by: Thomas D. Mooney
We recently caught up with Tony Kamel, guitarist and vocalist of up-and-coming bluegrass quartet Wood & Wire. The Austin-based band have been together for only about a year, but they’re chemistry wouldn’t tell you that; give any of they’re rare tunes online and you’d think they’d been playing around Austin for years.
Their songs are built on three-part harmonies, intricate and detailed guitar, mandolin, and banjo interplay, and elements that are both traditional, yet original, fresh and crisp. You can’t help but toe tap on a song such as “Whole Damn World,” which I’ve had on repeat for a 10 times in a row (If you look on their website, you can find a handful of live free songs).
Wood & Wire will be playing The Blue Light Live Thursday (August 23).
New Slang: You guys are a relatively new band. You mentioned that you guys are going to be recording your debut album soon. What are some of the details on that?
Tony Kamel: We’re leaving and recording the album the first week of October in Nashville. The guy who is producing it for us is a really incredible sound engineer and has worked with a lot of our favorite bands. He’s got a studio on his property. We get to stay there and really focus on the project. It’s going to end up being a really cool album I think. All original songs, mostly written by me and the mandolin player, Matt Slusher. And there’s a few by our banjo player, Trevor Smith. We’ve been working on it basically for a whole year, kind of preparing for it. We’re really excited about having something tangible for fans to listen to.
NS: You said most of the songs have been written by you and the Matt. How do you guys build up a song? What’s that songwriting process for you guys?
TK: Some of these tunes were written previous to us coming together as a band. When we first started, we just kind of sat around in a circle. Whoever wrote the tune would play it for the other guys and then we’d pick each other’s brains about arrangement and some little changes here and there. Then several of the other tunes, Matt and I had written with the band in mind. Those are my favorite ones. We knew each other’s strengths and knew how to write them out with the others in mind. With that, the songs come out real natural and the arrangement process is the same. So I’ll write a song–there’s several different ways a song will come out. Sometimes I’ll just puke it out. A song will just come out all at once. Sometimes I’ll start writing and then let it sit for a couple of weeks and then revisit it.
NS: You mentioned that a number of songs were from before this. What were you in before this?
TK: Dominique [Fisher] and I–Dominique is the bass player–were in a couple of different bluegrass projects that were more just for fun. They were with some friends of ours. You know, we all had jobs. We weren’t doing it too serious. So there were a few songs during that time. I was just in my room alone. Nothing really in mind. Just writing some tunes. Matt, he was a member of The South Austin Jug Band. They were really popular and he was a founding member. After he left that band, he started writing tunes for a solo project. And he has an album out. With Wood & Wire, we play several of those tunes from that album. He kind of had a solo project he was working on. Me, I didn’t have anything really. I had no real direction. I wasn’t performing at all. I was just writing songs in my room for fun. No ambition. Just to have fun with it.
NS: How is the bluegrass scene in the Austin area? I don’t really know much about bluegrass, but is it a relatively big scene in the area? I’m assuming it’s kind of on the rise.
TK: The bluegrass scene is small, but it’s growing. We’re seeing a lot more younger faces out to see this kind of music. I think with the rise of more popular bands like–they’re not necessarily even bluegrass, but are acoustic bands–bands like Old Crow Medicine Show kind of introduced bluegrass on a popular level. Mumford & Sons kind of got people interested in acoustic music. That’s just for down here. I’m really only speaking for Central Texas. You’re seeing a rapidly growing scene down here and there’s some really incredible bands down here that are touring quite a bit because they’re of course wanting to get popular, but also because while the scene is growing, it’s not as big as it is in like Colorado or in Nashville, Tennessee, Kentucky, or West Virginia. Stuff like that. The bluegrass scene is much different and much more sought after there. Even in the Northeast. In Boston there’s an incredible acoustic scene. What we want, is for the Austin scene to develop and look like a lot of those scenes. We have a lot of really good players down here, but the interest isn’t at high right now. I see it growing though and know it’s going to get better.
NS: You guys are obviously Austin-based, but how are you guys doing around the state? You guys are coming up here, but what areas have you guys been to most?
TK: We’ve played a lot in Houston and Galveston. Really, we’re just getting out. We’ve only been together for less than a year. We’re starting to really look to get out more. We’ve done some shows in New Braunfels. Central Texas mostly. I’m from Houston so we’ve kind of got a built-in crowd, so we really do well there. We’re really excited to play Lubbock. We’re really excited to play The Blue Light because we know that’s one of the venues people really love playing. And on a Thursday night, we’re really lucky to get that gig.