Knock on wood

West-Coast dance rockers want you to fall in love

Dan Werb and Paul Banwatt are an adrenaline rush on stage and on disc.
Dan Werb and Paul Banwatt are an adrenaline rush on stage and on disc.

When Woodhands front man Dan Werb informed me we would have to wait a few minutes for drummer Paul Banwatt to conference into our phone interview, I’ll admit I had a moment of anxiety about a potential awkward silence ahead. I wondered if I was cool enough to casually converse with this electro fiend without a trusty list of questions to guide our conversation. My fears were assuaged as soon as Werb starting talking and, after a few short minutes, Banwatt was as smooth and natural as if I had been speaking with two friends. Their easygoing and laidback nature was not what I had anticipated though, since their music is some of the most hyper sexual and energetically entertaining I’ve heard in a while.

The band was first conceived on the West Coast, and it’s clear the many cities and artists that have been involved in Woodhands’ work have contributed to their evolution as a group. Although Woodhands was originally just Werb, it’s hard to believe the duo was ever solo.

Before Woodhands were united as they are today, Werb guided and shaped the music in a number of different ways through his migration from coast to coast and all the way to Europe and back again, with seemingly endless show dates crammed throughout.

“What can I say?” Werb said. “It felt so right when we first met, there were sparks.” They only started playing together about two years ago, after meeting through a gig at a CD release party. After discussing their mutual respect for each other’s sets, they decided jamming was in order. Hearing them now, you’d think they had known each other for ages.

Once ushered into the indie-rock scene together, they found they had a lot in common. They finish each other’s sentences and reminisce about old stories like they’re an old married couple.

“Paul really brought a lot to the band,” Werb said. “I mean, I play along wildly to his sick beats, he really holds the band together—don’t you agree?”

Their close relationship has been key in the production of their music—any snags they run into are easily overcome.

“We just remember that we love each other a lot,” Banwatt said.

Werb and Banwatt said their tunes aim to create emotional, sweaty dance floors. Their intense energy onstage is the strongest fuel to inspiring a room-wide dance party.

The duo is so intense, in fact, that their energy seems almost super-human.

“Dan seriously goes into a coma before shows for around four hours and fuels up to totally relax his mind,” Banwatt joked.

Alternative methods exist as well.

“Sometimes I threaten to leave the band unless were going to bring the party,” he said.

“It might sound cliché, but I always think about it as if every show we do is going to be our last show,” Werb added.

Their explosive and resonating energy aside, it’s their style of playing that may shock audience members the most. If you didn’t know any better, you might picture the band to be two painfully generic hipsters hiding behind their laptops at one of the handfuls of dark, dingy venues packed with people who exclusively listen to artists whose names consist only of upper case letters. But, staying true to their organic and woodsy name, you won’t see a laptop anywhere in sight during a Woodhands set. The guys commit to their keytar, drums and synths not only to set themselves apart from other electro mini-groups that are overflowing the indie scene right now, but also to aid in their performance.

“You have to be amped up and focused and energized to play live,” Werb said.

“It also really demystifies the sound for the audience” Banwatt added.

“People can actually see us playing, and associate it directly with the sound being produced. … It changes the focus from trying to decipher how sounds are being made to the music itself.”

Kingstonians will be electrified at the Grad Club this weekend where they can see Woodhands as part of their Ontario tour further promoting their latest and first album together Heart Attack, from Paper Bag Records.

The dynamic duo hit the studio with Roger Leavens who they said is “essentially the third member” of the band to produce their addictively danceable and eargasm-inducing record.

Heart Attack is a lovechild between ADD enthusiastic, sexually charged smashed-out beats and thoughtful, melodic, slick, pop grooves that will inevitably get bodies bumping. Werb described the album as “a reflection of our lives, thinking things through too hard … and a big influence of high energy Toronto indie rock.”

The first single “I Wasn’t Made for Fighting” has already been instrumental in further spreading the Woodhands’ word and the pairing of the wicked track with a psychedelical, radical video doesn’t hurt either.

Both Werb and Banwatt describe the video as a true success for the band.

“It was very cool—amazing really—to see so many people working to create art out of something that we had made,” Werb said.

“Thirty people spending days and days perfecting our vision of the song … it was mind blowing.”

Since the electro duet seems so stoked to return to Kingston once again after previous gigs at smaller venues such as the creatively saturated gallery Modern Fuel, I wonder what their hopes are for their show this weekend so I ask them to finish a sentence for me: “After our set on Friday night, audience members will be…” Their answer?

“In love,” said Werb.

“Not necessarily with us,” added Banwatt. “But just, in love.”

Something about the way these two make me dance tells me their goal will be easily achieved.

Woodhands plays with The D’Urbervilles and P.S. I Love You tonight at The Grad Club.

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