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Spoleto Question-and-Artist: Jano Rix of The Wood Brothers jams on joy

The Wood Brothers

The Wood Brothers are primed for the spotlight in Cistern Yard, playing two concerts for Spoleto Festival USA 2021. Alysse Gafkjen/Spoleto Festival USA/Provided 

Fathomless soul meets bouyant folk at Cistern Yard this week when The Wood Brothers take the stage as part of the lineup for Spoleto Festival USA 2021. They are set to infuse the oak-lined, outdoor venue with incomparable, uplifting musicianship that never shies away from the probing, complex questions of life.

The Nashville-based band has been laying down such tracks over numerous acclaimed albums for 15 years, starting with the 2006 "Ways Not To Lose" for Blue Note. There's also "Smoke Ring Halo," for Zac Brown’s Southern Ground Artists and "Live At The Barn," recorded at Levon Helm's famed Woodstock Barn. In 2018, they moved in a freer direction, unfettered with "One Drop of Truth," which garnered an Emmy nomination for "Best Americana Album.”

Their latest, "Kingdom In My Mind," released by Honey Jar/Thirty Tigers, spins spontaneity further still. Extensive, freewheeling jam sessions enfold listeners on a sonic journey — one given depth and ballast through soul-searching lyrics mining circumstance, mortality and human nature.

All this plays out through three members — two Wood brothers, bassist Chris Wood and guitarist Oliver Wood, and drummer/keyboardist Jano Rix. The multi-instrumentalist Rix, arguably a Wood Brother from another mother, propels the rhythms that keep the richly layered music moving forward. Here, he shares his own journey during this singular year and change.

Tell us what you’ve been up to during the past year of the pandemic.

At first, not much, as touring disappeared. Luckily by the fall it turned into producing and playing on lots of records. I actually ended up with too much work! But, for months before that I struggled, like most, with the isolation and many dark thoughts and too little joy.

Any new discoveries over the year?

Ike White. My new discoveries are often old. 

Have you played many live shows — and what does that feel like after the lockdown? 

The first one felt insanely joyful. Blissful! I haven’t played many. Just started touring again last month. I’m trying to not take this for granted any more.

Has the past year informed your creative process or any specific works? If so, how?

Yeah, I think more about what processes I (and others) enjoy and don’t. How I want to spend my hours in the studio, on tour, with my wife, with my friends, with my own mind and ego. Especially in the studio, stepping back and seeing where the joy is and isn’t. It isn’t in editing or comping takes. I want to err more on the side of everyone making sounds in the moment more. More time doing that, less time listening and analyzing and editing and punching on takes. More playing till it’s right. That’s why we all started, to spend our time enjoying playing. Not to sit agonizing over “fixing” things.

Anything you’re hoping to do while in Charleston?

I want to see maybe one of the plays or dance performances that’s part of the festival if I can.

Any “silver lining” epiphanies of late?

Pain is often my body and brain’s way of letting me know I’m putting too much pressure on myself, and looking for problems. This is personal. Once again, not focusing on “fixing” things.

Follow Maura Hogan on Twitter at @msmaurahogan.

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