Little Orange Room Sessions is a one-take, one-shot, “living-room”-style performance video series recorded in Eugene, Oregon. Each two-song session is recorded in the 125 square feet that I use for mixing, producing, and sometimes even recording entire albums. Little Orange Room Sessions grew out of my crazy love of music and mixing, a growing curiosity about film and cameras, and a deep-seated passion for performance and the art of song.
*photo by Michell McAfee
Session #11: Beth Wood
Beth Wood is a prolific Oregon based singer/songwriter and poet. In her twenty plus years of touring and recording she has released eleven solo albums, two books of poetry, a collection of awkward stories from the road entitled Facepalm, and last year released Deep Blue, the debut album from her latest project Stand and Sway, a folk/roots/soul duo with Ara Lee James. Her 2019 poetry book, Ladder to the Light is the winner of the 2019 Oregon Book Award’s Reader’s Choice Award. Recently Beth has embraced a new creative direction as song coach and facilitator of songwriting workshops and retreats. Her Little Orange Room Session features an unreleased song titled “The Speed of Lonely” and “Go Now” from her 2018 album The Long Road. Pop Matters says of The Long Road…”Wood manages to capture the essence of a Dolly Parton or Guy Clark with relative ease.” Beth recently took the time to answer a few questions via email.
LORS: How does a Beth Wood song get written? At this point of your career is there a trusted approach or do you find it varies from song to song?
BW: Each song is different, and I am often sparked by a lyric idea. But just this past week I started something from a guitar lick and then started singing nonsense over it to see what came out. Once I had that first line then I let it direct me to the next one and the next. It’s pretty rare when I know exactly what I want to say and then just have to execute it. Most of the time there is a spark and then a period of waiting around and letting it simmer in the background while I do other things. Songs are wild things…you have to be still and hope they come cozy up to you close enough to see what they are about.
LORS: I know you’ve done a bit of co-writing in your career. Do you like letting other songwriters into that process? Writing in solitude vs writing in partnership: Does the process change radically? Does the subject matter instinctively change?
BW: I’ve had many opportunities to co-write and I love it. It breaks me out of any patterns I might have fallen into, and it allows something to come through that I never would have come up with on my own. I have co-written some songs that I love and some that I could take or leave, but no matter the outcome, I treasure every chance I have to work with another writer. Writing can be so solitary, and just spending a few hours with another soul who loves to make songs is extremely heartening. And then to get a window into how someone else approaches making something is a gift in itself that you can carry forward into your own process. When you co-write, the process changes in that it is a tennis match rather than a golf game. The back and forth creates friction and also creates an abundance of ideas that you then mutually decide upon. It’s the difference between solo singing and harmony singing. Each is fun in its own way.
LORS: Do you ever get stuck while writing a song? Do you have any tricks or advice for songwriters to get “unstuck”?
BW: Writing a song can be wildly frustrating even at the same time it is thrilling. The more I do it, the more I learn you can’t force or push it. Better to walk away, go walk around the block, do something else for a while and come back to it when things start feeling pinched. It can be excruciating because the song lives in my head and my hands on an endless loop while I’m writing it. So sometimes it’s best to interrupt that obsessive hamster wheel of thinking and do something human and normal like go have a coffee or take a nap or play frisbee with my dog, and then get back to it with a little air mixed in. Another one of my favorite tricks for getting unstuck is something I like to call “change one thing”. If you always play sitting, try standing. If you always write on guitar, try piano. If you like to play with a pick, put the pick down and try fingerpicking. Change the tuning of one string. Try a different guitar. Different paper, different pen. Remember that songwriting is work, but it is also play. Switching things up just a little can shift everything.
LORS: Guy Clark sings, “Some days you write the song / some days the song writes you.” Which line best describes you?
BW: I love those moments when an idea possesses me. It’s like a quickening, it’s electric and the hair on my arms stands up. I can sense when it is coming, like weather. Ideas come through me and I am the conduit. That is the most memorable way a song comes and also it feels like a gift from somewhere mysterious. Those happen rarely, when the song writes me. For all the other songs I slog it out over days, weeks, months and sometimes even years. But it’s all worth it because I believe if you are doing the work consistently, it increases your chances of getting one of those magical songs. It keeps you tuned in. Heat attracts heat.
LORS: Any music you’re listening to (old or new) that I should put in my ear holes? Or any good books you’re currently reading or just finished?
BW: I am reading This House of Sky by Ivan Doig and it is miraculous. I’ve heard about him for years and I’m finally getting to see what everyone was talking about. I feel like I am right there with him in every scene. And I am obsessed with Bon Iver, especially the later stuff like “i,i” and “22, A million”. The further out and more electronic and strange it gets, the more emotional depth I find in it. I have no idea why. It’s so different than the songs I make. It’s intimate and vulnerable yet ballsy. And I think that’s why I love it.