On Friday, October 23rd, Chris Batten and The Woods will play their final gig at Maxwell's in Hoboken. The band has been one of my favorite local acts over the past five years, so I was glad to get the chance to talk with Chris about the situation and what's in store for the future. The show, which also includes Tris McCall and Val Emmich, takes place during the CMJ Music Festival.
Sorry to hear that the band is going on indefinite hiatus. What was the reasoning behind the decision? Did someone have to move on, career stuff, or was there a general feeling that the band had gone as far as it could go?
I don't know if I will ever feel that this band went as far as it could go...but yeah, a couple of the guys had to pack it in and we decided that instead of dedicating our energy to find new members, we would take a step back and focus on something fresh. I mean, the original core members of the band are still together and have been for like 6 years, so it will be cool to see where we go with this limited structure.
How long have you all been playing together as a band? Did you play any shows in 2003 or start in 2004?
Man...we always try and pinpoint this, but for some reason it's become like this big tall tale or something...haha. Dustin and I met in Fall of 2003 and started getting together to work on some songs that I had written. I had been playing solo shows for about 3 years before that, but I never really meant to be a solo artist. I was playing solo simply because I was living in NYC and believe it or not, I was having trouble getting a band together that I felt comfortable with.
When Dustin and I started playing we immediately connected, so we started putting out the call for band members. Al came on board almost immediately and then we found our first drummer Rich in December. That year was the first Christmas show at the Court Tavern in New Brunswick and I was scheduled to play a solo set, but I ended up bringing Dustin up to close out the show and it was just great to take what we were working on and release it to a crowd. After that, we moved pretty fast, played the first full band show a month later, recorded the first EP over a weekend in Feb. 2004 and started playing any show that would have us. I think it was that Spring when you did an introductory piece on us for Upstage.
I don't know why but it just seemed like your band never got the respect or fans that it probably should have. The band always put on a solid show, had good tunes, and worked their asses off. Did it bother the band that they never quite made it to the next level?
Haha...yeah, we always appreciated you saying that. It's weird cause whenever we would play out of state, people would think we were much bigger then we were, but it was cool because they felt that way because they really liked what we were doing and didn't know why it wasn't bigger. We seemed to be tapping into something that they felt was missing in modern music.
People always seemed shocked that we weren't signed...in fact, we just got an email from a fan asking what our label is going to do now that we're stopping, but we never crossed that line. Sure, it bothers me that we never made it to the next level because I really wanted to bring these songs and this live show to the masses BUT, we worked our asses off, we never phoned anything in and we did everything we could possibly do to take this thing as far as it could go and I'm very proud of that and in a way I think it makes it even more special, not only to us, but to the people that supported us as well, cause we were all in on it together.
I love how you're going out with another big show (Maxwell's for CMJ after playing several big opening spots in 2009) What were some of your favorite moments/shows during the band's run?
I always felt like we were a band built for big things, ya know?. We never seemed to be put off by playing small stages, big stages or festivals (even if some of the situations turned out to be a little awkward). We just seemed to treat anything we played like a club and it was our mission to get every single person standing within earshot to forget about the bullshit and have fun, even if it was only for the hour we were playing.
We definitely got to do some great things. Playing with the New York Dolls earlier this year was a definite highlight. Boston always gave us great turn-outs. The Court Tavern Christmas shows were always killer. Maxwell's and The Bitter End (NYC) inspired some epic sets and amazing crowds. Rutgers always put us on great bills...hell, Rutgersfest got us in front of about 8,000 people...that was awesome!
I think one of my favorite moments was about a year and a half ago. We were doing a run of shows down south and we had just been featured on the television show Fearless Music a week prior. We were in our hotel room getting ready to go to soundcheck for a gig in West Virginia and I got an email that, due to an overwhelming amount of viewer requests, Fearless was going to feature another live performance of ours that night,. It was cool to not only go into a gig with such great news, but also to know that something else was working for us, not just the gig we were about to play...there were other wheels in motion. The gig turned out to be awesome (people from the previous night's show even traveled to see us again) and then after our set, the club put Fearless Music on the TV and had an impromptu party. Kinda cool to be in a strange place with new friends celebrating our success. It was a night that Dustin, Al, Mike and I could just let loose, stop and celebrate a victory, instead of planning what was next.
What are your immediate plans for the future? Are you going to do a lot of solo gigs or try setting up a new band?
I think solo gigs will happen, I mean, that's how I started this whole thing in the first place, so it's only natural to return to that. I just played a one-off solo show in NYC a few weeks back and it was cool to get up there in that setting. I've grown so used to having the power of The Woods behind me that it was nice to just rely on the songs and let them breath a little. Dustin, Al and I have also talked about possibly playing a few shows as a trio down the line, but that's just a thought for now.
Your email message mentioned that the three of you intend on creating and recording music in the future. Any plans for that? Or is it a wait and see thing based on scheduling and careers?
Yeah, that is definitely the plan. Dustin, Al and I fully intend to begin working on new music soon after our last Woods show. We're really excited about it, cause for once THAT will be the focus. We can sit down and flesh out ideas without having any shows planned that we need to prepare for. It's gonna be cool to have a blank slate, cause we can fill it however we want and I have a bunch of songs that I am dying to get them on.
Do you know if anybody from the band will be setting up or playing with another band?
I'm not sure to be quite honest. I do know that Dustin, Al and I will be continuing on together in some form and I don't really see any of the three of us playing music without each other. As far as I know, Mike and Gavin are taking a step back to focus on things outside of music.
Five or six years is a long time for any band. What's the most difficult thing that has to be overcome to have a band stick around that long? What brings you the best feeling of accomplishment? What have you learned from your experiences with The Woods?
The one thing I am truly proud of is the fact that I was able to maintain a band with such a consistent, solid line-up of players for so long. We were all in it because we believed in what we were doing and because of that we were able to deliver great sets at every show we played. I think the most difficult thing about staying together for so long was the struggle. It ain't easy and everyone in music knows that, so sometimes it's hard to suck it up and gut it out, but you do it because you love it and you believe in it, so as hard as it was, it was pretty great that the guys and me were willing to fight for it for so long.
We've seen so many bands form and break-up over the course of our time together and it always served as a reminder that we were doing something right, cause 6 years is a long time to keep a band together, especially when you're doing it all yourself. I think it was a true testament to the music we were playing and how much we believed (and still believe) in it.
Finally, anything you'd like to say as a farewell to the fans that have been supporting you all these years?
We would have never been able to keep this band going for so long without you!! The support this band received was amazing, it made our shows better and it just fueled the desire in us to take this thing as far as we could. I remember playing these punk shows in New Brunswick when we were first starting out and yeah, we kept the energy high on stage, but pulling out a harmonica and playing a song like Driver in a crowded basement with kids looking to jump around...that can go one of two ways...they dig it or they don't and we were always lucky that people seemed to get behind us and really feel what we were doing.
Yeah, I'm gonna miss playing with the band and spreading the music of The Woods, but I'm really gonna miss seeing all the friends we have made over the past 6 years. Playing shows for me was my favorite part of this band cause we got to go out and see them all.
But if I have one thing to say to everyone after all of this, it's that...The Woods may be going away for a little bit, but it ain't over and we'll see you soon.
Gary Wien has been covering the arts since 2001 and has had work published with Jersey Arts, Elmore Magazine, Princeton Magazine, Backstreets and other publications. He is a three-time winner of the Asbury Music Award for Top Music Journalist and the author of Beyond the Palace (the first book on the history of rock and roll in Asbury Park) and Are You Listening? The Top 100 Albums of 2001-2010 by New Jersey Artists. In addition, he runs New Jersey Stage and the online radio station The Penguin Rocks. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.