Vibe over Genre: May Erlewine & the Woody Goss Band’s ‘Anyway’

Premiering a New Single from Forthcoming Album.

Rather than quibble over genres, some artists make albums that concentrate more on sensibility and vibe. When you hear May Erlewine singing with the Woody Goss Band, whether it’s the low tide sway of the strings and the soft patter of piano on “Days Go By” or the chiming guitars and sweet rhythmic groove of their new album’s title track, “Anyway,” sometimes the simplest words suffice… For instance: “groovy…”

“They’re very groovy songs, for sure,” said Erlewine. “My voice was in a very relaxed place when we recorded. Woody and I really connected musically in the studio (in 2017), when we were working on (an Erlewine solo album titled Mother Lion,), and so Woody expressed wanting to collaborate again to produce songs that were more freed up, where things weren’t so calculated. We both love music that has a free and easy feeling to it; we had some reference tracks of what we wanted it to sound like, but we didn’t actually know what it was going to be. And the process ended up being so fun…”

Here’s a sample of the newest single from Anyway, a collaborative album by May Erlewine and the Woody Goss Band.

“I wanted (the album) to feel freeing when you heard it,” Goss said. “Not uptight, not about precision. When you present musicians with this idea: that we are prioritizing the emotions behind the notes, (and) that it’s okay to reach for something even if you flub, then it comes across in the way they play, and ultimately in the emotions felt by the listener. A lot of the ‘vibe’ came from recording techniques. That was all Noam Wallenberg, our engineer — and a childhood friend of mine.”

“…But it could also be challenging,” Erlewine added, “(since) I had never really written melodies and words to jazz progressions like this before. Woody is all feeling — he’s got tremendous technical ability, but he’s just so tender with the way he feels the music on the keys; from the moment he sat down and played piano on my songs with Mother Lion, I was so moved by his sensitivity to the songs, the music, and the energy in the room.”

Erlewine is a songwriter and multi-instrumentalists from the Big Rapids area of Michigan; she’s one of the brightest shining artists from the Earthworks Music collective and has been on quite a busy creative run these last five years with her own work, like the powerful collection of protest ballads and odes of compassion, Second Sight, released late last year. Goss is a composer/pianist and is part of the L.A.-based funk band Vulfpeck, a supergroup of University of Michigan alums who notably sold out Madison Square Garden last September. Goss was born and raised just north of Chicago, playing piano from a very young age and particularly gravitating toward jazz; he released a solo album, Solo Rhodes, in 2016.

Image courtesy of Michael Goss

Erlewine praised Goss’ intuition as a composer and his acute responsiveness to the energies of his collaborators, but Goss said that the feeling was mutual. “When May and I started making music together, years before this album, we recognized that we were so similar in how we reacted to different sounds…, heck, even bird sounds…!” (The two of them have been texting about idiosyncratic chirps, like the Gray Catbird, during quarantine). “It was no surprise that when we started writing and recording together that it became one of the most natural music fits I’d ever experienced.”

Erlewine said she was raised within a household that encouraged receptiveness to the words and emotions of recorded music. “I grew up listening to blues and jazz and soul music, mostly,” said Erlewine. “My dad has always been fascinated with singing and he drew my attention toward what it was that made certain voices special or what made singers able to connect to listeners on a heart level. I feel like that awareness of phrasing and the place you’re singing from was given to me at an early age. So I definitely felt very comfortable singing this kind of music.”

As part of the Vulfpeck ensemble, Goss is more than familiar with the importance of crafting a vibe. But it’s a concept he’s been able to put a lot of thought into. “…’vibe’ it’s such a funny word,” he said. “It gets used so much in recording. Noam taught me a lot about what people actually mean when they say it. It’s a lot about acoustic processes happening on larger scales. Learning what those processes are has been a great joy and challenge in my education as a producer, and this album is definitely a turning point for me in that regard.”

Erlewine, meanwhile, has shown a flexibility and adventurousness as an artist and songwriter over the last five years. The songs she’s collaborated on with The Woody Goss Band tap into Chicago soul and AM Pop. But she’s gotten into more R&B, dance, and blue-eyed soul styles with groups like The Motivations. Her own solo work would fit in folk and Americana, but she also gets into bluegrass and gospel when she performs and records with the Sweet Water Warblers.

“It’s kind of confusing figuring out what genre I really fit into, nobody knows,” said Erlewine. “But I love all of this music, and it’s in my nature to make it.” She said that after this great experience working with Goss and the “veritable Chicago Wrecking Crew’ that makeup the band, that she’s excited to start “integrating more” of everything she’s been working on lately and blurring any hard lines dividing these genres. That aforementioned crew, the Woody Goss Band, includes Ben Joseph on keys, Packy Lundholm on drums, and Andrew Vogt on bass.

Musicians bond over influences or, yes, genres, all the time–but it’s rare that the kind of chemistry, the sensitivity for songs and arrangement, can spark like the way it did for Erlewine and Goss. “Of course, when independently producing an album, making music is a small fraction of the actual work,” Goss said. “May and I are very emotional, sensitive, and often erratic…, which can make it difficult to decide even on the hue of a word printed on the vinyl art, for example. There are so many decisions you never think about when you’re in the studio having fun. But we care so much about the music that we figure everything else out.”

The album, Anyway, comes out on August 14th, but there will be more new music released from this collaboration of Goss and Erlewine on July 31st, so stay tuned.

“In the end,” Goss said, “any struggles in the process are more than worth it, and I feel incredibly lucky to have worked with (Erlewine) on this. I also just straight-up love the sound of her voice. I could listen to it all day.”

Check out more of May Erlewine’s work on her website. For more music by Woody Goss Band, check out their bandcamp.

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Jeff covers music for Current, posting weekly show previews and highlighting new bands in the area.

Jeff Milo
Jeff Milo
Jeff covers music for Current, posting weekly show previews and highlighting new bands in the area.

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