Had the Covid-19 pandemic never happened, it's safe to say we wouldn't be discussing a solo album from Oliver Wood. As the front-man of American-roots heavyweights The Wood Brothers, he had a largely busy 12 months of touring planned for 2020. Yet with quarantine taking its effect, the songwriter settled down, looked within himself and returned to songwriting.
“People would come through Nashville during the year before the pandemic and I’d set up a co-write or a jam in our studio, just to do some stuff outside of my own band,” Wood explains. “There wasn’t an album in mind. I just wanted to be creative. But when the pandemic happened, the songs started building up.”
What came from those inconspicuous writing sessions and loose jams was Always Smilin'; a rootsy, soulful record that welcomes peace and self-betterment in an age of chaos and crisis.
Premiering exclusively today at Holler, Wood shares 'Kindness'; the opener and glorious highlight of the celebratory record. While he embraces the range of his ability across the 12-track collection; Wood most importantly delivers a warm, nurtured sound that's cleansing and rejuvenating. It's a record made for the first day out in the sunshine when the world is back to normal - calm, pensive and hopeful for the future.
With the release of 'Kindness', Holler sat down with Wood to discuss the pandemic's influence on the record, finding new inspirations and how we'll appreciate each other now more than ever.
Why was this the right time to release your first solo album? Was there something in the isolation of 2020 that influenced solitary creativity?
The year of quarantine changed everyone's way of life. I was used to touring with The Wood Brothers full time and rarely having time to work on my own projects and collaborate with other people. Like a lot of others, I took advantage of the time to be creative and collaborative in new ways. No way I'd have ever finished a record of my own without the pandemic.
The album explores the notion of taking time to find self-development and preservation in a quiet moment. Now that the album is fully realised, do you feel you’ve been able to find self-betterment from creating it?
I've absolutely bettered myself during the making of this record. I learned new ways to stay inspired and to deal with self doubt. Daily meditation and writing, together with creating and recording music, were really therapeutic.
In ‘Kindness’, there’s a real sense of yearning - not only in the desire to find fulfilment, but to learn from others in earning it. Do you feel this time we’ve had to spend away from each other has made us more independent? Or has it stifled our ability to be able to grow as people and as a society?
I think our time away from each other has reminded us how much we need each other. As nice as it felt to slow down and be still, and to be with our immediate families A LOT, being connected with people out in the world is still what it's all about, and I'm sure we all appreciate that now more than ever.
It’s a credit to you that ‘Kindness’ possesses such subtlety while still being so soulful and expressive. Was it important for you to be able to find a balance of retaining an intimate nature across the record with a similar sense of community and collaboration?
I wish my record was even more raw and intimate, but I found it a bit lonely to make a "solo" album. The best thing about the process was the collaboration—with other writers, players, producers. The connection thing again, that's what music is for.
Taking into account what you’ve learnt from making the album, how would you like to proceed in the world – both as an artist and a person?
I think I've learnt how lucky I am to be able to do this and to share the process and joy of the music. In general, I'd like to continue to stay present and grateful for the connection that music brings. It's easy to forget, but It's ultimately why I do it.
Oliver Wood's debut solo album, Always Smilin', is out now via Honey Jar Records / Thirty Tigers. 'Kindness' premiered exclusively at Holler.
Photography by Joshua Black.