By Martin Bonica
A question is put to Jared Hall Garland: All obstacles aside, if there were a dream he could attain, either in his career or his creative endeavours, what would it be? What does he want more than anything?
His first answer: “A lathe for woodturning and making bowls and chairs.”
Upon further reflection, he recounts a music festival he put on with a friend in 2015; the Moon Valley Music Festival in Lovettsville. The mission, as he puts it: “Let’s have a party and bring all of our friends out, but actually pay them.” Garland recalls booking musicians (himself included), inviting a friend’s food truck to cater, and building stages, which held together fine, although one dressed with sheets and blacklights unintentionally attracted a cloud of moths in the September night. “It was a hell of a learning experience,” he said. “I would love to be able to have another one-off almost party in that vein again.”
He reflects on the time since the festival. “For three years, I’ve been playing very different music. I’ve been meeting lots of very disparate artists and musicians, and I would love to be able to bring all of those together again, but make it affordable, make it possible to bring this weirdo art collective that I’ve been talking about in the Leesburg area … and just be like ‘hey, these are my favorite things about this area.’”
For Jared Hall Garland, bandleader, graphic designer, woodworking enthusiast, and mixed-media visual artist, it would be a culmination of all of his work over the past several years.
Jared Hall Garland is the creative force behind Woodgrove, a self-described indie fuzz rock band based out of Leesburg. Alongside Garland, the band includes Logan Leverett on lead guitar, Jake Wentzel on bass, and Max Haag on drums. Daniel Rozmajzl also has recently started drumming at live dates. The band was founded in late 2016, after the dissolution of the last band he had been in. Initially a solo project, Woodgrove made its formal debut with the single and video “Broken Glass (Oracular Rhythm: Repetitive Hymn)” early in 2017. The video was shot by Garland, who mounted a camera on the ceiling of his room to capture what he describes as “vignettes of depression.” After playing numerous shows, both solo and with the full band, Woodgrove released the EP “squintyoureyesandseegod” in April 2018.
Woodgrove’s sound can be described as weary and haunted, with clattering, distorted guitars, loping drums, and ghostly rattling soundscapes filling the frequent empty spaces. The lyrics depict ghosts, gods, destruction, and loss. “Starting Woodgrove was me not knowing if I would ever be able to play music again, because I was so used to playing with this other person, I didn’t know how to stand on my own,” Garland recalls, describing the summer leading up to Woodgrove’s formation. He cites Chad VanGaalen’s “Inifiniheart” as a major influence, citing the album’s low key, multi-instrumentalist production approach.
The project’s inception was gradual; in late 2016, Garland started playing some open-mics in Shepherdstown, with no band name. “The first show I played at the open mic, I was sitting on a chair, playing a guitar, playing a new song that I wrote. I went out a week later. … I was standing up, playing a couple songs.” Eventually, Garland said, Woodgrove presented itself as the way forward after the end of the last band he had been in. “I still knew how to play music, even if it’s not what I thought I was going to be doing these past couple of years. This band came out of realizing I still enjoy music even though it’s not what I spent four years dedicating my life to.”
A key ingredient to Woodgrove’s sound is spontaneity; both in how he plays off his bandmates, and in how Garland assembles songs. The next song to be released in 2017, “Something Stolen,” was a combination of arranged literary influences, memories, and improvisation.
“Quite a few of them have come out of books,” Garland said. “I will read books and really enjoy a one-sentence phrase, so I’ll take a notecard, write that line down on the notecard and write the page number down.” He revisits his notecards even years later looking for inspiration. Lyrics shift constantly during band practice until they eventually crystallize. “I don’t have a lyric book anywhere.”
On ‘Something Stolen’: “I didn’t know what I was writing that song about. I don’t ever have an idea for a song when I’m writing it. I start playing something, and start saying nonsense words until lyrics come out, whether I build a narrative, or strings of phrases that sound nice together.”
“I have probably only had a couple songs that have been written from personal experience,” Garland said. “‘Something Stolen’ was written after a friend died of a heroin overdose.”
Garland took from bits and pieces; misheard My Morning Jacket lyrics, and ideas from Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods.” The song, when first performed live, didn’t have a full ending, instead breaking down over a chord progression and a series of ooohs. During one show in late 2016 (his first with Max Haag on drums), he improvised a set of lyrics that became the song’s coda. “My voice broke, everything cracked while I was doing all of that, and it was a cathartic release. Now when I play that live, I say, ‘This is the only one of my songs with a moral.’ The moral is f— heroin and don’t let your friends die.”
“It catches people in a weird way.”
Both songs appear on 2018’s squintyoureyesandseegod, which started out as a demo tape intended to give to prospective producers. As the band worked on the tracks, they deemed the DIY recordings powerful enough to stand on its own, so they mixed and released it as their debut, playing a release show to a packed house at Crooked Run Brewing in Sterling.
As a Loudoun native, Garland and the band enthusiastically embrace their identity as a Virginia band, only using the phrase “DC-area” when talking to promoters from out of state.
“When I’m taking to people from this area, I’m all about Virginia,” Garland said. “There’s a lot of heavy, heavy music out here. All the kids I grew up with were metal musicians. We all grew up playing punk, rock, and metal. Nine out of ten of those heavy metal punk rock kids are now playing mandolin, banjo, fiddle, and finger-picking guitar. We have this blend of heavy rock music and bluegrass.”
That doesn’t mean that the District and its closer suburbs don’t factor into Woodgrove’s touring schedule; but, Garland said, it can’t be a primary focus.
“The thing about DC is, it’s where everybody tours through. If you want to play in DC and have a regular fanbase, you need to live there. Us living an hour and a half away, sure, we would love to play in DC, but we don’t have a draw.” He said, “It’s hard to drag our friends an hour and a half away, pay possible toll road fees, possible parking fees, to come out there.”
That said, playing in Loudoun poses its own obstacles. “There is a huge lack of functional venue spaces out here,” Garland said. He clarifies that venues big enough to accommodate a full band are harder to find. To work around this obstacle, he brings different configurations to Woodgrove to different shows. On his website, he lists three stage plots, the largest of which is the full band, and the smallest carrying just Garland himself. The “solo” version of Woodgrove is the most likely to appear at cramped venues or spontaneous events.
In addition to expanding booking options, this configuration also allows Garland to appeal to less traditional audiences. “My songs are about ghosts and dead gods,” he said. “I want to play shows consistently every weekend, so I have to play a brewery or winery. Because of that, I need to play music that is more palatable to a greater spectrum of people. I don’t want to do that all the time.”
Instead, the family-friendly Woodgrove starts with a bait-and-switch. “When I play solo, I at least have the ability to read the crowd a little more. When I play solo and there’s a bunch of old dudes in the crowd, I kick off every show with ‘Ain’t No Sunshine.’” He walks through his reasoning. “Now, I’ve played a song you are familiar with. I’ve played it in an interesting way that you possibly haven’t heard before.” The endgame: “Now I can play a whole other hour of originals that’s going to make them feel weird, because I teased them in.”
The solo version of Woodgrove also enables Garland to play every opportunity he gets, even if the rest of the band isn’t available. This happens often, he said, with bookings sometimes coming with little notice and often on weeknights. “They’ve all got real jobs, and because I’ve dedicated so much of me to making this band exist, I’m also willing to take the hits for the band that I wouldn’t like to put on to everyone else. If they have to miss work for something, they miss a payday.”
Such a guerilla Woodgrove show took place recently at the Falls Church VFW, where he not only brought his music, but some of his other art—his other medium, screen prints on wood.
“It really came out of learning how to screenprint merchandise for my musical projects. I was screen-printing and making T-shirts, and at one point I really enjoyed woodworking.”
In addition to some background with carpentry, he also routinely modifies his instruments. “It came out of: I’ve got scrapwood, and I really enjoy carpentry, and how can I combine the stuff that is only on T-shirts and make it so it can also be a standalone piece?” Garland walks through his process: “I found this really beautiful Greek statue, I would love to do something weird with that … I’ve also got this longboard that I haven’t ridden in ten years. What if I took a power-sander to that and then stained it? If I take these two things and combine them, now I’ve got a three-foot long piece of wood in my living room that exists for no other reason than I thought it’d be cool.”
The work can be seen on his Instagram, and sometimes appears on his Bandcamp store, but acknowledges the challenges in selling art that can’t be readily duplicated as affordable prints.
“With the wood thing, I’ve only got one longboard, so when I make it, it only exists this one time, because I don’t have any other longboards sitting around.”
Garland’s woodcrafting and music often intersect. His current guitar is a Squire Telecaster that he got second-hand when he was twelve. After years of playing more expensive guitars, he returned to his first guitar, took a power sander to it, and replaced most of the electronics. “Even though I have played guitars worth more, with much better instrumentation, it’s a fact that this is the guitar that I put the most love into. I’ll play it to the ends of the earth.”
Another modified instrument which sees less time onstage is what he refers to as the “gas can guitar”; the result of a project in which he removed the electronics from a different guitar, “put it in a block of wood, and shoved it inside of an oil can, and made a guitar.” Garland tunes down the top E to a D, “so I get a banjo feel to it.”
Garland has played the banjo extensively for the past few years and it appears at some solo shows and on some recordings. However, its suitability to full-band shows is limited. “The banjo is an instrument that hates noises around it,” he said. “If you play in a string band, it’s awesome. You’ve got a pickup, there’s nothing coming from behind you. You’re playing in front of a wide-diaphragm mic, and you’re projecting at that. When you try in a four-piece fuzz-rock band … all of that noise bleeding into that banjo makes it go insane with feedback. Because it’s such a high-treble instrument, it can’t cut through.” He looked for workarounds. “For a while, I was taking that gas can guitar, and I strung it up like a five-string banjo, but then tuned it six steps down from a banjo so it was really low, and then I had essentially a baritone heavy banjo, and I called it the ‘can-jo.’” Ultimately, he substituted it for a down-tuned guitar.
Woodgrove’s live set is split between material on “squintyoureyesandseegod” and unreleased songs. Like their debut, the band is recording their next album track-by-track. Unlike their first release, they plan to send their multitracks to another engineer to mix and master it, eager for a fresh set of ears to bring a different perspective to their sound.
In the meantime, Woodgrove continues to play all around Northern Virginia, and Jared Garland continues to build art, modify instruments, and write songs.
Woodgrove’s schedule music can be found at justwoodgrove.com (as well as on Bandcamp and Spotify). Videos, including that for “Broken Glass,” can be found on their YouTube channel. Garland posts his artwork on Instagram as @ghostcloser.
Photo by David Logan Photography.