Photo courtesy of Sloan Woolly/VNTG PR
I almost don’t know where to go here. This is the hardest and the easiest interview I’ve ever done. It was a breeze to talk with Jack Seigenthaler and Ben Josie of Sloan Woolly. An absolute cake walk. These were a couple of guys I was really sorry I was talking to on the phone. I would have much rather been hanging out in person with them. They were a total riot, but don’t jump to conclusions and assume they’re just a couple of bums that have a band and nothing going on upstairs, if you know what I mean. Quite the contrary. You can learn a lot about someone pretty quickly by their sense of humor. Seigenthaler and Josie both possess a level of hilarity that only comes from well-rounded, intelligent people. They’ve been around a few blocks.
How was that for a strange intro? I was approached by Sloan Woolly’s publicist to do a feature on them. Never having heard of them, much less their music, I needed a little more information. I initially thought Sloan Woolly was the name of a person, you know, maybe the founder of the band. Nope. It goes much deeper than that, but I’ll get to that in a minute. What made me accept this interview request, and I remember scanning the quick bio I had been sent, was the word “rockabilly”. That word, right there, threw Sloan Woolly into the immense country genre. So, I took it. Then I listened to what was then their latest song, “The Phone”. Now, I’m not a major expert on musical styles, but I was positive that song was not, in any way, rockabilly. It was a lot of things, but rockabilly? No. What had I gotten myself into?
The problem was, I liked it. Now what? “The Phone”, to my ears, felt like a jazz fusion, psychedelic rock, punk song all kind of blended together into a daytripper’s best, well, daytrip, ever. A little Pink Floyd meets the Talking Heads meets some unknown dude “who’s really good” at the jazz bar’s open mic night.. Imagine that group throwing a few back and having a random jam session. I was into it, but trying to fly it under the Think Country radar, and convince the diehard country fans it belonged here was going to be tough. May as well have been wearing a Marilyn Manson t-shirt to a George Strait concert. No matter what, I took the job, I was going to finish it. I’m going to find some vein of country in these guys and get them under the velvet rope. You watch.
Sloan Woolly was founded by Jack Seigenthaler (guitar, vocals) and Henry Ingram (keys) back when they were students at Stanford University, or at least that’s how the official bio reads. Hey, I’m not knocking the company line, it’s just I talked to Seigenthaler and Josie and they told it a little differently. Maybe Ingram should have been present for the phone call, you know, to defend the band’s history, but he wasn’t, so I’m just the messenger and I’m telling it like I heard it. Oh, and if this falls into one of those legal swamps that I shouldn’t be getting myself into, I’m old and living dangerously. Let’s just smudge it up enough to make it easy for everyone, and say Seigenthaler, Ingram and Josie all went to Stanford, because that’s a fact. Another fact is, they all moved to Nashville following graduation as well.
Backing the story up just a hair, these three guys didn’t all just hop in a car and head to Music City because they had a hot chicken craving one night. They were actually playing music together at Stanford and in the San Francisco Bay Area for a couple of years prior to making their move. They were recording at the school’s studio and “having so much fun.” When they did finally get to Nashville, they were ready to jump right in and start playing music, and they had a bit of help. You see, Ingram was a Nashville native and he immediately began introducing the guys to his high school friends and people he knew in the music community. According to Josie, “The stars just aligned and just everything. The whole situation just worked out so organically. We were so blessed to have people around us to help make it happen and be a part of it really, because it’s not something we could have done on our own for sure.”
Now that I’ve just about killed the lives these guys had before moving to Nashville, well, except for what little bit you’ve heard, let’s move on. Oh, don’t worry, there will still be a few more glimpses backward, but sadly, it was a super time-crunched interview, so we were mainly in forward motion. The band. Who are they? You already know about Seigenthaler, Ingram and Josie. Add in Oliver Finch on lead guitar, Matt Gay on drums and Fred Hartwell, also a drummer, and that’s Sloan Woolly.
Photo courtesy of Sloan Woolly/VNTG PR
Seigenthaler hails from Connecticut and is heavily influenced by rock bands from the late 1960’s and 1970’s. He also said he recalls being a Rolling Stones fan from a young age and listening to a playlist his dad had called, “Geezer Tunes”, or something like that. He remembers his father being heavily into Paul Revere & The Raiders. Josie, a Seattle native, rocked a bit harder, telling me AC/DC was on his list of favorites, but nobody could ever hold a candle to Billy Idol. In fact, he dressed up as Idol on Halloween for several years running. As for the other guys in the band, I don’t know. I could start researching (aka “stalking”) them to find out what they like to see if they’re into country, just to get that sweet fragment I need to give this interview a pass from the naysayers, but I’m not going that route. There’s going to be a better way. This is an upstanding band. They wouldn’t do anything shady just to get press. They’re Stanford boys! They’re educated and they had impeccable manners. I’ll get it by the end of this thing. I don’t need to go lurking around anyone’s personal life like a peeping Thomasina.
Alright, so how do these nice young men describe their music? Expecting to have to reach for a dictionary with all of the impressive vocabulary they were going to throw at me with their description, I braced for it. Imagine my shock when I actually understood every word they said. Seigenthaler painted a brilliant picture with his eloquent words, “I guess we go with a jukebox caught fire in your parents’ record store or something. Then it exploded. There were some scraps of records left that you taped back together and now you play ’em, and that’s Sloan Woolly. We just have a blast integrating all of our influences together.” Could this be it? The missing link? Depending on the parents that owned this particular jukebox (now blown to smithereens), there very well may have been some country records in there. Even a shard or two of an old Jim Reeves 45 might account for a country influence. That would certainly count for something as far as me getting this interview in. No? Not enough? You people are a tough crowd. Fine. I’ll try and do better. Personally, I love that description and damn the torpedoes if nobody else does.
Photo courtesy of Sloan Woolly/VNTG PR
Influences like The Rolling Stones, Talking Heads, LCD Soundsystem and the artists mentioned earlier certainly come through in their music, but none of them factor in so strongly that you would say they’re the domineering one. Nope. Sloan Woolly is a unique band, a complex band, dare I say. Giving me a little more about what makes them tick, Seigenthaler added, “All of these different genres that we kind of pull together makes it fun for us onstage, it gives audiences variety throughout the concerts, and just energy, that’s one thing we like to bring to every song.” Josie went on by saying, “Something to make you smile, something to make you dance, something to make you think.”
I don’t know about anyone else, but the way things have been going lately in the world, this sounds like a band we all desperately need right now, I don’t care what they play I like them, but I know someone won’t. More than likely, that someone will be anyone that lives and breathes for more of a mainstream sound. With that in mind, I clenched my jaw and asked the guys what they would say to a more mainstream audience to get them to at least try and give them a chance? I thought the answer they gave was incredibly perfect and amazingly unrehearsed.
Seigenthaler explained, “What I think we really have going for us is, on the surface these songs are fun. They’re energetic, and then, as you keep digging deeper, you notice that the lyrics are really clever, they’re cheeky, there’s a lot of double-entendres in the things we’re saying. As you kind of dissect the production, there’s just beautiful guitar licks from Oliver, the bass is just pumpin’ and the drums are are just so tight, clean and just rippin’. So, on the surface, it immediately strikes you as just fun and happy and puts you in a good mood. The one thing we all need music for is just an opportunity to forget, at least for me personally, it’s just an opportunity for me to forget about other things that are stressing me out. In that moment to connect with everybody that’s onstage, and everybody that’s in the crowd, and just forget everything else, you know?”
Yes! Yes, I do know! I know Think Country followers know too. Maybe we’re gaining some ground here. Now where is that country connection? This would be a fantastic time to preach about the roots of rock and roll via the blues and the blues relation to country and the hip bone connected to the… you know, but I’ll try and refrain. I’ll keep moving along. As far as songwriting and Sloan Woolly goes, Jack Seigenthaler said he is the primary lyric writer and handles much of the basic structure, but they generally split up the writing credits equally “because it really is a band process getting from point A to point B.” I told you they were cool cats. They share well.
I know what you’re wondering though. Just who the Hell is Sloan Woolly? The often-abused, yet uncredited triangle player? Not at all. There is no such person as Sloan Woolly. This is a short saga best told by a band member. It’s not difficult to grasp, yet it has very scientific components. Another thing I love about this band, science made simple!
Once again, Seigenthaler was the spokesman. “We used to be called Mammoth, and we realized when we uploaded our first single to Spotify that we’d been uploaded to another Mammoth’s page. Our single was uploaded to some really heavy, progressive rock/metal group’s page. Then we searched Spotify to find our page, and realized we had to go through about 30,000 Mammoths to get to our band page. So, we decided this wasn’t gonna work and we needed to think about a new name. We had a buddy who had an idea. He was really big into outer space. There’s this thing called the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and this friend, he was super into it. It’s basically the largest survey of stars in the last twenty years, or something like that.”
Video courtesy of Sloan Digital Sky Surveys and YouTube
He went on, “So it’s just kind of this big exploration of the unknown, plus ‘Woolly’ which was an homage to, you know, all the fun we had while we were still called Mammoth. So, we put ’em together and it’s Sloan Woolly. Oh, and we knew we could get the URL! That was a big part.” Whether or not the name was any good at least they had a practical reason for choosing it. URLs are getting hard to come by these days.
It was time to get specific about the music with Sloan Woolly. I went for it. What was going on with “The Phone”? What in the world did they do in the studio to create those sounds? I’m usually pretty good about picking various instruments out, and I’m not even half-bad at guessing what some of the more unusual effects are created with, but I just threw my hands up and had them tell me. I flat out asked, “So, what do you call it? Jazz-fusion meets rock meets punk? I guess you just taped-together all the records, right?” They laughed, and Seigenthaler gave me the lowdown.
“Yeah. We had that main guitar riff that starts the song and runs throughout the verses. We’d jam on it in rehearsals, but we never actually wrote a song. Well, one night I recorded it on a voice memo and I was like, ‘I really wanna finish this,’ so I walked in my room and wrote lyrics to it, and the next day came out with what ended up being the lyrics to the verses, and we slapped the chorus over it. Henry, our keys player, had the idea for that main sort of weird riff, or whatever it is. It’s like a jazz fusion thing. So, we started working with that a little bit. That was just a jam session. We wanted one of the tracks to have not just a solo, but a coherent, ‘Can’t You Hear Me Knocking’ kinda jam thing. I think that was one of the tracks that evolved the most from the first time we wrote it. It took everybody playing such different parts to figure out that song. The rhythms kind of fade in and out, so it took everybody a long time to figure out what the riff was and how it was going to work for their instrument. At first, the whole thing was very angular and it made it kind of uncomfortable, so we tried to find ways to include those interesting aspects, while making sure it was still gonna groove and make people keep moving.”
“When we went into the studio with that one, we just had a blast comin’ up with with different effects. You know, in the verses there’s an octave effect in the vocals. We’ve got a therein in that one. There’s a vibraslap. The producer said, “Okay, you can put a vibraslap on this one, but my number one rule is you only get one vibraslap per hour.’ We were like, ‘That’s okay, we don’t get it anywhere else.’ Full studio with a guy producing everything for us, so our intention was to put out a series of singles, so I think we were excited, maybe overly so, but I hope not. With this one in particular, we were really excited to try new things and throw some stuff at the wall to see what stuck. I think, and hope, there are things in this song that are effective, because they feel effective to us. The goal was to try and stretch our sound a little bit. We don’t always get chances to just do weird stuff like that and throw shit at the wall.”
Let me stop here and breathe. Breathe with me. If you’re a fan of psych rock bands or new wave bands you’ll want to check this song out no matter what. I think you’ll probably have a good chance of liking it. If you’re a straight-traditional country person, you’re probably not even reading this far (unless you’re my mother), so I don’t even know why I’m bothering, but just in case, I’m rounding the last lap toward making you guys know there’s a spool of thread that sews this band to country music. The evidence is pretty clear if you know about genres. “The Phone” has obvious jazz and rock elements. Rock evolved from country. Don’t believe it? Read my well-researched article from June of 2019 https://thinkcountrymusic.com/whats-new/when-i-think-country-i-think/. Jazz is the offspring of the blues. The blues and country are, according to music historians, practically siblings. Not that you can believe everything you read on Wikipedia, but the following quote was found there and comes from Charles Wolfe‘s book, Nothing but the Blues. Without knowing anything about Mr. Wolfe or his research methods, I’m going on pure faith that he’s correct. I did a ton of research last year on this very topic, and yes, the blues and country are closely related, therefore, jazz and country are, at the very least, distant cousins. You can’t shoot me yet.
“The musical forms and styles that are now considered the blues as well as modern country music arose in the same regions of the southern United States during the 19th century. Recorded blues and country music can be found as far back as the 1920s, when the record industry created the marketing categories “race music” and “hillbilly music” to sell music by blacks for blacks and by whites for whites, respectively. At the time, there was no clear musical division between “blues” and “country”, except for the ethnicity of the performer, and even that was sometimes documented incorrectly by record companies”.
Video (Audio) courtesy of Sloan Woolly
Onward! That takes care of the last single, but Sloan Woolly just put out a new one called “Futures”, and do you want to know what? I like it even more. It isn’t trippy. It’s just plain fun from the get-go, and while it’s a high-energy, party tune, it’s also seriously deep. What a wacky paradox! Throw in the fact that it’s actually funny and you have the trifecta of songwriting brilliance. How did they do it? Says Seigenthaler, “It’s a good old fashioned rock song with a modern twist. I was at work one day thinking about all of the different things that had brought me to Nashville and how one sort of wrinkle in my path might have put me in a different direction. When I was younger, my mother was sort of obsessed with the idea of string theory. It constantly rattled around my house. She would just talk about the idea that there could be alternate realities and all that.
So anyway, I had this huge rock riff I was working around for a while. I laid it over the lyrical theme that there are all these infinite paths that I could have taken, and I might regret not having done so. The idea that you’re either sort of ‘stuck on’, or ‘blessed with’ the one that you’ve got. So, those were the lyrical reasons for the song. Then again, in the studio I think we had a real opportunity to layer over some exciting production techniques, and the band, once we started working on the parts, started getting some exciting rhythmic ideas to give it kind of a modern twist. I really love this song because I think it’s really a pretty straight-forward rock song that just has energy and it’s driving. I think the lyrics are some of the most clever lyrics that we have on any of our tracks. It’s just got that perfect balance. Again, on the surface it’s just fun and exciting, and then as you dig deeper, the lyrics really kind of make you think about all the little things that happen to put you where you are. All the things that could have gone differently to put you somewhere else.”
Video (Audio) courtesy of Sloan Woolly
I don’t really care if you’re wearing a top-of-the-line Stetson and spurs right now, give “Futures” a try. If you don’t like it, pass it on to your teenage kid. Pass it on to the neighbor. Someone is going to like it, this I can promise you. The first time I heard it, I had all the intentions in the world of getting a few things done as I listened to it. Nothing got done after that. Not one damned thing. The song just wrecked me. In a good way. Seigenthaler called it a “straight-forward rock song”. Rock song. Rock has its roots in country music. This was an easy one.
Where can you see Sloan Woolly live? Hardly anywhere lately. What a shock, right? They had some shows scheduled, but it’s not looking like those will still happen. The best way to know is to keep up with the band on their social media sites that are linked below. By doing that you’ll also be updated if they plan any livestreams. Believe me, you really want to watch a livestream of these guys. I only had two of them on the phone with me and they were a blast, and we were only talking! Mix in some music and the rest of the band and it’s a virtual party you don’t want to miss.
Oh, and speaking of livestreams, they did one not that long ago. Actually, it was back in May. It was a part of the Feed the Front Lines event to benefit front line workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Guess who put that event on? CMT. Oh, yeah, Country Music Television. Sloan Woolly performed their song “Rest of Their Lives”. I have video to prove it.
Video courtesy of Sloan Woolly and YouTube
Sloan Woolly had the time of their lives making some songs in the studio recently. What’s next for them? Seigenthaler said, “This time has been really great for us to reflect on the things that went well, and I think on the whole, we’re really happy with how the first set of songs went and we really wouldn’t change much. We are trying to think about what the next project is going to look like, and I think we’re all on the same page that we really want to put together a cohesive album. Something that tells a real story over the course of eight to ten songs. In terms of the recording aspect of it, we went into the studio just ready to play all these songs live and just go for it, and I think we’re intrigued about having a little bit more time to work a song from a seed in the studio and layer up from there, have a better sense of what we’ve got.”
The band recorded the songs at Sputnik Sound in Nashville. Seigenthaler elaborated, “Mike Fahey was our guy. Best guy in the world! He’s the Assistant Engineer to Vance Powell. He works with The Raconteurs, Phish and Chris Stapleton.” Did you read the last name on that list? I rest my case. Hold your hate mail.
Sloan Woolly’s Website: http://www.sloanwoolly.com/
*Featured photo courtesy of Sloan Woolly/VNTG PR