Frontman Nathan Henry opens up about the origins of the band’s third album QU, trying to make something timeless, the hardships that come with getting older, the depressing state of music today, and the cloudy future of Sherwood.
Have you been enjoying your break here the last month or so?
You know, yeah, it’s nice. We’ve been working a lot, so it’s nice to have a break. Band guys usually get their summer vacation in the winter. It’s not usually the best time to be touring because it’s really unsafe to tour, the shows aren’t as good and people are doing other stuff. Usually, we work during the summer and take the winters off. It’s much appreciated to have the time to do that.
What’s it feel like to have three albums under your belt and to have that much material to play around with now for shows?
First of all, it’s crazy to have three records. I don’t think when you set out to make your first record, you don’t really think you’re going to make three of them [laughs], let alone be able to tour on three albums. It’s hard. It’s hard to know what songs to play. Each album is better than the last, or at least I think. I think that as you grow as a musician you want to play your latest material, but you still have to keep fans happy with what songs they like the most.
We’ve decided to play some new stuff. A lot of fans have been tweeting us to play certain songs. We’ve kind of been listening to the Twitter. We try to keep our fans happy. I think most bands do that. I don’t know if there’s many bands that just decide to do whatever they want to do and don’t care [laughs], but I guess there’s certain bands that do that. It’s crazy to have three records. I don’t know where we’re going to start, but I think we got it kind of narrowed down.
It just came out recently that MySpace Records is folding. Where the heck does that leave you guys?
We’re actually in probably a better place than people would on the outside looking in think. The nice thing is all the budgets were approved for a year, so we’re not left without the budgets to do what we wanted to do. We’re going to radio and stuff. We’re going on this tour and doing other stuff to promote that. We were free agents after this record anyways, so in a way it helps to further along that process. Our management’s able to go to our label and be like, “Hey, this is what we need to do. This is what we’re doing for the next six months.”
MySpace has been kind of winding down as a website, let alone a record label. It’s a bummer because they were a really good record label. I really, really liked them. They gave us everything we needed. We were a priority. We had a good staff of people working for us.
With this latest record, it probably wasn’t as prevalent as our previous album just because MySpace isn’t in general. I think we’re in a good spot. I think we’re able to move along, and I think we’ll probably find another home soon. I don’t know what’s going to happen to the label. It’s hard to say. I don’t know if there’s still going to be a label. It’s just up in the air right now, what they’re going to become.
So let’s talk about this new record you have. I don’t think I’ve ever heard what QU means and why you titled it that. Can you talk about that for a little bit?
Yeah. We decided to title the album QU, as in one. That’s what it’s supposed to be. I don’t think we realized people would be like, “Is it Q-U?” or whatever.
It was one of those things where the band’s sitting around and debating on what we want to call the record. We just couldn’t really come to anything. No one came up with anything good. We couldn’t agree on what we wanted to call the record. We knew it needed to be something [laughs]. It was probably an aesthetic thing. We wrote QU on a piece of paper and it looked cool. We thought it’d look pretty cool on a record. It’s something easy to remember.
The album title just means new album. It doesn’t matter what it is. I don’t think an album title ever really means anything for the most part. It’s always just some cliché thing. Maybe it means something every once in a while, if the record is trying to say something as a whole, but it just means new record. It doesn’t really mean anything. There’s no cool story behind it.
How did you end up writing the record? Was it done during one long session or over an extended period of time?
We actually took about a year to write this record. We did a few various tours between it. We did a tour in the U.K. in the middle of writing the record, and then we just did one-offs here and there. We rented an apartment in Oakland. They had these live-in studios.
The good and bad thing about our band is everyone’s from all over the place, so there’s no central location for Sherwood. There’s no, like, everyone’s from this town, so when we’re off tour we go hang out with our families and such. There’s really no place for us to kind of go, so we decided to rent this apartment in Oakland. We just sort of lived, wrote and demoed.
It was a pretty good process. We were kind of in the ghetto, so it wasn’t inspiring, to say the least. I mean, it’s hard trying to get together and be creative. There’s really no time. You can’t really say when you’re going to be creative.
How long were you in the apartment for?
We were in the apartment for about six or seven months. It felt like about that long. Maybe five. I can’t remember exactly, but it definitely was about five or six months. We had demoed some stuff here and there, and then worked on that. Probably about 85 demos were made. Not all were complete songs, like some were first choruses. Half of those were complete songs. We knew we had to make a really good record in order to move ourselves along.
Unfortunately, having the label go down and the economy where it’s at, there’s been a lot of stuff that’s just unfortunate, so the record itself is kind of in a slow build. A lot of people don’t know the new album’s out. But yeah, the record itself took about a year to make. We really, really like it. It’s our best record by far. Holistically, it’s just got a good feel to it.
It’s pretty rare to have a band continue to get better with each record, and I think you’ve able to do that.
We try, you know. It’s really hard. It’s really hard to dig through your sound, and also improve and push yourself as an artist and create songs that you’re going to love playing every night onstage. I think when you put out a few songs and start touring, you realize, “Oh, I’m going to have to play this song every day for the rest of my life, so I should probably think about it a little bit more.
Some people like the easy stuff. The really simple songs we’ve written, people like those best. Some people don’t like them. I don’t know. It’s really weird. I think we’re always trying to grow, but some people like the old stuff. It’s hard to please everybody, that’s for sure.
You worked with Brad Wood on this one, and definitely from a production standpoint it sounds completely different from your other two. Can you talk about that and what it was like to work with him?
Brad is great. Brad’s a really patient guy. He’s really smart. He’s really good at getting natural sounds. In a world where people overproduce their records, it’s all squashed and compressed. Everything’s so loud, and the drums are pretty much just built in a program.
Sometimes that sugary sound is nice, but we tried to create a record that still can be listened to in a few years. All this Auto-Tune, computer stuff, in a few years no one’s going to listen to that record. No one’s going to want to listen to that stuff. It’s just going to sound bad. Everybody’s going to be like, “Remember in the late-2000s when everyone did that sound?”
It’s going to be like the MIDI stuff from the ‘80s.
Yeah, exactly, which some of that stuff is great, like the Cure. There’s some timeless stuff in there, but the value of the bands that went all out and totally cashed in on the sound of the times, no one wants to listen to that stuff anymore. Bands who stuck to their format, the U2s and the Cure, these bands that really stuck to what they do, people want to listen to their records to this day.
In the ‘90s, it was the same thing. I still listen to Third Eye Blind and still pop in their records. They’re great records and I still hear new things in the songs, even to this day. I still pop in an old Smashing Pumpkins record. There’s something there. Brad worked with the Pumpkins, and I got to talk to him a lot about stuff he would do with Billy Corgan. It was crazy to be working with a guy who’s worked with some of my favorite artists.
I don’t know if we made a timeless record. I think we tried to. That’d be ridiculous if we just said that we did because that’s not something for us to decide, or even say we did. It’s something people will embrace. I think very few records are timeless. We just tried to make something that in 10 years someone will like this record.
I remember hearing that you contributed more lyrically on this record. Is that true?
Yeah. I think my name’s on, like, nine out of 12 songs. For me, in Sherwood’s past I had been doing all the business stuff. I took a very different role on this record because I had the time to be a part of the album.
In the past, we were touring. We were booking shows. We were dealing with all our business. We were just trying to survive as a band. I was the oldest member in the group. I started the band. Honestly, there just wasn’t a whole lot of time to spend on music. I don’t think a lot of people realize that young bands are working nonstop.
With this record, we had all the other people in place and we had a little bit of a budget to live, so I could spend my days working on the songs and the lyrics. I feel like I finally came to a place where I had something to say as an artist. We’d toured, and I had met people and had lived enough life to say, “Hey, this is what I think about it. This is some struggles that I’ve been through, and here’s some things that I think about it.”
In the past, I don’t think there was an opportunity to be as involved as I would have liked. But yeah, this record I did most of the lyrics, and then it was kind of all my decision at the end of what I wanted on and what I didn’t want on.
As you were kind of talking about it seems that this album is a little more serious than the other two. Is that something that comes with you getting older and all that stuff?
I think so. I definitely feel like I’m at the age, I’m in my late 20s, where you’re starting to see friends die. That’s never been a part of my life before, people dying. A lot of my friends are getting divorced, and that’s something that’s just crazy. People got married a year earlier, and now they’re divorced and they got kids. I think it was the first time in my life where I felt, man, there’s a lot of sad stories lately. There’s a lot of people going through hard times.
Last year was a huge struggle for us as a band. We came off this awesome year when our last record came out, and this year’s just been a lot of the struggle. The money’s not there for artists as much. MySpace wasn’t as big of a presence. We felt like in a lot of ways we’re just like farmers, trying to create enough demand to keep going. When you get older, and you want to settle down and live your life a little bit, it’s hard. I think there’s a lot of life struggle in the record. It’s been a tough year for us as a band for lots of reasons, not just musically, but in life.
I think that year was one of the hardest years of my life. There was a girl I was dating for forever and we broke up. I thought I was going to spend my life with her, and it didn’t work out. I knew in my heart that it wasn’t right. It’s just for years I didn’t pay attention to that. My brother went through a divorce. There was just tons of stuff happening, and I think a lot of negative energy we tried to release in that record.
Is that kind of what “No Better” is about?
Dan wrote that song. I helped shape it a little bit. I kind of directed him on that one. That was originally a harder song. It didn’t really become a soft, mellow jam until the end. Dan just kind of did it on his own, and he had this idea for it. I had sort of given up on the song, actually [laughs]. I was like, “I don’t think the song’s coming out right.”
I definitely helped give him some ideas lyrically that he kind of used, but the idea of getting divorced is just not a good thing for anyone. So that song I sort of let Dan work on. That was one of the songs on the record that I didn’t have much input on. Yeah, it’s pretty sad. It definitely deals with a tough topic.
One other song I want to talk about is “Ground Beneath My Feet,” which is something else different than what you’ve done before. What went into that song?
That song is probably the song I wrote the most lyrically on. That song is probably one of my favorite songs on the record, if not my favorite. That song started out instrumentally as really big, with this slow intro, this punchy intro, and then the second chorus is pretty big. It’s kind of a two-part song put together.
When I heard the music to it, there really were no lyrics to it. It just had this epic feel, kind of like a World War II vibe, when I heard it. So I told the guys, “I just want to hear this song. I feel like it’s that moment when you know you’re going to die in 10 minutes. What’s going through your head?” So that’s kind of what the song became. The music dictated the lyrics. That’s probably the first time that’s ever really happened in a Sherwood song, where the music provides the vibe and feeling and I shape the lyrics around that.
It’s a story about a solder who has these flashbacks of different imagery as he’s dying. He’s having flashbacks to this moment in his life where he’s with his girl and she’s begging him not to leave. They have this fight and this argument, and then he flashes back to where he’s at in the midst of this war and he gets killed. It’s about all of what would happen in that moment.
It was a really hard song to write in general because you’re trying to explain this story, but you’re not trying to use cliché words and ideas. I think I was writing the lyrics until the last minute when I was in the studio, scratching stuff out and rewriting it, but I’m glad how it came out.
You’ve gotten some comparisons to the Beach Boys with how you use harmonies. What’s the process like coming up with those and how are you able to work them in?
I think we’re just fortunate to have three singers in our band, so that we can pull off the harmonies. I know that Dan loves the Beach Boys. Growing up, they were a huge hit for him. I grew up listening to ‘80s stuff, so I didn’t really get into the whole Beach Boys thing like he did.
I think we’ve always had this happy-go-lucky vibe musically, with really pensive, sad lyrics under it all. It sounded so ironic in general that these songs make you feel happy, but when you really look down and read the lyrics, they’re not necessarily happy lyrics all the time. For some reason, people always say, “Oh, you made me so happy,” which is funny because the lyrics aren’t all happy. The Beach Boys a lot of times did the same thing, but sometimes their songs were silly. It’s hard to say. Pet Sounds is a timeless record and is melodic genius.
I think when you can tap into the vocals and make them an instrument themselves, you open yourself up to a whole other thing you can do as a band. A lot of bands can’t do that. Vocals, sadly to say, are not important anymore. There’s people at the top of the charts who literally can’t sing. They cannot sing songs. It’s crazy to me. I don’t understand.
We’re a band that’s the exact opposite. It takes three guys to sing to pull off our show, and kids will pack into a room and listen to a guy sing through a laptop. I don’t get it. It’s really hard for us to see that. It makes you feel like anyone can be a rock star. It doesn’t have anything to do with your actual ability to sing songs live. I know it’s been going on for a while, so it’s no surprise to us that that’s what’s happening now. I don’t know. We love melodies, we love vocals and we just try to bring it out in our songs. Beach Boys are one of the best at that.
Did you write “Shelter” vocally or to an instrument? How did that work?
The melody was actually part of a song in The Thin Red Line. It was sort of like a native chant song that was in the movie. We were watching it one day when we were writing our record and thought that’d be really cool to let that be an opener to the record. Dan wrote some lyrics over it, and then it became this cool, melodic intro. But we kind of ripped it off from Thin Red Line.
It’s always little things like that that tie in. There’s no cool story behind that. It’s just that we liked it and we wanted to use the melody as the intro part. The lyrics I think are a great opening to the record. We’ve always been that band who has just hoped – hoped for more for ourselves and hoped for more for people. We’ve been a band of dreamers, and the “Shelter” song, that’s what it is. To me, it’s a mix of all this stuff that’s going on around you, like an old gospel song almost.
We’ve been talking about the current state of music and the difficulties you’ve experienced as a band. Would you say your passion for music and making music has changed since when you first started out?
That’s a good question. I‘ve talked to people in this business a lot about this. I’ve talked to photographers, like, “Do you take photos when you’re home for fun?” They’re like, “No, I just take photos for bands. It’s kind of my job.” A lot of bands get burned out. They’re tired. They’ve been touring for forever and it’s kind of their job.
It’s really hard to say how I feel about music. The state music is in is depressing. What people consider music now is really depressing. What’s selling, it just sounds like someone typed a bunch of words in Google, pressed enter, and got this list of junk and they’re just rapping over it. They’re making these techno beats on their computer, plugging it all in and singing about, in my opinion, some of the most worthless stuff. I know it’s catchy, I guess, but I used to think music had something to say and had a message. It was an art form. It’s sad to say all the stuff that’s topping the charts these days, you know, kids just don’t… I don’t know.
But, there’s still great bands out there. Vampire Weekend went No. 1 a couple weeks ago. There’s still great bands making good music and trying to make great art, but for the most part what’s being put out there and accepted and produced is just kind of sad. The artists who are really trying to make a difference, make some noise and write good music, are not getting paid attention to. They’re not getting on tours. They’re not getting sponsored. They’re not getting picked up by publishing companies. They’re not getting their songs pushed because they’re just not popular, so to speak, so they can’t continue to make art.
I think when you start to see what gets driven, why certain songs make it to the top and you know what’s behind the song itself, it can make you really jaded. You’re like, “I know those guys are just a joke. I know they just made this as a joke. I know they’re not even serious about this music.” Yet somebody they knew pushed it into the mainstream. Then it started selling, and they almost believe their own lie. There’s a lot of that. I think that if you’re an artist and you’re trying to push your art forward, it can be really discouraging.
We’re a pop band. We’re not Radiohead or Björk by any means, trying to be this band that is the pinnacle of expressing music to the masses. We’re still a pop band, but we’re trying to do something that at least people can relate to, and actually think about their life and think about what’s going on. I don’t know. I really don’t know what I’m saying. I feel like I’m just rambling on.
I’m not sure if this is right or not, but as someone who’s followed you for a long time I got the impression that if QU didn’t do that well then this might be the end of Sherwood. Is that something that you’ve been thinking about, too?
That’s funny because I’ve heard that from a lot of people. I remember writing an email to Jason Tate of Absolute Punk, saying, “Hey, we need some help.” I remember him posting that first initial review for our record and saying that he thinks this is going to be our last album. Unfortunately, that’s probably the only bad thing he’s done for our band, because he’s done so much good for our band. He’s posted a bunch of stuff, but I think that was the original message that started getting out, that this was going to be our last record. For a while on Google when you searched our new album, that’s all you got.
So I think he kind of started that rumor, and people have been believing it because MySpace hasn’t had its ability to push out to the masses and our original publicist didn’t do anything for our band. There were just no stories out. You couldn’t read anything. There was nothing online.
I remember the month it came out and I hadn’t done one interview for our band, and our record had been out for a month. I was like, “I’m the singer for our band and I haven’t done one interview. What’s going on?” It was really a bummer because all my friends were like, “Hey, if I Google search you I get this interview that says you guys are, like, done.” And I’m like, “Crap.”
Our last record had done like 40,000 copies. It was a really good first big step for us, and then this record came out and I feel like it’s the classic band story of their third album, or whatever, that comes out. There’s a shift. Someone gets fired, or something happens, and no one knows the album comes out. It’s happened to so many of our friends’ bands, and in more of an indie way happened to us. I think it fueled that original review of our record.
Sherwood wants to continue. We want to keep making records. We would love to continue this band, but there definitely is the reality that your band has to be a certain size to make a full-time job out of it. I don’t think a lot of music fans understand what that looks like. They think that if they see your songs on TV and there’s some ad online that you’re a rock star making tons of money, but I think that most band members are just scraping by.
If Sherwood doesn’t make another album, it would be because the system killed the band and not because the band killed itself. Does that make sense? It would be because we couldn’t do it financially. Dan’s married now. There’s this whole other stage of life that we’re entering into. All these young kids in these bands that are 19 are starting to sell tons of records, and play their little pop songs on their laptops and get huge. The guys that have been grinding it out for years, trying to create a sound, are just getting ignored.
I don’t think this is Sherwood’s last record, but there definitely are things in the way. Our new single that is going out could do really well and then we could just laugh about this, but we’re definitely at that point where we need our band to get to another level. We need people to take notice to what we’re doing because there’s definitely too many people drawing off the fountain to keep surviving. I think there will be another Sherwood album regardless, even if it’s just Dan and myself, and we put out the record on our own or something.
I think Sherwood’s doing really well. We got the tour coming up. We shot a new video. I think there’s a lot of good things going on for us right now, particularly with the video, and we won that radio contest in San Diego for 10 straight days. So there’s a lot that continues going on.
I just don’t know if there’s an ability to create the overall awareness of what’s happening. I don’t hear much about it. I think a lot of it has to do with our publicist I feel not doing anything for our initial release, and that started a ball of no one knowing our record came out. I think we’re trying to dig ourselves out of that hole, and the MySpace Records thing was just really unfortunate.
I think everyone else was like, “Oh, well, that’s the end. Sherwood’s done.” They already kind of thought that to begin with, which is really silly because no one in the band was saying that to anybody. I think we’re more in it. We’re in it to win it. I think we have a good record, and it’s unfortunate that a lot of people won’t listen to it because they don’t know it’s out.
Yeah. It’s definitely one of my favorites from last year, and it’s a shame that it’s not getting that noticed yet.
Yes, that’s life. It’s just how it goes, but we’re happy. We’re happy with it.
Originally appeared on Mammoth Press