Inside the Songs with The Woodpile: 'Take A Step Back'

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:

And every time you watch us die, you say just wait for a sign. 
Some new form of life, from the ashes of our broken minds. 

But in this life, you've lost all sight of the problems and the strife. 
You keep your eyes wide shut from my contingency and pride. 

Take a step back, just look and see 
How your eyes, they fall down to a former scene. 
You wade in the waters of our told past. 
It's time to step back, where the fish can't last. 

When you decide to hold your head high, 
Steal your footprints from the night. 
Your hands are untied. 
Part with drying eyes. 

Take a step back, just look and see 
How your eyes, they fall down to a former scene. 
You wade in the waters of our told past. 
It's time to step back, where the fish can't last.

The Process:

“This is the longest song on the record,” Gwin said. “It’s the only song on the record that wasn’t started by me, it was started by Brendan, he came up with the concept for it.”

“So, I decided that I wanted a major seventh chord, just a simple guitar part that would sound really pretty,” Ruwart said. “So I wrote the first little part that I start out playing and then wrote this little harmony part to it and then I taught it to Evan. One day we were jamming on it and then Evan came up with the second chord. We go from the one chord to the four chord, which is G and then back to the one and we repeat that multiple times. We were just jamming on that and liked how it sounded, Evan and I.”

“Then Evan came up with this little high part that he plays at the intro, we were doing it and then after we do the first little theme, we switch him to holding the B minor chord and playing the roll of finger picking pattern. So he plays that and then I came up with this random lyric that was completely garbage, I can’t even remember what I said. Something like, ‘stay with me’ or some bullshit like that and then I came up with the melody/harmonies behind it and the band really liked it, so we stuck with it.”

“The harmonies were super crunchy, but I really liked them, I thought they were necessary for what I was going for theme-wise during the song,” Ruwart said. “Then we decided it was going to build up and I thought I was going to play drums on it for a while, switch from guitar and go to drums, then decided, no, I was going to come up with a guitar part instead. So Evan, after we had gone through the build-up, he had come up with the build-up part and then came up with the verse part and then came up with the lyrics, ‘every time you watch us die, you say you’ll just wait for a sign, some new form of life, from the ashes of our broken minds.’”

“His theme behind the lyrics was to be moving on-it’s difficult to move on from a relationship but it’s necessary, you have to do it-so the lyrics are talking about moving on the whole time,” Ruwart said. “It could be a relationship between a significant other, it could be a friendship, just anything, just a relationship that needs to end just for the betterment of everyone. At the time, it was applicable to what I needed to do with my own ex-girlfriend, but I was having a hard time trying to do it and I’m still having a hard time doing it, but it’s way more applicable now for me because it’s me- especially during the chorus- talking to myself basically. It’s myself trying to tell myself, ‘you need to move on. You’re wading in the waters of untold past, it’s time to step out of the water where the fish can’t last.’”

“He [Evan] came up with the lyrics of the first verse, I came up with the lyrics of the second verse, that’s why I sing the second verse,” Ruwart said.  “I came up with the chorus and the harmonies behind the chorus, Evan and I came together and sat down and wrote the third verse together.”

“This is kind of like a landmark song for us because it really changed everything,” Gwin said. “Instead of me writing the song in private and bringing it to the band, we took our combined efforts and wrote the entire song from the ground up, every single part. So that was super cool. Nolan’s playing is very unique and very Nolan, and it’s something that I don’t think either of us could have came up with and then Reeb [Caleb] has just an amazing guitar part to start and then he has this sweet solo at the end.”

“I always wonder if people actually like this one, ” Ruwart said. “Some probably do and some probably don’t because the intro is really long and you can think that it’s monotonous, some people, but I feel like I have always thought it needed to be a repetitive thing. Then the ending, after I had done the second chorus, I was like, ‘we should probably do another chorus, like get a bridge part,’ but the song was already so long because of the intro before and Evan was like, ‘I feel like it’s already just fine with the two verses and the chorus we had,’ so I decided, why don’t we bring back the theme from the very beginning and just keep it at the tempo for the verses and the chorus? Then I said, ‘Caleb, I want you to have a guitar solo in here’ and so the song’s kind of in threes. You have three repeats of the first theme with the intro, you have three repeats at the end of it again, you have three repeat verses, I don’t know, it’s weird."

“On the verses, I’m playing an intricate guitar part cause I felt like the verse needed something in the background that was going to be different and weird to listen to at first, I don’t know, but Evan was playing,” Ruwart said. “Him and his old band Abroad used to have this little riff they would play with the guitars and drop D cause this song is in open D tuning and I heard him play that and I was like, ‘I really like that, that could work’ and I played the first part of that lick. On the stops [in Evan’s part] we’re all playing together on just quarter notes so it’s kind of cool and I came up with this random harmony part. I had this weird finger picking part that I came up with too, I don’t know I just randomly did it one day and it worked out.”

“At the end we have the ‘oohs,’ which I tried to come up with different ‘oohs’ at the beginning,” Ruwart said. “The ‘ooh’s’ at the end are also in threes. We do that three times and then the song ends. We were trying to figure out how we should end it and I was going to end it on just on the strum of a chord but decided not to,” Ruwart said. “It ends on a suspension, it doesn’t resolve but the ‘ooh’s,’ at first we were going to have all guitar the whole time and bass drum. Then it was like, ‘okay, we need to just keep these ooh’s going and keep the guitars going and then we’ll take them out and just have Evan holding the guitar and just strumming,’ there’s no notes coming out of it so it’s just a rhythmic pattern and just the bass drum then after that it’s just nothing but vocals at the end. The lyrics push at the end, they have a push and then the reverb just kind of hangs there and kind of leaves you hanging for a second.”

“With this one, it’s the only one that we didn’t record all of the parts at once,” Gwin said. “Brendan and I were each playing acoustic guitar on this with Nolan playing bass, so we just sat across from each other with our mics set up on our respective instruments and we just played. It was very interesting, it was a very different format. We just had to watch each other and really focus on the metronome.”

“This was one of the hardest songs that we wrote, hardest we arranged, hardest song to play,” Gwin said. “But, also, I think it’s very good representation of where we’re headed because it came from our collective minds rather than just mine and then theirs. It was so rewarding to write it because it was the first time we worked together during the entire process.”

“It’s the most challenging to perform, without a doubt, as far as our originals,” Ruwart said. “But, it’s gotten a lot better and it’s become one that’s just fun to play now.”

“It’s very rewarding when it goes well,” Gwin said.