Deep Dark Woods has certainly made a splash in the last half year. The Saskatoon-based band - signed with Steve Dawson’s Black Hen Music label - is riding on the strength of a new album, Hang Me, Oh Hang Me. Released at the beginning of August, it’s an impressively mature sophomore release, a strikingly written, confidently played batch of songs that bespeaks experience beyond their years.
Not just unthinkingly chipping off the country-rock, the four-piece also wanders easily through psychedelia, Appalachian, ‘70s coutry, folk, rock and bluegrass, with three-part harmonies that put veteran bands of their type to shame.
It’s revealed for all to see in Hang Me, Oh Hang Me, a distinct and timeless sound that nevertheless doesn’t come across as studied or retro - bassist/vocalist Chris Mason thinks that the band hasn’t even scratched the surface of their potential yet.
“We’ve been advancing with every release. The first album took 12 hours to record, and maybe another 12 to mix,” he says. “This one we had more time to work on it, so we experimented with instruments and arrangements and used what sounded best.
“We’ve got enough material for the next album already, and with three songwriters there’s a lot to choose from.”
Along with glowing critical reviews for their album, Deep Dark Woods, which is rounded out by guitarists/vocalists Ryan T. Boldt and Burke Barlow, as well as drummer/vocalist Lucas Goetz, has caught the attention of other musicians as well.
They’ve teamed up with labelmate and fellow Saskatoonite Shuyler Jansen, providing the live backing for the tour of his own Black Hen release, Today’s Remains.
“It’s great to be able to do something completely different from what we normally do,” Mason notes. “It makes us better players, and it’s fun to play his songs. It also helps out with how we look at our own music, expanding how we arrange and write our songs.”
Mason says the team-up will continue far into the new year, with shows out as far as the East Coast. In the future are tentative plans for the Deep Dark Woods to make incursions inot the United States and Europe, and more touring throughout Canada.
“Right now, we’re really just enjoying playing live,” he says. “We’re getting more confident as we go along, and I think that people are really picking up on that.”
Together, they create original acoustic and electric music steeped in a rich, literate country-roots heritage. All four contribute to the vocal blend for a layered sound that's drawn frequent comparisons to The Band, The Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers.
Last spring, they'd already completed recording about three-quarters of their second full-length disc with producer and former Northern Pike, Ross Nykiforuk, when a pilgrimage to Vancouver offered them a chance to impress studio magnate and Black Hen Records label owner Steve Dawson. "That trip to Vancouver was huge for us," says Mason, adding that Shuyler Jansen, a fellow Saskatoonian and former member of Old Reliable, had told Dawson about the band. “[Dawson] came out to see us at a place called The Chapel in Vancouver — an old funeral chapel turned music venue. I guess he really liked it. We played at The Railway Club two weeks later and Alice Dawson came out. She introduced herself, and we found out that they were interested in the album and the band." Steve Dawson, better known as one half of Zubot and Dawson, ended up playing on a track and mixing the entire record. Two years after the band’s inception, Hang Me Oh Hang Me was released on Black Hen. The new album's warm reception was further bolstered by a bout of fall touring with labelmate Jansen.
The Deep Dark Woods are kick-starting 2008 with more of the same — they’ve planned another tour with Jansen (they back him up for his set and he plays in the band for theirs), and Black Hen will soon be re-releasing their eponymous debut album in both Canada and Europe. With typical unpretentiousness and honesty, Mason finds himself focused on the upcoming shows and live sound.
"We play electric, but pretty soon we're going to be doing a lot more acoustic stuff,” he says. “There's advantages to both. You can play a song so many different ways. If you're touring and playing tons of shows, which we really want to do, then I think it's important to switch it up all the time, on the spot, to kind of have that surprise factor."
- Tom Murray