Retrospective: Wooden Wives (2005-2015)

“Sunset and evening star,

And one clear call for me!

And may there be no moaning of the bar,

When I put out to sea.”

“Crossing the Bar” Alfred Lord Tennyson

For a lot of us, Wooden Wives has been a fixture in the Saint John landscape, a benchmark for experimentation, collaboration, and what the local music scene can achieve by rolling up its sleeves. If you’ve gone to nearly any two shows in the Port City, chances are you’ve seen somebody play three sets by now. Hyperbole aside, this is the collaborative nature of the arts in Saint John, and for my five cents Wooden Wives embodies this ethic of building together and facilitating a thriving arts community.

It was with all of these sentiments rolling in my mind that the announcement “Wives is Over” struck me as jarring. If you’ve ever finished an episode of television and, searching for the next episode, realized you had unknowingly watched the finale, you’ll understand my sense of displacement as I tried to recall details of the last set I’d caught. Ultimately these things are meant to be ephemeral, and this is no trip to Pity City; this is a celebration of ten truly, wonderfully rollicking years.

I had the chance to catch up with Wooden Wives’ Jud Crandall, and asked him to take us through some of the chain-gang’s fondest photo-memories. Here, in brief, is a look back at the highlights of their past ten years.

2005-2006

Some of my earliest exposures to local music were listening to the Port City Allstars’ ‘On Safari’ (Adam Mowery stomping the floorboards in steel-toes boots blew my teenage mind) and The Organizers’ ‘Painting Bricklin Blue’ (which was the first local record I’d bought at Backstreet Records.)  It was sometime around 2005 that these two began to morph into a kind of Saint John supergroup, featuring future Wives Jud Crandall, Pierre Cormier, Alex Keleher & Adam Mowery. Later in 2006, they would drop their first single, ‘Crazyblood’ and play their first show as Wooden Wives with a lineup of Jud, Pierre, Adam, Mike Dionne, Shelley Brown, Steve Zaionz & Jacques Marmen. These years were the beginning of something very special, and I only wish I’d been old enough to sneak into Elwoods to hear them play.

2007-2008

Written and produced throughout the spring and into the summer, Wooden Wives release their debut ‘Dead Meat’ in July, a rocking psychedelic album with flavors of punk. The line-up shifts slightly with Marcus Webster joining the mix and Alex Keleher taking over for Steby year’s end.

(2007 Dave Elman, L-R: Mike Dionne, Shelley Brown, Jud Crandall, Alex Keleher, Pierre Cormier, Adam Mowery (not pictured: Marcus Webster)
(2007 Dave Elman, L-R: Mike Dionne, Shelley Brown, Jud Crandall, Alex Keleher, Pierre Cormier, Adam Mowery (not pictured: Marcus Webster)

JUD: This was the second of two shows, the first having been in Halifax at Gus’ and this one in Saint John at Tapps, where I believe we put out our first EP Dead Meat. Adam’s arm is in a sling under his blazer, hence him not playing guitar. My take-away from this weekend was a moment driving back into Saint John and feeling very positive and excited for the band feeling like it was coming into its own. Whether that was a discussion amongst us travelling or just my own warm fuzzies, I can’t say, but it was a heartening weekend either way.

The following year sees the quintet host a weekly 13-part residency with numerous guests such as Frigger, The Telecasts, and Cambrian Explosions called Summer Love-In (every Wednesday at the late, great Melvins if I recall correctly) and collaborate on unfinished recordings with Japanese group Sleepyhead

(2008 Dan Culberson. L-R: Adam Mowery, Pierre Cormier, Alex Keleher, Mike Dionne, Jud Crandall)
(2008 Dan Culberson. L-R: Adam Mowery, Pierre Cormier, Alex Keleher, Mike Dionne, Jud Crandall)

JUD: We haven’t taken very many “band photos” with Wooden Wives, the quotation marks being deliberate for the curious form that is the band photo, but I feel like we managed to do interesting ones when we did take a stab at them, with Dan Culberson directing in this case. We did a playful shot at our space with a pile of dodecahedrons from a Third Space fundraiser and then headed out to the old CBC towers on the West Side looking more like bad dudes, before ending up across the road from the towers where we got a few of these shots just off the side of the road with some junk we brought that we thought might come in handy. This is pretty reflective of the music we were making at the time, pastoral garbage.

2009-2010

Guitarist Mike Dionne departs the band in the beginning of 2009, and the quartet remained as Jud, Pierre, Adam & Alex. The band is anointed the much-deserved title of “Best Group” at the 2009 Best of Saint John Music Awards. In August of 2010, they release their follow-up LP ‘Tail‘, a barn burner of an album with ass-kicking tracks such as ‘War Brides’, a personal favorite of mine that is absolutely worth giving a listen if you haven’t already. 

(2010 Jeff Mclennan. L-R: Jud Crandall, Adam Mowery, Alex Keleher, Pierre Cormier)
(2010 Jeff Mclennan. L-R: Jud Crandall, Adam Mowery, Alex Keleher, Pierre Cormier)

JUD: Jeff Mclennan is a fast friend of ours and probably one of the kindest and most positive people I know. He took a great series of shots at Record Store Day in 2010 where we released our War Brides EP. He got lots of great action shots of the set, and playing in front of Backstreet with people everywhere is always a colourful visual. Another warm weekend for sure.

2011-2012

During this time, Peter MacDonald records with the band in 2011 on guitar and appears live a handful of times during the year for a few quintet shows. The band would release Together (We Make Sense Of Life) a split album with The Lee Harvey Oswalds on Hamburger Tapes (who produced super cool, colorful cassettes), featuring a combination of new and previously released tracks.

Following the success of Summer Love-In, Wooden Wives would go on to host a monthly series in collaboration with Third Space Gallery and Culturehub for a multimedia performance art series called 5 Seconds Of Decision, with its final Halloween installment serving as Adam Mowery’s goodbye show. The group would go on to clean up at the 2011 Best of Saint John Music awards, winning “Best Group”, “Best Album Artwork”, and “Album of the Year” with ‘Tail‘.

(2011 Nick Cameron. L-R: Jud Crandall, Pierre Cormier, Adam Mowery, Zale Burley (The Lee Harvey Oswalds) (not pictured: Alex Keleher)
(2011 Nick Cameron. L-R: Jud Crandall, Pierre Cormier, Adam Mowery, Zale Burley (The Lee Harvey Oswalds) (not pictured: Alex Keleher)

JUD: The thick of our 5 Seconds Of Decision series from 2011. Zale Burley is with us onstage playing the tambourine. I know he and bandmate Mike Taggart as well as Jamie Macintosh, who ran Hamburger Records, made the trip from Fredericton for a few of those shows. What you got here though is one form of the stage show that was constructed each month through the efforts of Nick Cameron and Third Space Gallery. I had approached the gallery that spring with the idea of their curating the visual element of the show with Nick. Gillian Dykeman and Amy Ash were with the board at that time, and they were adamant that there could be so much more done that is reflective of contemporary art and media, which was an invaluable contribution and direction to follow. The whole collective of folks working on the series visuals elevated proceedings with their involvement.

It was at this time that Saint John stalwarts Sean Boyer and Luc Gagnon made their debuts as new additions to Wooden Wives shortly before releasing two EP’s in 2012: ‘Twistin’ At The Knife‘ in April and ‘Pilot To Gunner‘ in December. Halfway across the globe, they released a spoken word track, ‘Gone With The Wind‘ with Sleepyhead for release in Japan. It was around this time that Saint John Playlist ranks ‘Tail‘ as one of its Best Albums (in large part because it’s an amazing album… which can be streamed here).

2013-2014

(2013 Mike Taggart. L-R: Pierre Cormier, Joe Chamandy (Kappa Chow), Jud Crandall, Chris Meaney (KC), Sean Boyer’s arm (not pictured: Alex Keleher)
(2013 Mike Taggart. L-R: Pierre Cormier, Joe Chamandy (Kappa Chow), Jud Crandall, Chris Meaney (KC), Sean Boyer’s arm (not pictured: Alex Keleher)

JUD: Mike Taggart of The Lee Harvey Oswalds took this shot of us performing with Kappa Chow, both being bands we forged deep partnerships with. We had portion of the set where we would hand a guitar off to Joe Chamandy so Chris Meany and I could duel saxophones and we could all indulge in a kinda MC5 or Hawkwind maelstrom jam. I remember the first time I met Joe he remarked how the MC5 were their spiritual fathers, and it was an instant click because he basically took the words out of our own mouths, considering the kind of music we had come to be making by that time, combining high energy and dynamics with the desire to reach out musically. Our song Pock Marks became our show closer with them. In this case the mis en scene is all the better for our venue, ReNeu Boutique in Fredericton, where Heather Ogilvie would host shows after-hours. The place had a weird haute-couture bunker feel to it, which was of course just fine by us

Continuing on, the quartet release their ‘Dead Peasants‘ single in December of 2013 and collaborate on-stage with Kappa Chow several times throughout the following year, once again taking home the title of “Best Group” in 2013, along with “Best Album Artwork” for ‘Pilot to Gunner‘ and being named the #2 Best Recording Artist by Saint John Playlist (noticing a trend here? Much love from Saint John.) It wouldn’t be known to the world at the time, but Dan Chamberlain would join the Wooden Wives onstage in the Fall of 2014 in what would ultimately be their final live show.

(2014 Kaitie Woodhouse. L-R seated: Alex Keleher, Jud Crandall, Sean Boyer, Pierre Cormier (and friends)
(2014 Kaitie Woodhouse. L-R seated: Alex Keleher, Jud Crandall, Sean Boyer, Pierre Cormier (and friends)

JUD: Our latest stab at “band photo” involved throwing a little party, inviting many of the folks who we were collaborating and hanging out with at the time, and at the direction of Alice Fudge, all of us wearing black or white. We wanted to reflect the collective and collaborative aspect of the band, that we wanted participation within a community of people to be the drive of the band. Little You Little Me played as well as a few other acts, and we were going for a sort of Quadrophenia gang pic with the whole group. Kaitie Woodhouse and Corey Bonnevie were doing the photography, shooting on film, and this is one of Kaitie’s pics. There were so many great bands in town that we were fortunate to be able to play with at the time, including LYLM, but also HOWL, Learning, and may more. We were together for so long as a band that I feel like we were able to take part in a few different waves of really compelling and exciting music being made, from folks like The Fedoras, Something French, Hospital Grade, Shinjuku Mad, bands like Riot River and The Telecasts begetting LYLM, Barracuda Sunrise giving way to Cambrian Explosions and Tasty Wangs. For us it was always about new faces taking seats at a table shared by us all, people constantly raising the bar and working to stay contemporary and progressive.

2015-present

After releasing their single ‘Neat, Neat, Neat‘, Wooden Wives went back to the studio to work on their forthcoming farewell LP, ‘Workers!‘ with Saint John’s Sharktooth Records (to be released December 15). Self-described as “hardcore by way of krautrock or modal jazz,” this album is their gift to us for sticking around and enjoying the ride for the past ten years. The album is set to be released as twenty-five numbered casettes, along with free downloads for all courtesy of the band and Sharktooth Records.

It can’t be understated how integral to the growth of the arts this chain-gang is and was to Saint John. Testimonials of their impact can be found at local shows, record shops, and late night playlists, and their output and efforts to bring the scene together are a treasure to the community.

For all your hard work, loud guitars, high energy albums, and memorable shows: Thank you. Ye shall be missed.

Workers‘ is being released Tuesday, December 15. For more information, visit Wooden Wives‘ Facebook Page.

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