Nate Wood Interview

Nate Wood Interview

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Part Two

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By Steve Krugman
December 31, 2009

Who Is This Drummer?!
It was only a few weeks ago that I was introduced to the drumming of Nate Wood. Have you heard Tigran Hamasyan’s Red Hail? You should. My first reaction was, “Tigran Whatnow?”; my second reaction quickly followed: “Who is this drummer?!” Hamasyan’s music is stunningly inventive, complex, and stylistically diverse. The Armenian pianist breeds elements of Persian music, classical, jazz, drum n bass, and metal to create a genetically-engineered, mutant sound that is bold and exciting and fresh. His choice of drummer could not have been better.

I Googled “Nate Wood” on the spot. The name was familiar, but I had no real association to the player. Neither did Google. How could this guy be killing so far below the radar? A sparse, abandoned website; a dubious fansite; a dusty MySpace page; and a Gretsch artist profile with an ancient picture and a single reference to a band, it turns out, he hasn’t played with in years. The National Association of Tower Erectors has more web-presence than this Nate. It didn’t take much asking around, though, to realize that—at least among many L.A. musicians—he wasn’t so stealthy. “Oh yeah, Nate Wood’s a bad-ass,” was the collective response. “He’s playing with his band Kneebody next week,” came a more specific response.

Downtown Connection
One night that next week, I made a deliberate point of being at Seven Grand in downtown L.A. to see the drummer who so forcefully grabbed my attention on Tigran’s album just a couple weeks before. That show was the subject of a Hittin’ blog here the next day. The Kneebody aesthetic is equally diverse, inventive, and exciting as Red Hail, only groovier and freer. Wood’s playing was equally ideal. I soon realized that a mini-review of the show was not adequate. If local players knew of him, they still didn’t know much. And his talent was deserving of a brighter spotlight. Personally, I wanted to know more, and can think of no better purpose for this website than to expand awareness of over-achieving, under-exposed L.A.-based drummers like Nate. We set up an interview for New Years Eve day; Nate would be packing up and moving to New York the following Tuesday. We would get him just before he becomes an over-achieving, over-exposed N.Y.C.-based drummer.

He invited me out to another Seven Grand Show the night before the interview—this time with guitarist, singer/songwriter Richard Stekol; Adam Benjamin from Kneebody on Rhodes; and Greg Leisz on pedal steel. “Pretty fun band,” he wrote in an email. I didn’t ask who was playing bass. I made plans to be there. Keep in mind, this was the night before New Years Eve—there were definitely bodies in the room, but it wasn’t quite so difficult to get a coveted spot (if you’re there for the music and not just the whiskey) side-stage. As we worked our way up the narrow venue, the music was pulsing and grooving deep. This was a more bluesy, soulful, and vocal-centric vibe—very different than Kneebody’s instrumental athletics. Still, the band were clearly heavies. Nate Wood came into view seated at his four-piece rosewood gloss Gretsch kit with a conspicuously clashing Hot Rod Red Fender bass strapped around his neck, playing complex and melodic bass lines with left hand on the fretboard, and fluid, driving time with his right on the drums.

There’s some drum n bass for you. You’ll never hear a tighter, more telepathic rhythm section than Nate Wood on drums with Nate Wood on bass. Plus, the shit he was playing was at least as hip as any great bassist and drummer manage with four hands. I did not see that coming, and spent most the night just watching and smiling.

There’s More
Yes, he’s a multi-instrumentalist–he plays bass and guitar professionally. Currently, he’s the guitarist for Taylor Hawkins and The Coattail Riders. He’s also a singer/songwriter. His most recent solo album, Fall (2007), has undertones of Elliot Smith and XTC—it’s good. He’s also an engineer/producer. He engineered and produced Red Hail and the latest Richard Stekol release (on which he also plays drums, of course), “The Point of Stars.”

Nate’s parents are both professional musicians and performed together with Stekol—and Tris Imboden on drums— in the band, Honk, during the early 70’s. His dad, Steve Wood, also played in Kenny Loggins’ band for ten years and is still a pro keyboardist—he killed on a tune sitting-in with his son, Stekol and Leisz at the Seven Grand gig. An odd family dynamic, it may seem, but for Nate music and the musician’s lifestyle were simply part of his world growing up in the family’s Laguna Beach home. Leisz, a long-time friend of the elder Wood, told me that a very young Nate would intrepidly walk up and start strumming the strings of his guitar as intuitively as most toddlers might stick a dirty quarter in their mouth—not quite Leisz’s words. A more accurate quote, Steve related to me that he had a distinct feeling that Nate had “been around once before,” referring to an uncanny wisdom and calm about him as a kid. I came back to his dad’s words listening to Nate talk about his early affinity and obsession with the drums. Preternatural explanations are as good as any.

The more I learned about Nate’s early years and formative experience playing in his parents’ band, I began to realize that, in a significant way, the Stekol show was really the manifestation of his deepest musical roots. He grew up playing with those men. It seemed right that it would be his final gig before leaving his hometown, and forging personal and musical territory beyond.

Branching Out
In this interview, Nate’s first, we cover his earliest days (he put down the drums at age four!) as a self critical, driven pre-schooler; his “comeback” at age nine and first pro gigs with his parents at twelve; his hard-hitting high school period, when by his senior year Nate now says with a knowing chuckle that he “was pretty good”; stints at LAMA and CalArts, including a class on the History of Horror Movies; and his professional path since that has led him to growing acclaim and a crossroads that includes his now consummated trans-coastal move to New York.

I was happy to elicit Nate’s story and help augment the guy’s egregious Google presence—surely a fleeting void.

Video produced by Carl King Creative.