November 26, 2015
by Tjeerd van Erve
One of my all time favorite Dutch tunes is ‘The Joker’, by Woody And Paul. A brooding blues garage song that sounds like the duo from Eindhoven had sold their soul on the N65 and the devil had given them that dark hunting blues spirit in return. For me it is one of those songs that I can call up and hum any given moment on any given day. And that song has been played grey on my vinyl version of Heroes And Zeros. I just can’t get enough of that tune, and it is just one of many great songs the band made in their seven year career. This career ended shortly after this record with a last farewell show in 2012, and a picture of a tombstone on the website of the band, leaving no place for doubt: Woody And Paul was no more.
Paul van Hulten since then has recorded two albums as The Man From The South, but Woody Veneman has spent time out of the limelight. Not that he has stopped making music; playing in Beukorkest, recording with Segna Etna and on playing with numerous people such as Selim Lemouchi and Johny Dowd. Dowd was involved in Veneman’s The Singing Chair project, a conceptual visual which could be seen in MoMa in New York. Veneman is also a graphic and visual artist. An all round creative spirit.
And a very open and generous man. I used to meet him around shows, but lost touch a little.Then, I ran into him after a Steve Gunn show in Extase in Tilburg. Time to talk music, the concerts we had seen, his own plans with the project Long Life Heads (I can’t say this is a Woody And Paul, it just happens to be the same people) and his recent visit to Ireland where the locals had taught him several folk traditionals. Eventually we brought the conversation round to the Modern Participation Society, which, in the end, brought me round the dining table in Woodys’ enormous house in the heart of Eindhoven.
Pumpkin soup, home made pumpkin soup and artisan whole wheat bread: the perfect meal after a good morning of recording in what looks like a former shop. In the background The Best Of of The Smiths is playing, but having had a quick look at the stack of records in the living-room it could have been anything from The Smiths to early thirties blues, 1990s indie rock or the latest Ryan Adams albums.
We’ve been playing music the whole morning, working on a tune about the naked chest of Putin. When we first talked about recording together the idea was to work on those Irish traditionals. But as with plans goes, things changed. Woody is about to play a Woody vs Putin show in Weemoed, Tilburg and thought it would be a good idea to write some songs for that concert together, and if I could also come with some ideas.
We’d been playing music the whole morning, working on a tune about the naked chest of Putin.When we first talked about recording together the idea was to work on those Irish traditionals. But as with all plans, things changed. Woody is about to play a Woody vs Putin show in Weemoed, Tilburg and thought it would be a good idea to write some songs for that concert together, and asked me if I could also come with some ideas.
So that’s how we ended up working on a little ditty that I had came up with. A true ditty, still far removed from a song. But with Woody behind the wheel, this changed quick enough. A notebook full of text sketches and a good ear for composition quickly gave the little sketch more body and depth. It seems like Woody does not so much as hear these first rough ideas, but immediately hears opportunities that the idea offers. It must be years of experience, playing in numerous bands and improvising in several different formations. But I also can’t escape the feeling that it is also a natural creative talent. Just as certain mathematicians see formulas and numbers everywhere in everything, Woody has the gift to see a bigger concept in small song sketches.
An idea which actually came to me when were eating. While I enjoy the pumpkin soup Josine, Woodys’ girlfriend, cooked, he is talking with her about the concept of a restaurant. During the Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven they did the catering for a small restaurant, which they are now going to do more often. But as I hear them talk I get the impression that they don’t just want to present food, but that the also try to redefine the concept of a restaurant: 70% portions, presented on 70% plates, eaten on 70% sized tables whilst sitting on 70% high chairs and all this with Woody doing a live dj set. Conceptual restaurant art? I don’t know what it says about Woody the musician, but ‘Uomo Universale Woody’ at least is a creative man who focusses on the creative process; thinking about all options when creating an over-all experience.
This trait comes back in our collaboration. One meeting soon become two meetings, as Woody thought it would be nice to have a single record, and a single has two songs. And a single needs artwork, so he contacted Dirk Serpinski (who also made the poster for the Woody vs Putin show) if he can make something for the songs. And a single needs a video… Soon enough, I get a phone call, saying that they have created a video with the first song – Bare Naked Chest, about the torso of Putin. And then, to make the whole picture complete, he invites me to perform the two songs we’d written and recorded live at Weemoed, during the Woody vs Putin show. Because that would really make it a finished “product”.
It’s a creative drive that makes me wonder if he hasn’t felt any disappointment round the fact that what he and Paul did never really made it to a bigger audience. A question that he waves away with: “That’s a journalist thing, making it, reaching a wider audience. I am and was never busy with the question if it is going to be big. I just want to make music, others – journalists, you – are concerned with whether “it” is going to make it or not. But then again music journalism is probably the weirdest thing possible; writing about something which is experienced in such a emotional and different way.” I sip my coffee and agree with him because I truly agree with him. Music most of all should be experienced and shared.
But we do discuss music. Whilst recording the first song, Bare Naked Chest, we come to talk about Songs: Ohia because the song we’ve recorded has some resemblance to one of the songs on the debut. And on the second day we talk about Ryan Adams and Will Oldham, artists for which Woody apparently would move heaven and earth to see them play. Artists with which Woody has a commonality, just like these three he takes inspiration from the traditional anglo-american folk and blues music to mix it with more modern rock, pop and indie rock elements. But to guess that, listening to his own music is not even a necessity.
One could just do with having a look at his record cabinet where rough 1970s punk is flanked by records of The Smashing Pumpkins or American Folk Anthology compilations. All bands, music, that can be traced back in the still growing discography of Woody, wether it is the more americana orientated Woody And Paul, the punkier garage rock of Long Life Heads or his new band, Cowboy Tinder, which he says is like a combination of 1980s wave and the blues that he’s been playing all these years.
But for now it will be Woody vs Putin, the music of Woody Veneman combined with the visual art of Dirk Serpinski. An artist that uses non-political images of Putin in his art to create what he has baptized Putinism. After an exposition in DOIOING shop, where Woody played against a background of enormous blow ups of the face of Putin the two of them decided to bring this together in a bigger audiovisual project, of which Luifabriek now has become a part.
Woody vs Putin/featuring Luifabriek (video by Dirk Serpinski)