January 17th, 2009 | Interviews

josh slater

Download: Wooden Shjips “Auld Lang Syne”


(from the Wooden Shjips’ Holiday Cassingle)

Wooden Shjips arrived with a single and EP they gave away for free and screaming reverbed hard-psych that sounded like Les Rallizes Denudes trying “We Will Fall.” Their first L.A. show was the L.A. RECORD anniversary party last year. This interview by Chris Ziegler.

Is the ‘J’ in the name from a typo on the back of a Crosby, Stills and Nash live record or is it because people should keep a ‘J’ in the middle of their gatefold?
Nash Whalen (organ): Typo? I’ve never seen or was aware of that. But the joint—a lot of people seem to like that one. Let the myth ride.
What was the original Wooden Shjips manifesto that guitarist and singer Ripley Johnson wrote?
I don’t really remember—but when we came together, he was talking about things he wanted. One of the first was to play with non-musicians. So he recruited me and several other people. None of us really knew what we were doing so we were free to play what we wanted. I’d always played a little guitar at home, but I wouldn’t call myself a guitar player. So he brought me back playing organ. I hadn’t been playing that before. I was looking for sounds that fit in with what the other people were playing. There’s a lot of experimenting in that, but your natural ability to hear music and respond to it—to me, it’s much easier for me to play the organ.
How much have you learned from just playing in Wooden Shjips?
I haven’t ever jammed with other people yet. A lot of times when I’m practicing at home, I just play along to different rock songs. Neil Young or whatever. Maybe I have enough in me now to do blues-based rock? Staying away from blues-based rock was another part of the manifesto, I believe.
Do you have a sense of how people very first learned about you? The free albums? Looking up videos of Les Rallizes Denudes on YouTube?
Ripley pressed that ten-inch and sent it out to people—he gave people knowledge of the band that way. Sometime during 2006. And people started responding. He wanted to get the music out there. The idea was to create a record people might enjoy—if not at that time, some time in the future. But first was to create something.
What happened to the Chilean film you were soundtracking?
We’ve been talking to a lot of different filmmakers from different parts of the world. There’s an Estonian filmmaker using one of our songs—The Temptation of St. Tony. Our next album is coming out in a couple months. It seems a lot of songs on that are about movement through time and space and stuff. When I play music and I’m thinking about it, I just see movement. I always see it going along with some motion. Moving through the landscape or a cityscape or whatever it is. I don’t know what it fits into, but I see what it’s doing.
Has playing in Wooden Shjips manifested any beneficial health effects?
It’s a good physical experience. I have a hard time playing guitar because I have rheumatoid arthritis. It makes fingering notes really hard for me. But there have been times when it was bothering me and I felt sick, and I’ve gone and played a show or practiced and afterwards it’s all gone. The process does good for the body. Vibrations in the music? Healing? Loosening everything up?
Do you sleep better after shows?
Usually just a lot later.
Are all your recordings done live?
Most singles—the last couple singles have been. On our album—maybe one? ‘Shine Like Suns’ we definitely put together mostly live.
Did you do like the Stooges and write half the record at a hotel the night before?
No, no—we’re always working on songs well in advance! Some we’ve been playing live. Some we just worked on in the studio. Lots of times Ripley brings in riffs or might even have lyrics to go with something. He might even make a little tape for us. Sometimes we just go and he starts playing and we jump in and do what we wanna do. We’ve worked on the new record this year. Five songs. A couple long ones. Definitely shakers—not sure how many bells. A couple really long songs. ‘Motorbike,’ ‘For So Long,’ ‘Fallen’—we’ve been playing those on tour. And two other songs: ‘Down By The Sea’ and ‘Aquarian Time.’
Do you still have your same old 8-track?
Dusty has a couple of them. The heads are fixed on the one but the rest of the parts he’s swapping back and forth between machines he found in various locations.
You seem like you guys would do OK if civilization falls apart.
We’d be calm and together in the future.
How many of you have worked in a record store?
None of us ever has.
Have you ever shared any job?
Not so much. Both Ripley and I were at UC Santa Cruz and worked on dorm rooms there. Changing lightbulbs, unsticking doors, whatever. We didn’t work together but we had the job there at different colleges. Dusty is a master of all trades—a plumber and electrician and all that. Ten times more than we ever did.
What does drummer Omar Ahsanuddin bring?
The rhythm. He keeps it going for us. When we’re out on tour, he has some of the least responsibility of any of us, but it doesn’t bother anyone because he’s so great on drums.
What’s your favorite role on tour?
When we’re playing, I like to make sure we get the beer and water to us. And I’ll often be bringing beer and water onstage to everyone else. We all look out for each other pretty well.