From desert soirees to swanksville

Woodsman reveals the forest for the trees

P.J. Nutting | Boulder Weekly

To our great disappointment, Denver post-rock group Woodsman aren’t whittling sticks in a log cabin when Boulder Weekly reaches guitarist Trevor Peterson by phone. At the first stop of their current tour, the group finds themselves in the rather plush Hotel Congress in Tuscon, Ariz., a combination hotel/club that Peterson describes on Twitter as “swanksville.”

“We like to camp a lot, too,” Peterson tells us. “Last night, on our way down here from Colorado, we camped in New Mexico in the desert in the middle of nowhere. It was real rad, completely silent, beautiful.”

As the name suggests, Woodsman is used to DIY accommodations while on tour, often camping on the carpeted floors of new friends in new towns. They aren’t thick-bearded survivalists, but in Brooklyn-indie fashion, they hold down jobs parking cars, selling liquor and running deliveries that are hopefully still available when they return from their travels.

“This tour stop has been pretty strange, but in a nice, easy way,” Peterson says, inadvertently describing much of the Woodsman aesthetic. The group began their collage-influenced jams when Peterson met guitarist/vocalist Mark Demolar at their first day in film school and found a mutual reverence for the works of the late filmmaker and CU professor Stan Brakhage.

“Right now [Tucson] actually kinda reminds me of Inland Empire, it’s more [David] Lynch than Brakhage right now,” Peterson says. “There’s an eerie … Tucson is just a weird town, kind of a vortex-type town, a hotbed for alien activity, et cetera, et cetera. The hotel we’re at is like the Chateau Marmont in L.A. We’re surrounded by all this weirdness, but we’re in the calmest, cleanest place we can be in this town.”

Any Colorado band named after bucolic mountain imagery is expected to play bluegrass, but Woodsman is more Animal Collective than Yonder Mountain String Band. Peterson, who grew up in Colorado, said his family reunions were actually full of bluegrass players.

“I was immersed in it as a kid, but it never connected with me,” he said. “I was listening to Sonic Youth and Flaming Lips in my room as opposed to digging on the bluegrass thing.”

In terms of sound, the group found common ground in “old German ’70s psych stuff ” — bands such as Can, Amon Duul II, Peterson says. But as film students, Brakhage is a predominant influence on the greater concept of Woodsman’s artistic goals.

“We’re not as academic about it, I don’t think,” Peterson says. “We just kind of ‘do,’ if you will, and that was Stan’s whole thing, he just ‘did,’ and whatever happened, happened, and you deal with that. You have an idea; you run with it. The idea is over, and you have a finished product. It’s like gathering ideas in a natural way and thinking about those ideas after they’re created, whether it’s visual or musical, and then you compose them into a structure that makes sense to you at the time.”

Their track “Beached,” from the Mystery Tape EP, is a great example of the cloudy, semi-conscious visual world of Woodsmen that glows in and out of sight like fields of drunken fireflies stumbling to their homes in the desert. As Woodsman’s discography grows, soon to include a new EP this fall, these textural jams become increasingly concise and glimmer in and out of existence within minutes. However, these ideas are brought to the stage to be stretched and smoothed by the two guitarists and two drummers until the disparate threads become taut. That’s part of the excitement of any type of experimental art, which is built around the suspense of watching a knot become a string.

“The recording of ‘Beached’ is four or five minutes, but it’s transformed into this whole new monster. It’s pretty rehearsed and everything, but it’s now a 10-minute song,” Peterson says. “It’s still the same riff, the same chords and everything, but on the record it’s kind of like a mellow kraut jam, and when we play it live we’ve inserted a new vibe into it, it’s more uptempo, more exciting song. We like to do that sort of thing, take a mellow jam off a record and kind of rework it into something that’s more exciting, more movable.”