If you are a regular or even occasional reader of this fine blog or even if you keep accidentally stumbling across it in the search for computer information you’d probably have sussed by now that Mike and I like Wozniak (writes Andy Wood). In fact it might be fair to say that we have a lot of love for the Edinburgh based quartet.
From their early shows and recordings through to this year’s magnificent Pikes Peak E.P. they have consistently surprised and enthralled us and even on occasion made our ears ring and ribcages rattle.
The terms ‘shoegaze’ and ‘post-rock’ have been used a fair bit in descriptions of the band but, while the tags are meant in a positive way, I feel duty bound to point out that neither term does the magnificent juggernaut of their sound justice.
On stage there is no static, pedal board gazing but an energetic, full-on performance. And sure, the songs are largely instrumental and have their tricksy moments and have evasive, strange titles but they are no dull mathematicians or musos.
Two things that strike me every time I listen to or watch Wozniak is how beautiful they sound and how physical they sound. Songs like ‘Kreuzberg’ totally blow me away with the epic, intense sound that shifts all over the place leaving me thrown from point to point yet strangely anchored. Other songs such as ‘Columbo’s Car’, ‘Paper Hat’ and the brand new single ‘Five Star’ are more playful and mischievous. Live they shift effortlessly from battering you senseless to making you want to dance, albeit a little awkwardly.
On the songs everything holds together wonderfully, there is a Wozniak hive mind at work as everyone and everything contributes to the sound with no extraneous bits or pointless exhibitions of individual musicianship. Every note counts and the result is spectacular and inventive.
I pretty much can’t hear the words when Sarah sings yet the songs she does add her voice to would be somehow diminished without the vocals. James and John provide the perfect rhythm section, at points grounding the sound or holding things together but at the same time they are as explosive and imaginative as the guitars which shift from gently melodic to full-on shredding with plenty of other ranges in between.
Live, time seems to stand still while Wozniak are playing. The world could have ended outside, weeks could have passed and I’m thinking it was only a few moments ago they started. I love to immerse myself in the sound, find a freedom in just being part of the music in a way I don’t always do when at a gig.
It’s cinematic but warm and welcoming rather than just daunting. Epic and delicate, full of opposites and contrasts. All wonderful to experience.
Prior to their return to The Cool Cat Club Simon took the time to answer a few questions and to suggest another line of questioning he might be keen on pursuing.
How are things in the world of Wozniak?
“Pretty good, thanks. We’re just about to release a new track, we’ve started recording our debut album and we’ve got a good few shows coming up, including our return to Dundee.”
You recently released your second record, Pikes Peak. How has the response to that been?
“The response was great, actually – probably a lot more positive than we expected it to be. The EP got some great reviews, and it’s had a lot of radio play as well, from all over the world. There have been some really enthusiastic supporters of the EP who have done loads to get the EP to a wider audience.”
Having funded the release of the Pikes Peak E.P. via Kickstarter, how did you find the experience and would you recommend it to other bands?
“It ended up being quite a lot of hard work – my initial thinking was that we’d just stick up a quick description of what we were planning to do, but the others had a bit more experience and knowledge of it and made sure we approached it in the right way, with a cool little video featuring Roderick, our spokesrobot, setting out our plans. We also had a range of different packages that people could buy, which we spent a lot of time deciding on, and as the campaign ran we provided regular updates. I think it really captured people’s imaginations, and even though it was hard work, it was really good fun at the same time.
“I would recommend crowdfunding to other bands, whether through Kickstarter or other sites, but would advise them to make sure they did it right. I think one of the big things is to make sure you get your target right and be really clear about what you will use the money for – we wanted to be really open with people and not let anyone think we were ripping them off.
“We worked out what money we would need to complete the recording of the EP, get CDs made and then do a bit of distribution, as well as being able to send out all the rewards that people had bought. We also took into account the Kickstarter fees, which ended up reducing the total amount to lower than the stated target, although not by much.
“Overall, we probably ended up spending a little more than we were funded, but making a profit wasn’t the point – the point was to enable us to make the EP, which would otherwise have taken a lot longer to come out. I’m pretty happy with the way it worked out, and with the support and goodwill it helped generate.”
Watching you live and listening to the recordings and following you occasionally on social media it seems to me you enjoy being in a band even more than you did first time around. Is this a fair observation?
“For me it definitely is. In other bands I’ve been in there was a genuine sense of trying to ‘make it’ while playing music that wasn’t particularly fashionable or popular! It was always a struggle to do even the most simple things, like get gigs. Speaking personally, I’m doing it for different reasons now, and am really enjoying the opportunity to make a noise with people I like.”
What would you say the difference is being in a band second time around and, dare I say it, being slightly older and possibly wiser?
“It’s very decent of you only to say I’m ‘slightly’ older! As I mentioned above, the context is very different now. We started Wozniak as a way to get back into making music, with no particular intention of it becoming anything like it is now. While it’s great that we’ve had so much really positive coverage and had the chance to play gigs all over the place, I realise that we’re not going to be able to give up our jobs, and so doing the band in that context sets particular parameters.
“Having said that, we put everything we’ve got into the band, and take it really seriously. Sometimes I have to remind myself that we’ve all got various responsibilities that mean we can’t necessarily do certain things that we’re offered, but that’s the way it is, and I occasionally need to stop myself getting too frustrated.
“I think one of the biggest differences for me is being able to do so much of it ourselves, rather than having to rely on other people. It feels very much like a self-sustaining thing, and, it’s an obvious truism – but social media and the internet make it so much easier to reach people that would otherwise be oblivious to you. The obscurity that so many bands are toiling in seems so much less obscure these days!”
How do you approach writing songs?
“We usually start with a riff that one of us has come up with, and then build on it. At the start there were a few songs that I wrote all the parts for, although that was a consequence of me sitting at home writing stuff before there was a band. Even those songs, though, become something different once everyone starts playing them.
“Now, it’s pretty much the case that someone will start playing something and we’ll all join in – it’s definitely not jamming, but it’s a fairly organic process to making something.”
Is Wozniak a democratic enterprise or is benign dictatorship the way forward for bands?
“Good question! It’s a tricky balance, because each of us is an opinionated, strong-willed person and that can sometimes lead to some tension, although usually only around minor details. I think we’ve all had to compromise on things at some point, but overall I think we have a similar vision of what Wozniak should be. I think all the best bands have one person who ultimately has the final say, but that’s a pretty risky approach, and I’m not sure I could live with the arguments that would generate.”
Having made a couple of rather cool, atmospheric videos for ‘MFMB’ and ‘El Marasme’ how do you feel about the medium and what is your approach to making them?
“I’m glad you like the videos – there’s also one for ‘Paper Hat’ too. I really like doing videos – John is a professional photographer and James is a filmmaker, and so they’ve very much been in charge of this process. Sarah has also made good questions for concepts for videos. It turns out that I’ve got no ideas for videos at all, although I’m handy for carrying some of the equipment.
“Videos are another creative outlet for the band, and they’ve been well-received. Just like lots of other aspects of being in band today, making a video and sharing it with people is so much easier than it used to be.”
What has been your favourite response to Wozniak’s music so far?
“There have been loads, actually! The EP got a brilliant review from an Indonesian blog, which spotted a narrative thread through the five tracks that none of the band had considered, and some of the other reviews have been really thoughtful and considered.
“I think my favourite overall response has been from a Dublin-based DJ called Del Chaney, who does a brilliant show called Primal Radio on a station called Radio Aktiv. He really loves the band, and has been constantly promoting us and getting us out to a wider audience. We gave him the first play of the new song, ‘Five Star’ on his show on 7 November, which he declared to be Wozniak Friday. Shucks…”
I believe you are now in the process of recording your debut album. How far in to that process are you and when can we expect to see it appear?
“So far we’ve done two days in the studio, which have resulted in one song completely finished and mastered which we released on 13 November as a free download, and three other songs pretty much done, save for a few overdubs and mixing.
“I’d say we’d probably need another four days to finish off the recording then another couple of days to mix and master, That doesn’t sound a lot, but we’re fitting the sessions in around our own commitments as well as the availability of our engineer/producer Craig Ross (who plays in Broken Records) at the Depot in Edinburgh.
“Hopefully it’ll be done for late Spring or early Summer next year, and we’re planning to release a couple of tracks from it before then and now, as well as mulling over what to call it…”
Will the album be released in a physical format? Both the single and E.P. appeared on C.D. Do you believe that, in an age of downloads and streaming physical artefacts are still important?
“It will definitely be on CD, and hopefully vinyl, too. I’m too old not to want to make it available as an actual thing. I still buy most of my music on CD, even though I tend then to upload it to my computer and listen to it on my iPod.
“I would say that the split of sales between the EP is roughly half-and-half between downloads and CDs, so I think a lot of people who like the band want to own something solid. When you buy the physical EP from Bandcamp you get a download as well, so it’s a nice balance.
“I’m still not completely comfortable with streaming, although you can stream all of Wozniak’s material via Bandcamp – I quite regularly look at the stats and there’s a regular flow of songs being streamed but not downloaded.
“I know there’s a lot of talk that people no longer feel the need to own their own music, that it’s sufficient for them to stream it and have access to a much wider library than would otherwise be the case, but I think it’s important to support bands you like by buying their merchandise, and I like to own a physical version of the music.
“We’ve not put the EP on Spotify, even though it can be streamed through Bandcamp and the band doesn’t get any money for those streams. I don’t have any particular objection to Spotify, but I’m not sure about it yet – sorry to be a Luddite! I think it’s something we’ll need to have a chat about when it comes to releasing the album.
“Having said that, the new track (‘Five Star’) will be available only as a free download until the album comes out.”
Edinburgh has received a fair bit of criticism towards its support or perceived lack of support for new bands. How do you find the scene in Edinburgh?
“It’s a funny one. I’ve been to really well-attended and enthusiastic shows in Edinburgh, where as you say there is a perception of a lack of support, and have also been to poorly attended gigs in Glasgow. I think there’s definitely a scene in Edinburgh, even if it’s a little bit smaller than Glasgow’s scene – that’s your natural Edinburgh reserve for you!
“I think people are generally a bit reluctant to get out and see local bands, whatever city you’re in, and I don’t know why that is. Of course, there are always people who will go along to as many gigs as they can, and I think they’re so important to local scenes.
“We put on some gigs of our own through our promotion arm Morningside Young Team, and predicting the crowd can be a real mystery. We’ve done a few gigs where we’ve had a fairly low turnout, and we’ve done some with a great turnout, and I can’t really spot the variable – good bands (sometimes the same bands), same venue, low prices. Who knows? It’s important to continue to support local live music, and I definitely feel as though there’s a reasonably strong scene in Edinburgh just now.”
What do the coming months hold for Wozniak?
“We’ve got a run of gigs to finish off the year, concluding with our Christmas show in Edinburgh on 12 December, and then we’ll probably take a break over Christmas and reconvene in January. During that time we’ll no doubt try to demo a few new bits and pieces for developing into new songs. We’re also heading to London in February, so that’s exciting.”
What is the question that you would most like to be asked? And what would your answer be?
“I would like to do an in-depth interview about guitar gear, sad guitar geek that I am. The answer would be long and boring.”
Anything else that you would like to add?
“I’d like to thank Manic Pop Thrills for giving Wozniak so many (virtual) column inches from the outset, and to the Cool Cat Club for having us back to Dundee.”
You can pick up some music here http://wozniak.bandcamp.com/
And check them out on https://www.facebook.com/wozniakofficial?fref=ts
And for Andy the ‘Paper Hat’ video!