Though it certainly got some notice for its 2018 debut album — including a victory at that year’s Telluride Bluegrass Band Competition — Wood Belly had a decided agenda for its upcoming sophomore set, Man on the Radio, whose new single “Gone Are the Days” — featuring Infamous Stringdusters fiddler Jeremy Garrett — is premiering exclusively below.
“We wanted to be bigger and better than the last time, I guess,” mandolinist Chris Weist tells Billboard. And that, he adds, was accomplished with a more diligent approach to the new album, which is due out Jan. 31.
“Going through an album you kind of figure out all the kinks you want to work out,” Weist says. “We went about it so we weren’t just pushing out whatever songs we had available that we all knew. We set out to create an album that’s diverse and takes the listeners different places and showcases our versatility in songwriting. We just thought about everything ahead of time a little more for this one.”
Wood Belly also brought in a producer this time, Sally Van Meter, to work with the group and its regular engineer Aaron Youngberg at Swingfingers Studios in Fort Collins, Colo. “That really helped to whip us into shape,” Weist acknowledges. “We’ve worked with her before and have good experiences. She kinda knew our songs and the vibe we were going for. It was a little new, but it was pretty smooth, actually. It was kind of nice when we could relinquish the decisions to a third party instead of just arguing amongst ourselves.”
The Celtic-flavored “Gone Are the Days” has been around for a while, according to Weist, and conveys a message about “being informed by the past but not being trapped by it. It’s easy to get caught up in the past and just live for the good old days, especially with social media reminding you of what you were doing 10 years ago all the time. So (the song) touches on that balance.” Garrett, meanwhile, plays on three of Man on the Radio‘s other songs as well. “We’re all big fans of the Dusters, and he’s kind of Sally’s go-to when she needs somebody,” Weist says. “(Garrett) lives right here in Colorado and he was more than happy to do it.”
Weist says Wood Belly may soon shed its distinction as the odd bluegrass band without a regular fiddle player in its midst. “Times are changing,” Weist says with a laugh. “I’m actually picking up fiddle right now, trying to wrap my head around it. We all love the sound of the fiddle and would probably love to have a fiddle player in the band, but six people is a lot — it’s doable, but five people is hard enough to align together, much less six.” Weist’s wife, in fact, plays violin and “doesn’t complain that much” as he’s learning. “She’s encouraging me,” he says. “She has some insights to help me along my way. But sometimes I hear her close doors when I’m (playing). I’m picking it up quick but it’s a long road.”