From his childhood in Duxbury, Massachusetts to his current status as one of the most successful acts within the American reggae scene, Scott Woodruff has adhered to a singular approach to recording. Known professionally as Stick Figure, also the name of the five-piece band he fronts, Woodruff is a self-taught multi-instrumentalist whose musical odyssey began at age 12 with a drum set; shortly thereafter, he bought a guitar and played both instruments as often as he could. At 15, he purchased a dual cassette deck and began learning how to record music, playing drums and overdubbing the guitar; he upgraded to a four track and added bass and keyboard to fill out the sound.
“I was fascinated by recording, even more than practicing my instruments, it was all about ‘how can I get a good sound?'” Woodruff told Billboard in a phone interview from Oakland, Calif., where he is now based. “I experimented with overdubbing on tracks, using different microphones. Then I got a sixteen track and started recording songs that would eventually go on my first record (The Sound of My Addiction, 2006). With every album since, I’ve expanded with new sounds, new instruments and new ways of recording.”
On Aug. 30, Stick Figure released his seventh album, World On Fire, on his Ruffwood Records label. A dynamic follow-up to 2015’s impressive Set In Stone, World on Fire has moved more than 10,000 units, according to Nielsen, making it the first reggae album to sell over 10,000 copies in its opening week since Sting and Shaggy’s 44/876 in April 2018. Easily topping the Reggae Albums chart (for the week ending Sept. 14), World on Fire also debuted on several tallies including at No. 34 on the Billboard 200, No. 2 on Independent Albums, No. 4 on Digital Albums and No. 6 on Top Current and Top Album Sales.
World On Fire is the first Stick Figure album to be recorded at Great Stone Studios (formerly owned by Green Day) in Oakland, which Woodruff co-owns with Ineffable Music (Woodruff is managed by Ineffable co-founder/president Thomas Cussins.) As with all Stick Figure albums, Woodruff, quite remarkably, produced each track, played all instruments (keyboards, guitar, bass, drum and percussion) provided the lead vocals and wrote every song except for “Cocoa De Rock,” which is a cover of African reggae artist Alpha Blondy’s 1984 gem “Cocody Rock.” Woodruff’s broad musical influences are heard throughout, ranging from country (“Angels Above Me,” “Whiskey Sun” both co-written by his frequent collaborator TJ O’Neill) to searing rock (“Above The Storm,” “Burn The Night”) to folk songs (“Rise and Fall”), all anchored in soul shaking, bass heavy reggae rhythms.
Woodruff first encountered Jamaica’s signature beat as a child attending camp where he heard Bob Marley’s “Buffalo Soldier.” “I had never heard anything that sounded like reggae, but I was so attracted to its structure,” Woodruff explained. “But it wasn’t until I got into bands like Sublime, at about 13, that I started digging into their influences because it’s Jamaican roots music that has inspired this new age of (American) reggae. A few years later, Slightly Stoopid (who join Woodruff on World On Fire‘s blazing title track) became a big inspiration for the sound that I’ve created today.”
Woodruff had completed World on Fire when the idea for an additional song arrived. “After I finish every album, there’s always another song that I’m able to write much faster than the others and it becomes one of the more popular songs. ‘All For You’ was one of those songs; it’s melody and chord progressions came to me and the idea was to just keep it simple, easy listening,” Woodruff explained.
Perhaps World On Fire’s most haunting track, the mesmeric dub grooves and ambient reverb coloring “All For You” frame Woodruff’s heartfelt delivery, his uncomplicated lyrics, ironically, are as mysterious as they are moving. Is he mourning the end of a relationship, avowing to a partner he will do better or offering gratitude to a higher power? The enigma deepens with the “All For You” video, which Woodruff describes as “kind of trippy, artistic”; its special effects include Woodruff playing guitar, seated on the ocean beside his beloved pet, Cocoa The Tour Dog, who has accompanied Stick Figure on all their tours. Filmed by Spencer Groshong of Ineffable Music at Great Stone Studios, the “All For You” video debuts below.
Now, even without a breakout single, Stick Figure has released the year’s biggest selling, highest charting reggae album.
“People enjoy Stick Figure’s music because there’s no filler, it’s very positive; he has surpassed 12 million monthly plays on Pandora and does well on any algorithm-based platform,” remarked Thomas Cussins. “There’s a broad coalition of support ranging from 18-year-olds who listen to Dirty Heads to people in their sixties who love Bob Marley and Pink Floyd. We’ve released several singles since Set in Stone, and there’s an incredible level of fan engagement; they’re not only streaming the music, they’re preordering, buying digital and physical copies because they want to support Stick Figure. So, we’re not exploding with a big single, but over time, we’ve become a snowball of positive momentum.”
For Woodruff, success is rooted in finding proficiency and a purpose within a process he’s been captivated by since childhood. “I don’t try to write three-minute pop songs or sacrifice anything about the music to get it on the radio; I’ve spent hundreds of hours on each of the 15 tracks on World on Fire so I know it was the best I can do,” he says. “The theme of the album goes hand in hand with the title track, trying to find happiness in a chaotic world, looking past the confusion to the simple things like love; that’s what life is all about, that’s what I try to promote in my music.”