Like most of us, the guys of local band The Waywoods didn’t have the easiest time in 2020. From canceled shows to a tree crashing through the roof of their recording space, so much went wrong.
But one thing did, in fact, go right. The chemistry among Pete Hill (vocals, rhythm guitar), Dan Beaver (lead guitar), Nate Matulis (lead bass) and Jarrod Pedone (drums) made for an ultra-relaxed recording environment, and the finished product – A Ghost River Companion – is raw and real.
The album, set for release on Feb. 1, was tracked in Hill’s Langhorne garage a mere week before the COVID-19 lockdown started … and before a tree fell through it.
“If we had scheduled that a week later, it might have not even happened yet,” said Beaver, of Perkasie. “It was that close to not happening, but we got in there before it got real scary.”
Due to a severe lack of heat control in the garage, Hill would arrive an hour early and turn on at least six space heaters. Despite a lingering chill in the air, The Waywoods didn’t mind. They kicked back with a beer at 10 a.m. and transformed the often-daunting recording process into a laid-back jam session. And the final result is better than they could’ve imagined.
“I think there’s just something to be said about that first group that we recorded in the garage pre-tree falling into it, where we all hung out there so much that it didn’t feel like work busting out our parts for the songs,” said Matulis, of Levittown. “It was a unique scenario for me. There was a super comfy factor. I like to feel that this record is special because of how relaxed it was recording the whole thing.”
Hill, Beaver, Matulis and Pedone have played together in various capacities over the years, but A Ghost River Companion is their first studio album as a unit. When The Times interviewed Hill in 2017, he was pursuing a career as a solo artist with a defined singer-songwriter style. Whereas his previous work centered around vocals, the music of The Waywoods spotlights the entire group at strategic moments.
“We’re all going around in a circle and every once in a while, one of us will sort of pop out and then sit back in the flow of the song,” said Beaver. “I think with a band like this, where we’re each so into our own respective instruments, we’ve done things instrumentally, musically, that are a departure from what Pete was doing on his own before. That instrumental contribution to the music is what started to make it feel like it was more of a collaborative, creative process rather than just Pete being like, ‘Well I have this song.’ ”
So far, The Waywoods have dropped two singles from A Ghost River Companion, including “Ain’t Too Big” and “Cold Wind.”
“‘Ain’t Too Big’ is a good starting single. It’s a song I would’ve never put out before solo,” said Hill. “It’s a nice slow build. I think we do a good job of not stepping on each other’s toes too much and know when to back up and when to step it up.”
When the song was recorded, Hill didn’t have finalized lyrics and simply improvised with scratch words, like the line “ain’t too wall to climb.” Though Hill intended to pen intentional lyrics, nothing sounded right except the scratch ones. And that’s what’s heard on the album.
Ultimately, A Ghost River Companion brings a powerful punch to listeners because of its simplicity. It’s not overproduced, and a minimal amount of flubs were fixed.
“Everything that got recorded is pretty much how we laid it down in the room except for vocals. I kind of went back and cleaned them up,” Hill explained. “For the most part, it’s all free flow, not overthinking. A lot of times with records in the past, I would sit there and pain over every single note.”
He thanked Ian D.G. Bennett, who mixed and mastered the album, for bringing their vision to fruition.
“If we nitpicked over every little thing, it wouldn’t have sounded like us at the end,” added Pedone, of New Jersey. “This is the most dynamic band I’ve ever played in as far as changes in volume, changes in touch and time and intention, and just from purely listening to each other. There’s really no conversation about, ‘Now it’s gonna get quiet, now it’s gonna get loud.’ It just happens naturally, which is one of the toughest things sometimes. With this group, we don’t have to think about it, so that’s a very special thing.”
As The Waywoods prepare for the exciting release of A Ghost River Companion, they continue to mourn the loss of playing live. Since the start of the pandemic, the band played one outdoor, socially distant show at a backyard birthday party. Pedone regrets not appreciating his on-the-road experiences at the time. Even the annoying parts.
“I was getting bored loading drums in and out, going to venues, parking tickets, flat tires. And then you don’t play a show for six months and you’re like, ‘Ah, I kind of miss it now,’ ” he said. “I’m just antsy as hell. I’ve got nothing to do. I don’t even know where my drum cases are.”
Beaver shared his sentiment.
“We didn’t gig a whole lot comparatively to other bands, but there was always a date set, even if it was a month or two out. I always felt like I had that to look forward to with whatever else was going on,” he said. “Not having that little thing in the distance to look forward to is the worst part.”
Until restrictions are lifted regarding live events, The Waywoods plan to take COVID-19 precautions seriously and do what they can to promote their music from the safety of home. Keep up with the band at thewaywoods.bandcamp.com/releases and instagram.com/thewaywoods/.
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org