The four members of post-rock band Woods Running are about halfway through a pot of mint tea at Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar when they catch the eye of a bearded, ponytailed man sitting at the next table.
“Hey guys! I thought that was you,” the man says with enthusiasm. “When’s your next show?”
December 9, they tell him, at The Ante Room.
“Sweet,” he replies. His own band’s show for that night got canceled, so he’ll catch their set instead. “You guys rock. Let’s play a show together soon,” he says, before turning back to his own mug of tea.
“That guy’s in a band here in town,” Jacob Sommerio, who plays guitar in Woods Running, tells me in a lowered voice, before promptly freaking out with his bandmates. For Sommerio and his bandmates—guitarist Jake Pierce, bassist Aaron Richards and drummer Benjamin Snell—there’s a huge thrill in being recognized as musicians.
One, they’ve only been writing music for a year and a half, and playing shows for even less time.
Two, all of them are in high school. Sommerio and Pierce attend Albemarle High, and Richards and Snell are part of the same homeschooling collective. They began playing music together about four years ago, at first getting together for jam sessions via their youth group at Maple Grove Christian Church.
“Normal teenagers want to go to the mall to hang out; we just want to hang out in Ben’s basement and jam,” says Richards. “[But] we’re definitely not your typical teenage garage band.”
And he’s right. Woods Running’s ambient post-rock is devoid of the punky, chunky power chords and angst-ridden lyrics that you’d expect adolescents to write. The band’s sets are entirely instrumental; no words at all. “It’s a different feeling from other music,” Sommerio says. “My grandpa is always asking, ‘What are you doing, making up all those songs? That’s not what a guitar sounds like.’”
“It’s an emotional soundtrack,” Pierce says, one that explores the landscape of sonic time and space, allowing these four musicians to discover the overall feeling of a piece as it’s written.
The band wrote its first song, “Eleanor,” in about 30 minutes, just so Snell’s older brother (who is a member of indie-folk band Rain Tree) could make a live session parody video. It’s named after a friend’s 1991 baby blue Cadillac that had driven its final mile a few days before. That first take, the bandmates say, was “terrible, awful,” but they’ve refined it into a thoughtful song that starts off with straightforward, fingerpicked guitar and swells gently into an airy, reverb-y atmosphere not unlike the sideways shoreline sunset that graces the band’s Preface EP cover.
The EP’s other tracks, “Harmony of Inhibitions,” “Father of Lights” and “Swift and Certain,” with its reverb-drenched guitar parts, simmering drum beats under shimmering cymbals and full, deep bass, are fuller and more unexpected, demonstrating a level of confident, emotionally expansive and sensitive musicianship that sounds wise beyond the band’s adolescent years.
So far, all Woods Running songs have been written accidentally. “Seriously, nothing is intentional,” at least not at first, Sommerio says. “We’ll play, feel it out, then run through it again. It’s evolving every time,” Sommerio says of the process.
The band knows it has something good to work with when its members look at each other with “What the heck did we just do?!” expressions on their faces. Once, Pierce locked himself in the bathroom to freak out about a song. Other times, the band will run screaming from the room, or jump on a bed.
Preface was created with a “let’s make some dope songs and put it out there” attitude, they say; they recorded four tracks in Snell’s parents’ basement using Logic Pro.
The band’s new material, which the guys are currently recording at the Music Resource Center (Sommerio and Snell are budding audio engineers), is more intentional. Now, each time they run through a “freak-out song,” as they say, they stop to work out each section. They’re playing with structure, paying attention to loudness and quiet. They’re exploring the heavy, the light and the sonic and emotional sound and space that exists between the two.
“We’re pushing ourselves, trying to find our niche,” Pierce says.
They all admit to getting a bit nervous before shows; they’re still learning how to feel as comfortable on stage as they do in the Snell family basement.
“There are definitely moments [during shows] where you realize it’s all coming together and this is what we wanted it to sound like,” says Pierce, who has a penchant for playing with such urgency that he’ll break a string and have to finish out the set with guitars borrowed from other bands on the bill.
Local audiences are responding well. So well, in fact, that less than a year after Woods Running debuted at Maple Grove, the band has played the Tea Bazaar twice and will open for Girl Choir and Matt Curreri & The Exfriends at The Ante Room on Friday.
Snell says the band never intended to perform for audiences, but Will Mullany, who books DIY shows for Milli Coffee Roasters, reached out, and from there, other local bands and bookers started inviting Woods Running onto bills.
When asked why they play music in the first place, the guys joke about only being able to play so much Minecraft, disliking sports, having no interest in Model UN and wanting to do something that sets them apart from their peers. But then Snell deadpans, “What else would we be doing?,” and the group smirks and nods in agreement before taking another sip of mint tea.