Elijah Wood fully understands the skepticism that people have when they learn that he's a burgeoning DJ, who makes up one half of the duo Wooden Wisdom.
"I wasn't surprised that people would have either an adverse initial reaction or a preconceived notion as to why I was doing it," says Wood over the phone. "That happens to a lot of people, if someone leaves their current vocation for an artistic expression outside of the one that they're socially accepted for doing, we tend to be relatively critical. It's certainly unfair but it's also kind of understandable on a cultural level."
When Wood and his friend Zach Cowie announced their five date North American vinyl-only DJ tour, they inspired plenty of hackneyed, one-note social media trolls on the former's behalf―"Frodo on the beat," "Get Gandalf on the mic," etc. Once you learn that the two met four years ago at an after party for the designer fashion label Rodarte—where the actor joined Cowie with his iPod for an impromptu set—and that their first shows were sponsored by whiskey giant Bushmills, it's not hard to see why naysayers see the pair as an inspired marketing stunt rather than genuine.
However, speaking to the duo reveals that there's more to this partnership than meets the eye. Let's start with the fact that both men are, for lack of a better term, huge nerds when it comes to collecting records. Over the course of our conversation, they reference acts including Toronto's BADBADNOTGOOD ("I think those guys are awesome, taking their jazz training and applying it to hip-hop," says Wood), Italian musician Gigi Masin, and Detroit techno godfather Theo Parrish. They also reminisce on late nights and early mornings scouring eBay and Discogs for everything from Nigerian disco to rare twelve inches, all while texting each other their scores.
"Even when we're apart, we have a very good idea of what the other person is finding," says Cowie. "There's healthy, not competition, but instances of 'Oh fuck, you got that record,'" says Wood. "We keep in step with each other and that's really exciting."
Of the two, Cowie is the veteran. As a former record label employee turned Los Angeles DJ, he's toured with acts like Animal Collective and Fleet Foxes, and served as a music supervisor for films and television. That's not to say his partner-in-crime is a slouch when it comes to DJ experience. While Wood admits to being a relative newcomer when it comes to collecting vinyl, he's long been interested in music and has occasionally played sets in New York and overseas. Wood also founded the label Simian Records in 2005, home to artists The Apples in Stereo and Heloise & The Savoir Faire. He also deftly curated a mix for Okayafrica's "Africa In Your Earbuds" series, featuring songs from Benin, Ghana, Nigeria, and Togo.
Together, they describe their sound as "paradise garage," which is a reference to the famous late 70s NYC nightclub. Anyone who attends any of their upcoming shows can expect a "hefty amount" of disco, sourced from locales both near (San Diego) and far (Turkey) and everywhere in-between. Though they both say there's plenty of last minute decisions and additions. "All it really takes is a phone call before we get to the airport to make sure we haven't pulled too many of the exact same records," says Cowie.
The lone mix posted on Wooden Wisdom's SoundCloud has over 35,000 plays, and both men say they'd like the chance to do more guest mixes―name-checking BBC Radio DJ Gilles Peterson and New York DJ Tim Sweeney's Beats In Space radio show in almost perfect unison. Despite Wood's busy acting and producing schedule, he's eager to show that this is more than just a hobby, but a labour of love. "The great equalizer is first and foremost that I'm using vinyl, that tends to shut people up," says Wood. "It's not a vanity project, I know that I'm bringing something to the table that I know is legitimate."
"I take a lot of pride in watching his skeptics cross over," says Cowie of his partner-in-crime. "One of the biggest compliments we've heard of was from Madlib, who is someone that we really look up to. He basically said 'Shit, these guys know what they're doing.' And that's all I really need to ever hear."
Wooden Wisdom: SoundCloud
Max Mertens has never seen The Hobbit. He's on Twitter: @Max_Mertens