Featured Music: Thursday, September 19, 2002
Slow Ride

Alt-country rockers Woodeye ain’t in no hurry to become stars.

By Ken Shimamoto

Carey Wolff says it’s a bum rap.

“People say I’m moody,” said the frontman for Fort Worth alt-country veterans Woodeye. “Sometimes when they say that, I’m not in any mood at all. I only write songs when I’m depressed. When I’m happy, I want to do other things.”

Woodeye is a band with, ummm, a nice lack of intensity about success. Their shows are infrequent, and the band went on temporary hiatus earlier this year following the birth of drummer Kenny Smith’s second child. For the last few months, frontman Carey Wolff has logged more hours onstage in his acoustic duo with Scott Copeland — they’re regulars in the Ridglea Theater lounge and at the Wreck Room — than he has with the band. Formed in 1995, Woodeye has just three releases to date. The last one, the seven-song EP Two for Flinching, was released in 1998.

That doesn’t mean that they’re lazy, though. This weekend, they’ll be at the Texas Music Festival in the Rail Market with Robert Earl Keen, the Flatlanders, Reverend Horton Heat and, uh, Live, and they’re also scheduled to play Brasco’s c.d. release party at the Wreck Room on Sept. 27, as well as some Austin dates. They’re preparing to record a new full-length c.d. and are shopping for a label (hopefully one that offers tour support and a promotional budget). And they’ve got a new side project up their sleeves.

A few weeks ago, onstage at new Deep Ellum venue Indigo, the boys seemed tentative, but a week later, back on home turf at the Wreck Room (where bassist Graham Richardson sometimes tends bar), they were more energetic and assured, plowing through favorites like “Kinda Like It” and their signature song, “Sometimes,” as well as some still-unrecorded tunes.

Wolff’s stage persona is low-key, but his songs and ravaged, enervated-Everyman vocals tap into a vein that could easily appeal to fans of more mainstream stuff (the Matchbox 20 and Counting Crows audience) as well as the alt-country claque. His best moments come when he puts aside his acoustic and lets Scott Davis carry the load on guitar. Then, when he’s focused only on singing, Wolff projects a greater emotional intensity.

Davis’ open-voiced, ringing chords and tasteful, melodic leads give the music an expansive sound. The guitarist also plays lovely lap steel on one number. Richardson said, “Scott is the kind of musician who you can lock in a room with an instrument he’s never played before, and when you come back, he’ll have written a song on it.” Richardson, a Supersuckers and Replacements fan, is the most animated element of live Woodeye, bouncing irrepressibly around the stage behind his Gibson Thunderbird, while Smith is a solid, grooving post-grunge drummer.

For its new album, Woodeye plans to spend its entire budget on recording, then pitch the record to labels rather than market it themselves. They’ll record 12 songs, including two remakes from earlier releases. “We’ve changed a lot since then,” said Wolff, “and the songs have changed, too. The last record was pretty much live in the studio. For the new album, we want to spend a little more time, put some different instruments on it. Scott will be playing some lap steel and harp. He might even get a mandolin.” Former bandmember Don Cento is on tap to play keyboards, and Wolff is currently seeking out a Hammond B-3 “for that Gram Parsons sound.”

About that new side project: It’s a band called the Quaker City Nighthawks. “It’s basically all of Woodeye except for Graham,” explained Wolff. “I’m playing bass. Scott Davis and his wife are the two singers, kind of a Gram Parsons-Emmylou Harris thing. My girlfriend does some singing, too. We played a short set at the White Elephant on Labor Day weekend, and we learned six songs in two weeks for it. It was fun. We’d like to do it again.”

Wolff also plans to continue his duo activity with Scott Copeland, even though he admits “I don’t like playing solo, but with Scott it’s a different thing, because we give each other shit onstage.” The two recently released a c.d., With Friends Like These..., which features three songs by Wolff (with accompaniment by Scott Davis; could this be a taste of what the new Woodeye record will sound like?) and four each by Copeland and Andy Pate. Wolff’s contributions include two songs that wouldn’t sound out of place in Woodeye’s set and another (the tongue-in-cheek “Miserable”) that Wolff recorded “because I hate playing it live. Now I can tell people who request it to buy the c.d.”

The singer has a problem with audience requests. “[Woodeye fans] are always requesting ‘Second Fiddle,’” he said, “but I just don’t get anything out of playing it anymore.” He also dislikes being saddled with the “alt-country” tag. “We’re always getting booked with rockabilly bands,” he said (as in a recent Wreck Room gig that paired the band with Slick 57), “but sometimes I think we’d do better if we played with some rock acts.”

Wolff, who just turned 35, grew up on a farm outside Denver. He’s been a Fort Worth resident since 1985, playing music since ’89. He started out playing drums (an instrument his twin brother still plays) before moving on to bass, then keyboards, then guitar. Besides playing music, he’s also tended bar and worked in bookstores. He draws inspiration from a variety of sources, including literature. An avid reader of biographies (among those he’s read recently: Harry Truman, Hitler, and Stalin), he also favors authors Richard Russo, John Irving, and Kurt Vonnegut. Currently, he’s studying forensic biology with an eye toward becoming a surgical technician.

“In this band,” Wolff said, “I’m really the one responsible for doing everything — scheduling practices, booking shows. I’d really rather be able to have someone else like a manager to take care of dealing with all those people, because I really don’t have the personality for it. Plus, it takes my attention away from writing songs. It’s definitely affected the songs I’ve written.”

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