Oliver Wood of the beloved roots-Americana trio, The Wood Brothers, displays a myriad of influence with his first-ever solo release. With his friend and co-writer, Phil Cook, Wood speaks to sweeping gentrification across the United States. Today, Oliver Wood premieres the lyric video for “Soul Of This Town” on American Songwriter.
The Wood Brothers is a mainstay of the artist’s musical interest, yet he’s begun writing more on his own over the last few years. He and his band are part of a Nashville studio that Wood referred to as his “playhouse.” Over the last 15 years with the trio, Wood learned to work with his bandmates to build a song from the ground up.
“It’s fun to sort of share your investment in something that you create with other people as you’re creating,” says Wood. “We’ve been together a while and got used to it to a certain style where we’re comfortable. It’s kind of cool to branch out and write with somebody else to take a new influence, learn something new or see something from a different perspective, or approach things.”
Phil Cook, a Raleigh, NC-based folk artist, made Wood’s perspective collaboration shortlist. The two previous strangers immediately connected over a mutual respect for each of their unique approaches to artistry. Wood was drawn to Cook’s style, and new their co-writing processes would flow well. Last year, they got to work in Wood’s studio, beginning with a concept and chord progression from Cook.
“The song speaks to gentrification and how that affects communities,” says Wood. “There’s a lot of talk of communities right now – communities that are suffering, communities that are bonding and strengthening. Living in Nashville for the last eight years, I’ve watched the face of the town really change. Many people have moved here, and so many houses are torn down and rebuilt, two houses where one used to be. The neighborhoods have changed. As a visitor in Nashville, Phil was also noticing all the cranes that you see every time he came here. Ultimately, we came up with the ‘Soul Of This Town.’ It’s not just the face of the city. What looks like progress to some is just moving out what can’t survive, which happens to be the crucial parts of the town. People and places that give it personality, and really, its soul.”
He cited the demise of classic, family-run restaurants, and a music and arts scene that operates on the outskirts of town because artists can’t afford it. The lyrics explore the idea that American cities are pricing out the very heart of communities, replacing archetypal institutions with sleek, unaffordable development.
“Gentrification brings awareness to so many inequalities,” says Wood. “And it’s affecting people that we need in the cities to make them wonderful places. Cities won’t be wonderful if those people leave. And we just have fresh new houses and buildings. There’s no soul at all. It’s like we’re selling the soul of the city.”
With alarming awareness of the current peril of live music, Wood says, “All these historic venues are the sort of things that a lot of folks take for granted. Those places are hurting, and we don’t know what’s going to happen to them. No matter what city you’re talking about, those classic venues are so important to the community, and if those places and their people are gone, it’s just a tragedy.”
Cook and Wood started the process last year, but the pandemic-permitted time gave them each space in their schedules to complete the song. Oliver had a year of touring and promotion lined up in support of The Wood Brothers’ latest album, ‘Kingdom In My Mind,’ that was released in January 2020, while Phil Cook had released a collection of instrumental recordings entitled ‘As Far As I Can See’ at the tail end of 2019. Wood credits his creative outlets for keeping him grounded over the last few months.
“It’s such a meditative activity to work on it and such a good way to stay present. I could sit around and worry about the future, which there’s plenty to worry about, or I could make a write a song. It’s the only thing you have control over these days, while everything else feels really out of control,” he says.
The song has been a safe space and an advocacy project for the artist. The lyrics tell the story of the underdogs. “They say they cleaned up all the projects, welcomed everyone to stay, but the rent keeps on rising and pushing everybody away,” he sings.
Oliver’s son Kieran Wood adds horns to the recording, marking their first documented collaboration on his gospel-blues solo debut.
Watch the lyric video for “Soul Of This Town” below and look out for another solo single from Oliver Wood this fall.