Wooden Wand (AKA James Toth) is an extremely prolific singer/songwriter, who has produced over 100 releases, running the gamut from folk to psych-rock. M3 contacted James to talk about record stores, the therapeutic qualities of a good album & future releases…
M3 – First of all, could you tell us a bit about yourself, and what it is that you do?
Wooden Wand – My name is James Jackson Toth and, since 2003 or so, I’ve been performing music under the name Wooden Wand.
What inspired you to start making music? What is your own musical background?
My dad was always buying and playing records, and once I got old enough to start hearing things I liked on the radio, he used to let me pick out records at the local shop. By the time I was eight or so, I had more records than toys! It’s all I ever really wanted to do.
Wooden Wand has been incredibly busy over the years, putting out hundreds of releases in addition to collaborating with a wide range of different artists. Could you tell us a little about your work ethic and how you have managed to be so prolific in a time when the music industry is supposedly struggling?
We are all struggling, this is true. I sorta hate that I’ve added to the glut, in many ways. I’ve resolved to slow down on the releases for a while and let people catch up. One official album a year, and maybe a few 7″s and things. But I’m writing constantly, and my brain gets to be like a computer than needs to be defragged, or have it’s hard drive cleaned. This is when I put out a record!
Many people have claimed that there is no longer any money in record sales, and that touring is the most efficient way to earn an income as a band. How much truth do you think there is in this sentiment?
Well, quite honestly, there’s never been a WHOLE lot of money in record sales, at least not at my level, but it has gotten much, much worse. Touring is still a decent way to make money, because you can’t really ‘pirate’ the experience of seeing a band live. But part of what makes touring a lucrative endeavor is the ability to sell merch directly to fans – and CDs are not selling, even there. I’m not under any allusions about the way things are, so I say, as a compromise, that if you DO steal my album, at least come to the show and buy a t-shirt. Gas isn’t cheap, and we have a ten hour drive to the next town tomorrow. I understand not wanting CDs, but the patronage is still necessary. Otherwise, all that will be left will be rich kids that can afford to do this for free. You really want The Strokes to be your only option?
Much has been made of the supposed death of the record store in recent years. Do you believe the digital age has killed the record store, and if so, do you think that this is a necessary part of progression, or a tragic loss?
Totally tragic loss. More than half of my favorite shops have closed. It’s disgusting how easily people have transitioned to digital media and having their music in these ridiculous ‘clouds.’ The record store, to me, is not about consumerism or commerce, it’s about having a place to exchange ideas, to share philosophies, to make friends. Some of the greatest times of my life have been spent shopping in, or working at, record stores. What I feel for people now, more than anything, is pity. Record stores were so important to who I am as an artist and as a person. It’s a shame kids likely won’t have that experience now.
What would be your preferred medium to listen to music (eg. Vinyl, CD, tape, MP3 etc.), and why?
Vinyl, always. I’m listening to vinyl as I type this! Everything about vinyl is superior, except convenience, I guess. It looks better, it sounds better, and it lasts the longest. I do still buy CDs but only if there’s no vinyl option (see: every free jazz reissue that came out in the 90s), and I do have an iPod, for, you know, when I fly and stuff.
Do you feel the idea of an album, as a piece of art that people will listen to from start to finish, has been undermined or forgotten about in the digital age?
Absolutely. But I can’t imagine a life that didn’t include getting a little stoned and listening to a great album or two, from start to finish, in one sitting. My wife and I still do that almost every night before bed. It’s one of the reasons I don’t kill myself, or other people. That experience is very precious to me. And, as above, what I feel for people who don’t possess the attention span or the desire to truly experience an album this way, is pity. I guess it’s similar to the way religious folks feel about atheists. Like, you fuckers don’t know what you’re missing!
Do you think the internet has rendered traditional concepts of copyrights obsolete, or do you think they are still relevant?
I have no idea. Like I said, I was never exactly rolling in money, doing what I do, but there has definitely been a drop-off in revenue streams for artists like me.
What is your take on the recent SOPA/ACTA controversy?
I’m of two minds about it. On the one hand, I’m glad someone is trying to regulate these things, because it would benefit me directly, and benefit my family directly, to shut down a lot of these sites where intellectual property is being so freely distributed without anyone’s consent. On the other hand, I’m skeptical whenever the federal government tries to take control of anything. The future of the internet looks a lot like television, with all the associated corporate entities controlling the information. That scares me senseless.
What would you say are the main challenges facing an up-and-coming musician/band in today’s cultural climate?
Getting noticed among the millions of other people all trying to also get their song on the fucking True Blood soundtrack or whatever. Most of the people making music right now couldn’t tell you the reason they are even doing it. I will go on record and say that 85% of the people who are writing songs shouldn’t be. They should be hiring guys like me, and Richard Buckner, and Simon Joyner, and Tim Bracy, and Jerry from Black Swans…people who know how to write, and then the rest of these bands can stick to what they know – playing guitars, and preening, or whatever. I’m happy to leave the interviewing and the photo shoots and the autographing of records to someone else and just do the one thing I’m slightly good at. I’d be very happy to be the JD Souther of indie rock. Or the Desmond Child. Take your pick.
Finally, what does the future hold for Wooden Wand?
Thanks for asking! I have a new album, Blood Oaths Of The New Blues, coming out on Fire Records in October. I’m really excited about it, I do believe it is the defining Wooden Wand record. Until then, just more touring, and more selling shit on eBay to keep the bills paid!
For more information about Wooden Wand, you can visit their official website and Facebook page, and don’t forget to check out the short article James recently contributed to the M3 site.