Lacombe-grown Jo-Jo O’Donoghue and Rylan Woods have created an amazing blend of punk, blues and folk music with ‘Jo-Jo O & The WOODS’.
The pair has been making music together for over a decade and is currently exploring Ireland to seek inspiration as they prepare for their next full-length album.
O’Donoghue and Woods caught up with the Express via Skype to talk about the evolution of their sound, their recent digital release of their EP Old Friends & Lost Souls and their experiences as musicians.
The pair talked about their ambiguous sound and why they find it hard to describe specifically.
“We didn’t set out to write a certain sound – we just kind of started writing songs and picked our favourite ones and recorded them. I think it’s blues-rooted for sure, and I would say that I’m a blues singer,” O’Donoghue said.
“I wouldn’t say that we shoot for any specific sound. If I wake up tomorrow and want to write a folk song, and a blues song the next day and then a rap – I probably won’t ever write a rap – but I’d like to have the freedom to do that.
“You are always changing, so you can’t just subscribe to making one kind of music because as it changes, that music becomes you,” she said.
Prior to Jo-Jo O’ & The WOODS, Woods played in a punk band for several years that O’Donoghue eventually joined.
“I would say that we both have a thing for ‘roots’ music – blues, and folk and those kinds of things. It’s that, and then it’s our childhood upbringing which was more playing punk rock, so it’s a cool little branch where these things come together,” Woods said.
He added that with Jo-Jo O’ & The WOODS, the writing and creation experience was very different than previously and it allowed him to embrace new styles and kinds of writing.
“I think the way that I go about songwriting is definitely different because when you’re playing with rock bands there’s a big group and you’re focused more on the music first. We’d almost put a whole song together, then give it to Jo and tell her to do something with it,” Woods said.
O’Donoghue chimed in saying, “They’d write these big rock songs that were all just the boys being rock stars, and then I’d just have to throw something over it. Now, it’s not all just ‘cool’ guitar parts or ‘cool’ drum breaks and then trying to squeeze a song and a melody or story into that. Now, we write the song, write the melody and then write the story and then take that and make it into a song.”
Woods laughed and continued, “Now I’m a lot more focused on the song as a whole. With this EP, we wrote everything just us two, and rehearsed everything just by ourselves so a lot of it was done acoustically. When we went to the studio with a full band and brought in other instruments– it was almost like we started building something that we didn’t know we would.”
The Old Friends & Lost Souls EP was produced in Alberta with help from friends Nich Davies on percussion and keyboards, Kurtis Cockerill on bass and Natalie Humble on trumpet.
Woods said this was a challenge but also a fun aspect of recording Old Friends & Lost Souls.
“Sometimes, bringing in other instruments also makes you feel like some things shouldn’t be there, because the song becomes too over the top, or too long or whatever. A lot of things can switch. We didn’t switch too much, but there are layers of guitar parts over top of each other so you have to make room for them and making it all work with the other components of the song.”
Jo-Jo O’ & The WOODS has a small repertoire of songs, but have dedicated much time and effort into ensuring that they produce a quality product.
“Recording is a cruel mistress. I am anally retentive – I am a perfectionist. I’ll do it all day, and then the next day and then the next day and it will keep me awake at night. That’s what my challenge is – it’s never good enough. There just comes a time when you have to just have to say it’s done,” said O’Donoghue.
“The process changed from just focusing on what we were writing to also working on ourselves as songwriters.”
Currently, the two are in Dublin planning out a small tour through the country.
“During out time here in Ireland, we are gigging our way across the country and hopefully the British Isles as well. We are also in the early stages of writing our next full-length venture.
“We hope to finish writing that here in Ireland and return back home sometime this year to record in our own studio. For me, Ireland is a very spiritual place, a dear friend of ours said it best – Ireland is a hospital for the soul,” said O’Donoghue.
Old Friends & Lost Souls is streaming on Soundcloud and available on iTunes.