Inside the Songs with The Woodpile: 'Reconciliation'

The Woodpile are a six-piece indie folk band based in Laramie. The band is made up of lead singer and guitarist Evan Gwin, bassist Nolan Leibee, drummer/multi-instrumentalist Brendan Ruwart, lead guitarist Jesse Twitchell and cellists Molly DeLau and Jessie Salas. At the time of these interviews, the lead guitarist was Caleb Childress who has since parted ways with the band and the cellists were not yet in The Woodpile. These interviews cover the band’s debut EP "Hunting Hearts" which was released October 20, 2017. The EP was produced by Will Flagg. Ruwart, Gwin and Leibee dive deeper into the writing and recording process of their release and reflect on the past two years as a band.

The Lyrics:

Words of hate, a decided fate, I see through their lies. 
My smile’s in disguise. 
Please wait inside, I know you'll cry when you see 
What they've done to me. 

So put your good book down. 
Your question is written in the ground. 
And I don't know what the answer will be, 
I guess we'll wait and see. 

The water's moving faster now, tearing tree-roots from the ground. 
Headaches, heartaches mix with silt. 
Reconciliation tilts my house off the sand; 
It's like drowning by the hand of John the Baptist. 

So put your good book down. 
Your question is written in the ground. 
And I don't know what the answer will be, 
I guess we'll wait and see.

The Process:

“I started writing this song during my second semester of college, back in 2014,” Gwin said. “I just started a folk band with some choir friends at Casper College and I wanted to write a song for the band, so I just started writing this one. Its gone through a lot of changes in the past several years, but when I wrote it, I was having a very difficult time with being Catholic. At the time, I was having a hard time with my concept of myself and where I fit into the rest of the world and the idea of God and religion. Not just religion, but the institution of it and the people in charge of it.”

“I was angsty," Gwin said. "I’ve had a lot more time to think about it since then, but at the time, I was angsty and pissed off and I saw a lot of hypocrisy in the church and it irritated me. I was searching for answers, so I wrote this song about it and looking back, it’s kind of dramatic with the lyrics, but I think it’s made accessible by how it’s just a really catchy song, it’s hilarious. It’s one of our crowd favorites, people sing along with it, really catchy chorus.”

“The chorus was me just trying to write off my own concerns by saying I should focus on the present. It says, ‘put your good book down,’ good book of course being the Bible, put those thoughts aside, the question you are trying to seek, which is, ‘why am I here?’ ‘Why do I exist?’ has been asked for a millennia, every single human who has ever existed has asked this question. So ‘your question is written in the ground’ means that it has this ancient precedent that I write about and say, ‘well I guess we’ll just wait and see what happens.’ Writing this song did not help me figure anything out, but it was kind of fun to write. I just used a lot of Biblical imagery, especially in the bridge part just cause I thought it was kind of fun.”

“I think a lot of the time, people get really bogged down by the formalities in the religion they practice and often times people can lose sight of the original official meaning of what’s being taught,” Gwin said. “Practicing love and acceptance and living a life through God can be such a wonderful thing for so many people, but you can also study things incorrectly or form them towards your own opinions and use them as an excuse to hate people. That has always bothered me. That was a big part of this song and that’s something I still think about quite a bit. I will say that when I’m singing that song, I don’t think of any of that. I’m just making sure my harmonies sound good with the boys and make sure the energy is high just because people love that song so much and it’s funny to me because I wrote it from a really dark place. I was really irritated and pissed off and it’s like our cheeriest song on the record.”

“It started on the Cajon and that one-we could feel the energy that Evan wanted-and when we were playing with it, he gave us the stops and when he wanted the percussion and the electric guitar to cut out,” Ruwart said. “The vocals, the first harmony I came up with was the high harmony. Once Nolan joined the band, we knew he could sing, so we threw him on the high harmony and I was just going to come up with my own harmony on the bottom, like a baritone harmony and it was quite challenging. I had to sit at the piano for like 45 minutes to an hour just trying to figure it out because the harmony on top sticks on the same note for awhile and it’s on the fifth and Evan’s voice goes down like the scale during ‘put your good book down,’ so I had to come up with a voice cross that would work with that on the bottom harmony. It was a challenge for me, but once I got it figured out, it sounded really nice.”

 “Once we started adding the harmonies, it gave like this old country music sound to the chorus and I loved that, like the band that did all the music for Woody’s Roundup in Toy Story 2, they have really cool classic country sound and as soon as we added those harmonies it was like, that’s how it’s going to sound now,” Gwin said. “Then we took that to the studio and recorded it and we changed our instrumentation on the record to fit that vibe. Instead of playing Caleb’s normal electric guitar, we used Will’s Telecaster, which is used a lot for country rock music because it has this very specific twangy sound and then we used tremolo on it, we never play it live, but it’s on the album.”

“That’s cool, it gives it more life,” Ruwart said. “The intro was supposed to go twice as long before the vocals came in but we were talking about it and Evan was like, ‘yeah, it’s just too long it needs to be shorter’ and it just happened to be half the length of what it is now. Then we added the start to bring it in and then Nolan has a slide to give the intro a bit of a kick.”

“Then, with the ending part, we decided we wanted to do it a capella with minimal guitar and Evan was talking about how he wanted to have this choral polyphonic texture, which is where you have one melody and then another melody on top of that,” Ruwart said. “So, when he has a little melody at the end, that’s his own melody. So, I sang his original melody so he could come up with a part, then one day I was sitting in my room and thought, ‘we could probably do a third part with Nolan.’ Evan’s part is a half-time feel in comparison lyrically to what the original is, so we could go even slower. Nolan’s part has long, drawn out phrasing and it uses a quarter of the words the original melody has. That one actually is very hard to sing in tune, that is one of the hardest things we have vocally.”

“The arrangement is so simple and harkens back to those old country songs like I was saying,” Gwin said. “You’re just hit with this random weird choral spot and when we were recording, we tried random variations, doubling and tripling each voice so we would just re-record the same part and layer them on top of each other for a really thick sound and eventually we decided to do three of me and one of Brendan and one of Nolan’s part, it sounds cool.”

“At the end, I sang Nolan’s part,” Ruwart said. “He couldn’t make that recording because he was somewhere else at the time. There’s two of me on the end but on different parts. When we first tried it with three on each part, it sounded really weird, almost robotic, like so fake, we could never recreate it. We decided to tone it back and that’s the theme for the whole EP. Will started cleaning up everything and when we were talking to him, we expressed we wanted to emulate the feeling of each song live more so than how it could be produced in the studio. He went back and took away a lot of the corrections he made and just made it more raw. This EP is The Woodpile at its best and represents us live very well.”

“Evan came up with the bass,” Ruwart said. “Caleb kind of does the same thing as bass but in a double time, when we do the second verse, he kind of palm mutes and keeps it really subtle, but as it grows into the chorus, he lets go of the mute and lets that tremolo sing and does that on all the choruses after that intro. The parts are minimal, really simple on every level. It’s a good song, people like it, it’s very accessible to the average listener because it’s catchy.”

“It’s one of our only songs with a really solid hook in the chorus,” Gwin said. “At shows, people really sing along to it.”