“It seems to me that a lot of people will call anything with an acoustic guitar ‘folk,’ even though when you really strip it down, it has nothing to do with the genre,” laughs Burke Barlowe, guitarist and vocalist of The Deep Dark Woods. “Take someone like Tom Petty—when you listen to it, you say ‘this is rock music,’ but if you strip the songs right down, his progressions are a lot folkier than, say, Ani DiFranco [...] I think it’s all in the changes of the melodies more than in the instrumentation.”
Clearly, Barlowe and his fellow Woodsians would be rather good consults when it comes to classifying the genre. The Saskatoon band have been folkin’ out since their formation in 2005, though three of them were involved even before that.
“We’d been playing in this hobby band for a while called goodwhatgood,” he recalls. “It was more of a rock thing; we were all fans of Radiohead, so we kind of tried to do something in that vein,” After replacing their frontman with Vancouver’s Ryan Boldt, however, the boys found a new direction to take their music: folk rock with just a hint of country, which they hadn’t necessarily been fans of beforehand.
“We’re all into it now,” he grins, “You know, a lot of people seem to go through a country/folk phase when they hit their early 20s, and I think that’s what happened to most of us,” Barlowe goes on to say that he believes the group’s use of harmonies and multiple singing voices are instrumental in distinguishing DDW from the rest of the folks out there.
The group draw their primary inspirations from American and English folk music, though there was a time when they pulled a bit more emphatically from other, less ‘folky’ sources. “Bob Dylan, the Birds ...” recollects Barlowe. With the release of their third album Winter Hours this spring, DDW have resettled into their niche. Their 2006 record Hang Me, Oh Hang Me was specifically unusual for the group in that it showed more of their rock side than the group had been known for.
“[Winter Hours] has been getting a lot of mixed reviews,” he notes, “A lot of college-aged fans that really liked Hang Me have been saying ‘this doesn’t sound like them; it’s too quiet, it sounds like they’re all grown up.’ At the same time, older reviewers are saying the album grows on you with every listen. I guess that’s the trade-off you make when you make a quieter record.
“I’ve heard a lot of people say that the first couple listens, you don’t really get it. After that, it becomes almost addictive. It’s better than someone who likes it after the first time, and then shelves it after a couple more,” he grins.
Still, Barlowe believes that the group’s style is highly dependent on a number of factors—from which studio they record at to the current temperament of the group—and while the next step of the group is still up in the air, it’s likely that they’ll return to the roots that have.
“I don’t see us straying too too far from folk,” he admits. “We all appreciate good old rock and roll, and we’ve always had a couple songs with that potential on every record, but for right now it’s just what works for us; when we arrange the songs, we don’t really go in saying ‘hey, let’s make this country song again.’ Maybe we’ll evolve into something different, but it’s not really a conscious thing.” Here he pauses and laughs.
“Though personally, I’d like to do kind of a more rockin’ record again.”