Every Monday through Friday, we deliver a different song as part our Song of the Day podcast subscription. This podcast features exclusive KEXP in-studio performances, unreleased songs, and recordings from independent artists that our DJs think you should hear. Each and every Friday we offer songs by local artists. Today’s featured selection, chosen by Midday Show Host Cheryl Waters, is “Graves” by Ravenna Woods from their self-released album Valley of the Headless Men.
Folks who live in the Northwest seem to have a deeper affinity and understanding for making (and listening to) music that has both bright and dark elements to it. Regardless of genre, the music that takes deep roots in to our collective psyche falls into this, whether it’s music that sounds sad but has an uplifting quality to it or poppy melodies with dreary lyrics. It may have something to do with the fact that sometimes it rains while it’s sunny or that we really only have two seasons: summer or rainy and cold. Whatever it is, we’re drawn to artists like Elliott Smith, The Cave Singers, The Fleet Foxes, Modest Mouse, Radiohead, Elliott Brood and a plethora of others who blur the lines between the dichotomy.
Early last year Seattle was introduced to Ravenna Woods who played dark, haunting melodies on typically folk acoustic instruments with a punkish gusto and paired them with intricate harmonies. They became a fast favorite of local bloggers and fans embraced their debut album Demons and Lakes. Last month, they released Valley of the Headless Men, which builds on what made them paramour to local music lovers yet incorporates their experimental (and even playful) side with the addition of keyboards. Today’s song “Graves” features an eerie toy piano plinking amongst haunting harmonies, driving rhythms and aphotic lyrics, yet there is still something unquantifiably hopeful about it too.
Multi-instrumentalist Chris Cunningham talks about how they find that balance.
Your music can be both uplifting and haunting. How do you strike the balance between the two?
We are definitely more interested and inspired by haunting, darker sounding melodies, so I think that is what is at the core of the songwriting. The uplifting sounding stuff in our music is almost always accompanied with particularly dreary lyrics, which I suppose is an example of striking a balance between the two ideas.
Where do you typically find the inspiration for your lyrics?
Typically I use the metal rod in a lightening storm approach, in that after I’ve composed (and usually tracked) a song, I’ll just sing nonsense over the top until hopefully lightening strikes and cohesive ideas start patching the nonsense together. The result is usually an amalgamation of current events in the world (environmental, political, cultural, etc.), literature, dreams, movies, and just a touch here and there of personal experiences.
What can you tell me about “Graves?”
We’ve had the musical idea for graves bouncing around for a long time. Lyrically it’s this odd kind of idea of system’s exploiting certain types of people; using them to fit into various parts of the “machinery” if you will. And the fact that the personalities/mindsets that those people have are sort of a renewable resource. Patriots ready to fight for their country and not ask questions, or slave away at their jobs for nothing, etc. It’s this cycle of life and death and ingrained complacency. So the idea that the lyrics and music video play off of is that recycling of people... “They got the souls from the grave...” Fun stuff!
You guys use a lot of different instrumentation in your music. What was the most fun for you to play or incorporate into your songs?
We all are definitely big fans of the two newest additions - toy piano and keyboards. Toy pianos have this inherently creepy music box tone to them that’s amazing. There’s just a touch of keyboards on the new album, but we’re really excited about expanding on that in our next group of songs. I think probably hands down our favorite addition was the viola in “World of Color.” Jacob Anderson from Hey Marseilles came into our studio and recorded that with us. It was magical.
You seem to have a fun and easy chemistry on-stage, do you spend a lot of time together outside of the band?
We do. We’re pretty much a band of best friends, which needless to say is one of the best things that you can ask for in a group. We’ll have “boy’s nights” at my house on the top of Queen Anne where just the band and maybe 1 or 2 close acquaintances just run around and goof off ‘till the wee hours of the morn. The next day my face is always sore from laughing so damn hard!
Ravenna Woods is playing at The Tractor next Friday June 10th as part of the Noise for the Needy festival with The Builders and the Butchers and Yuni in Taxco. You can also catch them later this summer at the Capitol Hill Block Party and Bumbershoot. More info on their Myspace page or their website.
Here’s the video for “Graves”