Wally Boudway of Wooden Indian isn't sure about the word psychedelic. "I don't like it when people call our music psychedelic because I don't like the idea of making music to do drugs to. It's the opposite of what I'm trying to do. I like to make music that gives you the same sensory bliss and curiosity that drugs can, but without the drugs."
But as the band prepares to release Moan Info in early spring, that reluctance is something that Boudway may have to get over — at least if the band is able to make the leap from the local stalwart it currently is to the national presence it hopes to be.
The music is psychedelic, and not because drugs are a necessary accompaniment to hearing it — it's that, as Boudway hopes, listening to it is a trip. With a seven-piece band, it sometimes is difficult to tell which instrument is making which sound. According to Boudway, that is exactly how the band wants it.
"I like it when we're playing live and I can tell people are actively trying to unravel how the sounds are being created or who's playing what. Because we do have seven people, and we are generating a lot of sound. I like to create the impression of interlocking melodies, so I like it to be perceived as one giant sound . . . I want people to feel like they've encountered something that confounded them a little bit sonically but still has a hook that will stick with them later."
While the band shops for a record label to take on releasing Moan Info on a national scale, it's gotten together with local cassette label Rubber Brother Records to release a split EP with Wooden Indian bass player Austin Owens' other project, Los Puchos.
"I really love what Wooden Indian does," says Robbie Pfeffer, co-founder of Rubber Brother. "Wally has always been really supportive of what we are trying to do."
"Our half of the tape will feature some stuff that is going to be on our record, but inside a seamless 10 minutes of music. So it's not going to be a traditional recording," says Boudway. "We can't write pop songs. Some of our songs end up being a little more pop, but even if they are, in the end, the way they were written was from playing in a room with other musicians. Like playing the same riff for an hour, because we write music based on grooves — so it's just the ancient idea of trance music. It's more based on creating expectations through repetition and then subtly riffing on them or breaking them."
Moan Info is the product of a year's worth of work by Wooden Indian; besides working on the recordings for a year, it has maintained a popular Thursday night residency at The Lost Leaf in downtown Phoenix.
"The residency has been really good for us; we've been recording this whole time, so playing out live as much as possible is a way of solidifying and searching for how we want the songs to end up sounding. Because a lot of people will write songs, record them, and then learn how to play them in order to play live shows. But I'm more interested in playing songs live for like a year before recording them, because that gives them a year to incubate and change."
Wooden Indian gradually has made its live show one of the band's focuses. But Boudway admits that when the band came together, he was just trying to "make sounds" that sounded good to him. "I hadn't yet discovered the thrill of playing live, and I was just as content to play something for myself as I was for other people. In fact, I didn't really like performing live," says Boudway.
Perhaps part of the reason Boudway did not enjoy Wooden Indian's live performances early in the band's career was his being forced to play guitar, sing lead vocals, and fill in as a percussionist. He was having trouble finding a drummer "tasteful" enough for the band — that is, a drummer not too loud for the rest of the ensemble.
Eventually, Boudway was able to find two drummers for his genre-bending project in Greg Muller and former What Laura Says drummer David Moroney. Also playing in the seven-piece experimental project are Owens, keyboardist Patrick Rowland, guitarist Ross Andrews, and the newest member, guitarist Douglas James, who used to do the band's equipment repairs.
"When David Moroney started playing with us, he was in What Laura Says, at the time — they were probably the biggest band in Phoenix. So it was just kind of like a stamp, like this guy's into us enough to like be on a stage with us and make music with us, and once he started playing with us, we got better shows. When Austin Owen finally started playing bass with us, I had the rhythm section that I had been writing for [for] years."
Boudway and his comrades are influenced by a variety of genres, ranging from Afrobeat — he names Fela Kuti as one of their biggest influences — to classic rock to hip-hop and EDM. Boudway says that though the music may not sound like Flying Lotus, they're using some of the same techniques the EDM star uses to make his music sound "bigger."
"One of the ways I know that I like something I'm making is if I don't know how I feel about it. So if it's, like, weird to me, then I know it's coming from multiple influences instead of just like one, because if I like it immediately, it probably sounds like something that I'm listening to."
Califone is another of the band's big influences; Boudway labeled the Chicagoans a "musician's band." Whether he realizes it or not, Wooden Indian has taken on the same role in Phoenix; at its December 19 residency, the band's final show of 2013, easily a dozen local bands were represented in the audience.
Another thing Wooden Indian shares with Califone is a producer — Michael Krassner, who produced Califone's latest release and is working on Moan Info now. "In Phoenix, I don't feel like there are a whole lot of producers who want to get dirty and deep in a project and want to be creatively involved," Boudway says, which is probably why Wooden Indian chose to work with the Chicago-based Krassner.
"Every great band has a vision coming from the production side of things," says Boudway. "I just want people to lose themselves, I guess, for whatever amount of time they're listening to us. Because we're trying to share that — it's the same thing we're shooting for when we're playing live. We're trying to lose ourselves in what's going on, and so the most gratifying thing is if we feel like the audience is doing the same."