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Interview with Woodfish & Ernst Bernard of HelloYoung Films

Following the release of their new single Damn Thang. I took the opportunity to speak with the band Woodfish and really learn what makes them tick as a unit. In this interview, we talk about the new song, what's coming in the pipeline for the band, their thoughts on crowd-funding and their local music scene in New Jersey.

I also managed to catch a few words with the director of the Damn Thang music video, Ernst Bernard at HelloYoung Films. Where he talks about turning the song into a visual story for all to enjoy.

You've recently released your newest single "Damn Thang". Could you tell me a bit about the songs and how it all came together?

Steve: You see with Woodfish we've had a lot of line up problems over the years. Problems with singers, guitarists etc. You know, pretty typical of any rock n roll band. So, I had this idea for a song that was solely for the bass guitar. At first, I was not the singer for Woodfish, I was always the bassist and I just tried to fulfil that role. However, after a lot of drama with past singers, I thought "you know what? I'm just going to learn how to sing myself". So, I had to learn how to sing and play this bass at the same time, as a result, there were long periods where Woodfish was really not doing much at all. While I was learning how to do all of that, I was writing a tune and I thought to myself "There really just has to be more songs with the word thang in it!" and that was the concept! 

I just thought back to some of the great old songs that I listened to. It's crazy but there are times that I've talk to people about how, in a way, I want to bring back disco. You know, bring back the Funk!. So, I'm playing this song, and goddamit, it's going to have the word Thang in it. 

I wrote the whole song on the bass and it was originally meant to be exclusively a bass guitar tune.  As Woodfish wasn't really doing much at the time, I went to an open mic night at this pub called Ron's Pub in Long Branch, New Jersey and I thought I'm going to make a fool of myself on stage and see if this thing even works with me singing and playing bass. From that night, I then started recording the idea and adding new elements. Once Woodfish was back on and Chris joined up with us, the song became a full band tune. That's pretty much how it all came about.

Yeah, I really love the new dynamic in the band. On the song itself, I love how the new elements come together. Especially part way through, where there's a Spanish guitar sounding part.

Steve: We call that Flamenco-Funk!

That's another thing altogether. When I'm home, I love songwriting, I've studied it. At the same time, I'm always trying to come up with innovative things. Something, a little different from the traditional themes. That middle section, I wanted something a little different so I thought, you know what? Why not Flamenco Funk?

That's one way to do it, sure! So, when it came time to make the video, Ernst, how did you take the words and the style of the song, and turn it into the video?

Ernst: Well, I had a bit of a back and forth with the guys and we discussed the meaning behind the song. We interpreted the message of the song and got that cool vibe. So we took some inspiration from older movies where you have this guy that's really interested in a girl but he can't get to her. So, in the Damn Thang video, we created a picture where the main character can be with this girl because she's so right for him but it can be really frustrating to just be with her. 

When I talked with the guys, we tried to come up with a concept that we could turn into a solid visual story.  Then, Steve and I were discussing ideas of what could be a funny visual to put into the video, and we kind of just settled on the pizza guy situation. Once that started, we liked the idea and we thought, "yeah, this could work". It then turned it into this cool fantasy of the pizza guy trying to get the girl and everything just keeps going more and more awry. 

That's quite interesting, just as a further point, is it difficult to tell a story in such a short time frame, such as a music video?

Ernst: Well, yes and no. For me anyway, since I do a lot of music videos, I'm always trying to find a way to tell a story in three to four minutes. If the song has enough sections and parts, it can be pretty easy. With Damn Thang, it has a lot of good moments where I can put in interesting visuals. Like you said, the Spanish guitar moment was a great part and I could do some really cool stuff there. There were loads of cool things I could do, there were choruses, bridges, brakes and the jam section where there are no lyrics at all. When you have a variety of parts to a song, it's quite easy to put those peaks and valleys to the video. 

Steve: That was one of the things I really liked about Ernst. Prior to reaching out to him, I had reached out to a number of other companies, directors, etc. Don't get me wrong, everyone was very good. Yet, Ernst came in and he was so self-confident. I could tell right off of the bat he knew what he was doing and when we were talking, he would be asking questions and really getting into it. I could see his passion and it made me more enthusiastic. This was the first time we've ever done a real full-blown music video. So from the outset, I told him "Woodfish, is a strange entity. We take a lot of pride in our musicianship and I wanted to show that musicianship in the video". So, I asked him not just to make a story based video, but also show off that musicianship. Ernst really jumped on that and went along with it and I'm glad we went with him.

So, for Chris, what is your approach for guitar when playing in the group?

Chris: So, the way I always approach the guitar in a band situation, and I don't know why this is so uncommon around guitar players, but the easiest thing is not playing. Especially with Steve's take on bass parts. My first job is to figure out where all of the spaces still are so that I don't step over him and his pattern. Between the percussion elements and the technical bass parts, there's no real reason for me to be doing the same thing. So, I have to figure out what I can still add to this without making it complete overkill. You know, I'll play some funky chords and try to keep the melody until there's space for the guitar solo. Then I'll work out what I can do to really enhance the song and not just play a whole bunch of notes really fast. That's pretty much what I do.

What are the plans for the band going forward then?

Steve: Well we're just getting back into the swing of things. Back in the day, we used to wait and then try to make a full record. Then I started to listen to how other bands are now doing things in the modern day. So we thought, why not just put out a single and see how things go. It's now all rolling along really great. People see the passion in the band and we've kinda been rolling with the flow. We're going back into the studio and we'll record another three/four songs but we're going to take the same approach. You know, we're going into the studio and we're going to record them as singles. So it will be one song, then another and soon we'll have an EP. Then we'll call the EP "All Together Now". So yeah, we're just going with the flow rather than forcing things into place. 

Dominic: The problem we've had in the past is that we've never been consistent. You know, we made an album in 1997 and then we didn't make another one for another three years. So in my mind, it would be ideal if we just keep rolling with "Damn Thang" and while that's doing well, we'll finish up these other songs and we'll become more consistent. So there's a steady stream of stuff coming out. 

Steve: Dom brings up a good point, in terms of the consistency. When you have a lot of member changes, it puts a hindrance on performing live. You know, at the end of the day we're musicians and playing is what we do. We're an original band and we're in this for the love of the game, we're not in it for the money. You know hopefully one day the money will come but at the moment we're just playing because we love it.  At the same time though, it's hard to get out there to play, when you're line-up keeps changing. I mean our first two albums have two different singers and saxophone all over it. We don't have that now. Now, there's going to be consistency.

Great news, I'll be on the lookout for those new songs! You've mentioned the money. Would you ever consider creating a crowd-funding campaign to fund the next EP or the next video?

Steve: Possibly in the future. One of the reasons we haven't is because of all of the drama and changes in the past. When you're in an original band it's hard to get fans but when you do they are the best fans you could ever ask for. Yet in the past, I've had resistance to this idea because there's so much responsibility to handle the money correctly and the band was never stable enough to support it. In our mind, our fans are our friends and I didn't want to jeopardise their money in something that was so unstable. 

Now there's more stability in the band, I would be more open to something like that, but that would be the last nightmare I'd want to deal with.

Dominic: Yeah, I don't know how good it is to say this or not, but dealing with musicians is not an easy task. So to take someone else's money, knowing what I know and everything that's happened in the last ten years, it would make me feel really uneasy.

Who are some bands that you would recommend, who you feel don't get enough attention?

Dominic: Well this is a kind of catch 22 because he's on the phone. It would be The Inversion Circus, which is Chris' other baby. They're a different style of music all together but they're really good. 

Chris: We've done a bunch of shows with a tonne of local bands that ended up being a really good fit. Crust, is a good one and Mythology is another. Both acts I've shared the stage with and I would not hesitate to do so again.

Steve: There's a lot of good cover bands out here as well. I mean we do the original thing, but it's not like we're against cover bands, I mean, they are playing songs that were once original. One guy who supports us tremendously runs his own cover band called The Moroccan Sheepherders. His name is Steve Warendorf and he supports music in general.

Dominic: Yeah, he puts on a big festival here every year and tries to put on as many original acts as possible. He's very supportive of all the bands and that's hard to come by. 

That's awesome. I guess I will have to get myself over there to check it all out! So, I'll ask my final question to wrap this up. If you could go back in time, knowing what you know now, what would be the one thing you'd tell your past self?

Steve: Learn how to sing earlier! I always wanted to be a singer and people told me, "well, no one wants to hear that". I'll tell you what, I'm really glad that I pushed my way though sounding bad in the beginning. It's really good to come out on the other side and fronting the band now.

Dominic: For me it would be "Don't stop". I had some problems in the past that stopped me from doing the things I wanted to do. So I would say not to give up and keep moving forward. 

Chris: I started off playing piano, through to the age of 18 or so. At the time there was so much stuff that my teacher was telling me to do that I didn't appreciate. I just hated the practice and learning the scales. Now I look back on it, I realise how important that stuff was to me. I would probably say "Hey, you're going to use this someday it's not just a load of crap. Do the practice and learn the scales and appreciate it and appreciate what your teacher is telling you to do.". I never got the chance to tell her that.  

Fantastic! Thank you all so much for chatting to me tonight!




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