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Wooden Satellites: Why Canít I Be Enough
By Sean Smith
Fort Wayne Reader
For as long as I can remember, I've been a fan of underdogs. Be it when Daniel Larusso had his leg swept by Johnny or that time David faced off with Goliath, I was most certainly cheering on for the unlikely victor. These days, truthfully, David seems about as real as that crane kickin' karate kid. Maybe that's why Wooden Satellites new album, Why Can't I Be Enough, resonates so clearly with me. The songs seem to weave in and out of faith and cynicism, to the point where they all start to blur into a general apathy. Thankfully, it never gets there. Even when the answers are harder than the questions, providing they are even found, the search for them is always honest and courageous.
C. Ray Harvey (vocals/keyboards) first started writing songs 3 or 4 years ago, before eventually forming a band, Rococo, with some friends. His early songwriting was influenced by Radiohead, Modest Mouse, Bright Eyes and "artists like David Bazan (Pedro the Lion) and Sufjan Stevens, who I looked up to for writing 'spiritual' music that didn't have much religious focus."
Pretty soon Rococo dried up and Harvey continued pursuing music."After my high school buddies were moving on I decided to start in a more radical and personal direction of expression. I was really into experimenting musically, so I started working by myself with a loop pedal, constructing songs with minimalist patterns that would overlap to create half-recognizable song structures. When the songs got around to being written down I decided that I should start playing with a band. That's when things got sticky," recalls C. Ray. "Members came and went and every time we played there was a different configuration. When we finally decided to solidify the membership, and change directions a bit musically, we figured a new name might better describe the band."
The band with the ever changing line-up went by the name of Alabaster Fox and the current identity of the group was concocted by a former bandmate of David Bazan.
"My uncle knows this guy named TW Walsh, a songwriter, amazing drummer and a great producer. Apparently, Walsh has these endless lists of great band names that he has never used. His own, quite a beauty, is called The Soft Drugs. Anyhow, he came up with Wooden Satellites and never used it. So we stole it," admits C. Ray. "I like the organic, yet outside-worldly sound it has. Precise, but hollow. Advanced, but destined to fail. A brilliant attempt, but not quite enough. I think that last one is a theme in my songs."
C. Ray's wife, Andrea Harvey (keyboards/vocals), Jon Keller (guitar) and Eric Frank (drums) round out the group and help to flesh out the songs in a live setting. C. Ray works out the music and lyrics in his living room with a laptop, a firewire input and some mics, before bringing them to the rest of the band to be fully realized. "Usually I get a small idea or story that I write down. Then I get busy and let it sit around for a few weeks. Then I sit back down and work for a few hours writing it out from start to finish. It's important that I don't take a break; otherwise it might never get done," says C. Ray. "Then I record a simple guitar and vocals version. Then I add layers, then I play it for the band and we work out how to play it live."
Frank joined the band after the completion of the album, which includes electronically programmed drums, but has been an incredibly vital part of the crew. "He's been wonderful in every way," points out Andrea. "He has a lot of excitement and energy and I feel that he has brought us closer together and helped unify our vision for the band."
"C. Ray and Andrea had a flat tire, so I pulled over and offered to help," says Frank. "We got to talking and he told me that Alabaster Fox had broken up and he no longer had a drummer. The rest is history."
Andrea says that although Wooden Satellites are relatively new, they're already miles ahead of Alabaster Fox. "I think everything about [us] is better than [the old band]. Our sound has evolved and, despite the use of loops and a drum machine, is becoming more organic. C. Ray has been writing songs that are more developed and mature in their lyrical content. He has a gift for looking into himself and others and writing about emotions that touch us all in profound ways. He avoids the trite and clichť and really gets to the heart of a situation with honesty and conviction."
Whereas Alabaster Fox's songs were closer to The Faint, Wooden Satellites' Why Can't I Be Enough is more in line with Holopaw or a mash-up of Bright Eyes' 2005 albums, "I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning" and "Digital Ash in a Digital Urn."
C. Ray says it's been a natural progression and was born out a desire to create a lasting message. "I've turned to bands with more staying power. Not that I think that Sufjan Stevens or the Arcade Fire don't have that. I'm just more interested in older songwriters, like Neil Young or Morrissey. What a stretch!" he says, laughing. "I guess I've been listening to simpler arrangements and trying to find out what works for those guys that made people fall in love with their songs and keep worshiping them today. I'm less and less concerned about the overall sound when I write because the texture or timbre of a band can, and I think should, change to fit the music of their time. Instead, I'm trying to focus more on capturing authentic human emotion and experience that people can relate to now and 10 years from now. I know that sounds lofty and to expect myself to do this is probably conceited, but I guess a guy's got to have goals."
And goals are something that C. Ray is in no short supply of. He'd like to see Wooden Satellites become a touring band, but in the meantime they are working on "putting together a really kickass show here in town and the surrounding lands."
Writing about faith and religion has been an interesting experience and the end result was just as unexpected to him as anybody else. "My goal was and always has been to present situations and observations without putting too much spin on them,Ē he says. ďThat's why I try to write from first-person perspectives most of the time, it's easier to express feeling without trying to comment on it too much. With commentary you have something a listener can disagree with. With a situation, or pure feeling, honest description, I think it's easier to take at face value. So I try to find characters I can relate to even though they were in very different places and times than me, because I figure if I can relate to these characters' jealousy, indignation, self-loathing, and frustration and express that well-enough, other people should be able to as well. I've gone through a lot of personal changes spiritually over the last few years and some of these songs mean completely different things to me than they did when I first conceived them. I hope the fact that I can still relate to them is some kind of proof that I met my goal."
Check out www.woodensatellites.com for more info and be sure to catch the band live at The Tiger Room (1915 S. Calhoun) on November 21st with Darkroom and Snap Captain.