady earth-toned landscape of acoustic instrumentation and softly brushed drums setting a calming atmosphere, Woods voice speaks out with a somber inflection. As it drifts along, The Fence steers clear of the bold and obvious in favor of a well worn dirt road with a bounty of stories within every step.
As a songwriter, Woods fits within a similar realm as Will Oldham, Neil Young and Bill Callahan. He works within the context of a deliberately paced Americana. With a dry, earnest voice, his songs may move too slow for some who might initially dismiss the music as dull or uneventful. But these are songs that grow with each listen as Woods’ carefully constructed words unfold into introspective passages, provided with emotional heft by Woods’ worn and weary delivery. And for all the subtlety, there are occasionally ripping electric guitar solos like those on “The Water” and “Gilita Creek,” which sneak up and take the songs to soaring heights without overshooting. It’s a really remarkably crafted record that takes a fair amount of listens to reveal itself in the fullest. It’s what many would call a slow burn.
AJ Woods will be celebrating the release of his new album The Fence with a performance at the Guild Cinema in Albuquerque on Friday April 8th. For more information, head to the Facebook Event Page.
I caught up with AJ Woods to talk about The Fence, and the life that inspired it…
Let’s go to the beginning. Who were your earliest musical inspirations?
Jimi Hendrix was probably my first profound musical inspiration. I listened to as much of his music as possible. I had the American Masters PBS episode on Jimi taped to a VHS until it finally broke. I’d start and end the day with that tape. I was just as interested in the way that he spoke as I was in what he was doing with the guitar. Once my mother realized that I had an interest in music, the guitar specifically, she sort of helped me find my way to Jimi. Jimi’s version of “All Along the Watchtower” led to Dylan’s John Wesley Harding. I just went from there. I’ve been playing the guitar behind my head and with my teeth since then. Not really, but Jimi has been with me ever since, and so has my mother.
Having been born and raised in Albuquerque, what would you say has been the most significant change in the music scene of the area over the years?
I wonder how qualified I am to really weigh in on that. In my experience there have been aspects of the changes that I value, some that I don’t. Nonetheless, there are layers and it’s always changing and shifting as all things do. I feel welcome in all the different musical communities I’ve encountered here, and simultaneously I don’t feel associated to any one part of it specifically. I do go see live music fairly often though, and in very different places. The truth is that you just never know what you’re going to get. It’s like the weather here: completely unpredictable.
How would you say The Fence differs from your previous records? How have you personally grown from record to record?
The making of this album was more intentional, maybe. I knew that I wanted to make it and I asked for more help than I usually do when making a recording. My last album almost happened by accident. I reached out more with this one.
Your songs have a slow, drifting quality that I feel reflect the deliberate pace and dry spaciousness of the southwest. Would you say the desert landscape inhabits your sound?
All of the life in the region, and all of my life in it does seem to operate within me…When I was younger my dad would spontaneously load up our hubcapless 91′ Camry, with enough food and water, two dogs, and a single Willy Nelson Cassette in the deck, and we’d drive into the middle of the desert, just to see how long we could last. The desert is easy to find in Albuquerque and in New Mexico in general. Just pick a direction, go straight, and if you don’t find it, soon enough it’ll find you.
Listening to The Fence, I feel like it’s an album defined by subtlety, and yet one of my favorite moments is ”Gilita Creek,” in which an electric guitar cries out with a distinctive presence. It works in part due to the fact that there’s a slow build up to it over the course of the record. Was there a conscious effort to let loose on ”Gilita Creek” where you may have dialed back on other songs?
I’m glad you enjoy that one. We recorded these songs live and mostly in one session. “Gilita” came later in the session. It was a spur of the moment thing. Alex and Greg let loose on that one. I suppose that I opened up on it as well. Meredith added a nice vocal touch to the chorus. I liked that it showed a wider spectrum of emotion. The song is a remembrance of the time that my father and I spread my mother’s ashes in a tributary of the Gila River. Being that the Gila River is the last undamned river in the west, it seemed appropriate that the track should run without restraint.
Some musicians prefer the stage, others prefer the studio. Where do you feel most at home?
There are aspects that I enjoy and dread about both. I had a great show in Denver once and I heard someone say that a show is only as good as the audience. I knew what that person meant. You can feel it. It’s a relationship. It can be a wonderful thing when it goes well.
Do you have a favorite place to perform at locally?
The more satisfying shows for me have usually been in basements, living rooms, small galleries. I always feel good after playing at the Tannex in Barelas. The space is very well run and in line with what everyone’s needs are. I’ve been a part of great shows at Sister, Graft, Low Spirits, Winning Coffee, Tortuga, Small Engine, the Press Club, the Gold House…There’s a number of places that I enjoy preforming.
1. The Fence
2. The Feeling
3. The Water
5. Cuba Moon
6. Making Plans Alone
7. Against The Wind
8. Sun & The Moon
9. Gilita Creek
10. Movement In The Grass