Wooden Wand is not going to be at SXSW this year, and that’s totally fine. He doesn’t need to be.
You see, in some children’s-book fantasy world where everything has it’s place, where every town has its butcher, they have their dentist and their lawyer and their chef and bus driver, James Jackson Toth of Wooden Wand, I’m convinced, would be their musician. In a land where everyone was born to be whatever they were and completely fulfilled in their enterprises because, quite simply, there was nothing else they could have ever fathomed becoming, in a world with no social hierarchies, where there were no dashed dreams and passions misguided by motives of fame, sex, prestige, money, and other selfish pursuits, James Jackson Toth would still be making music.
I think this world only exists in Richard Scarry books, I know, but I started this diatribe because James Jackson Toth, i.e., Wooden Wand, falls into a rare category of modern musicians where, quite simply, I truly believe he makes music because he doesn’t know what else he could possibly do. Music is not a means to an end for him, simply his only choice. He’s not doing it to impress people. He’s not trying to get laid, or live in an extended state of adolescence. He’s not hopping on the next big wave. He’s not populating his touring band with foxy young chicks or hip-looking dudes full of sneers. And he’s just incredibly talented. The world is a better place for having his music in it, and deep down, I think he knows that when you’re born with that kind of raw talent, you are obliged to share it with the world.
People like that don’t need to go to SXSW and jump through the giant corporate dog and pony show. SXSW doesn’t really have much room for the quiet and profound. You can’t listen to words that well and digest meaning when spring breakers are chugging free Red Bull right next to you, crushing the cans on one another’s faces. It’s hard to uncover hidden meanings beneath simply constructed verse when someone is vomiting onto your shoe. It’s hard to get pulled into an eerie refrain when you really, really, need to take a shit.
I hope Wooden Wand is remembered for a long time as being on of the best lyricists of this era of music. I hope from reading this you check out his ghostly melodies and heart-wrenching lyrical delivery. He doesn’t have a pretty voice in a traditional sense. He’s not 23 and making synth rock. He’s not very of the moment and will most likely never be gobbled up by any kind of hype machine. But he will continue to make good music, I’m sure of that, and as every album gets better, I’m excited.
VICE: Other than home, where do you feel the most at home
James Jackson Toth: I guess in a moving vehicle because, you know, beyond home, that’s where I spend most of my time. I’m so lulled by that motion.
What vehicle do you have right now?
Right now, I drive a 2004 Impala that I really love, and everyone makes fun of me for it, but I just love its utilitarian aspects. There’s something I really, really love about that car. And we also own a Subaru Outback. But usually on tour, I’ll rent something because we need a van. So we have this brief sort of tryst, this love affair with a rented vehicle and then we have to say good-bye.
If you were gifted a time machine, where’s the first place you’d go?
Well, I would go back rather than forward, I know that. I’d like to see the beginning of civilization, but I’d also like to see Son House and Skip James play live, on the Stovall Plantation. Go see Muddy Waters. But I’d definitely not go forward. I think we are moving too fast as it is.
What was the first song you ever covered?
The first song I ever covered was “Harvest” by Neil Young, and I covered it very poorly. Very
poorly. That’s actually not true. That was the first song on acoustic guitar, but I was in bands—when I was a kid—I remember learning “Twist of Cain
” by Danzig. But I can’t say I covered that. I can’t take full
credit for that. That was probably when I was 11, and “Harvest” was when I was about 16.
What did you think you’d be when you grew up?
This, for better or worse. Yeah, for better or worse. I really had no other aspirations, other than to write. You know the old saying that everyone’s got a novel in them, but it’s probably where it should stay. But, yeah. I think my mom still has my old fifth-grade yearbook, and they asked us what we wanted to be and I said I wanted to play bass in a heavy metal band, which I have done. So it’s this, more or less.
Do you have a favorite shirt? And if so, what does it look like?
I have several favorites, and I don’t mean to do a commercial here, but they are all Pendleton wool plaid shirts. They are my absolute favorite. I have four of them that I just sort of recycle. Unless it’s like 90 degrees, you probably won’t see me in much else.
Do you identify with a vegetable? If so, which vegetable is it?
I think I identify with kale. Kale has been having sort of a Garrison
finish lately. So kale was underrated for a long time. Everywhere you go now, you can get kale smoothies, and kale substitutes for salad or lettuce. So I feel like kale in a lot of ways. I feel like I was kind of the sleeper option but that now people are coming around.
What was the last great movie you saw?
The last great movie I saw was a Woody Allen movie called The Front
. He didn’t actually write it or direct it. He stars in it. No, really. And it deals with the Hollywood blacklist during the McCarthy era. And it’s at once very poignant and very hilarious. I highly recommend it. It’s a great, great film. I really love Woody Allen.
Check out Wooden Wand at one of these dates:
03.11.13 - Turner Falls, MA @ The Rendezvous
03.12.13 - Washington, DC @ 9th and Beats
03.13.13 - Baltimore, MD @ Metro Gallery
Photos by Leah Hutchison Toth