Woven Hand – 

Not (only) one stone

X- Roads, September 2008

by Guillaume Nicolas
translated by Magali Surcin

woven hand 2008 x-roads

2 years after the release of their monumental album Mosaic, we were wondering how Woven Hand would manage to outshine this amazing album which made such an impression. Before listening to their new record for the first time, we have mixed feelings: great excitement, but also, somehow, fear of being disappointed. What if David Eugene Edwards, who had us used to more and more impressive records, had to set slightly lower standards, because the high quality of his previous album made it difficult for him to reach that level again - let alone surpass it?

However, our fears subsided a few months ago, as we followed Woven Hand as a duo (DEE and Ordy Garrison) on their American tour, during which they played 2 new songs that literally blew our minds, namely, “The Beautiful Axe” and “Kingdom of Ice”. What's more, DEE admitted that he was very happy with the new album, which he worked on and recorded in conditions very different from those of the previous albums. Those were encouraging clues. And from the first few seconds of their 4th album (aside from 2 excellent side-projects albums written for the Ultima Vez dance company, “Blush Music” and “Puur”, this is their fourth album), our doubts vanish instantly, as Ten Stones opens with “The Beautiful Axe”.
This song is amazingly rich, breathtakingly deep, and is downright to be considered one of the greatest songs DEE has ever written. This is an unbelievable opening, especially since it soon becomes obvious that Woven Hand's sound has changed somewhat, as the production of this album is very different from all of their previous releases. This album has more of a “live” sound, clearly more electric than the others, and for the first time on an album, you can fully appreciate the band's energy and coherence as a collective (great credit is also due to the immensely talented musicians who worked on the album: drummer Ordy Garrison, bassist Pascal Humbert and the very creative Belgian guitarist Peter Van Laerhoven). It's also a lot heavier and darker, even though it does eventually turn out to be the band's most accessible album.

After “The Beautiful Axe” comes the lovely “Horsetail”, with a more acoustic sound, closer to what they had got us used to.
The following song, “Not One Stone”, is probably the greatest track on the album, and without a doubt, a masterpiece in DEE's work. You can't describe it with mere words. Everything we love about Woven Hand is there: power (listen to the end of the song: we'd never heard Woven Hand, on any other album, sound so heavy and intense -this is a real climax), emotion, exceptionally beautiful  songwriting, stunning vocals (DEE's voice gets impressively deeper and deeper with each passing year, and with each album), and a “live” production that perfectly suits the song -not only one of the most powerful tracks on the album, but also, without a doubt, one of the prospective highlights of the upcoming concerts at the end of the year.

Next comes the splendid “Cohawkin Road”, which could fit right in with the atmosphere and colours of the first album.

“Iron Feather” is another major highlight on Ten Stones. Less heavy and dark, yet more melancholy, sadder. DEE sings with more emotion than ever before on an album. It is quite simply sublime, and reveals DEE under a somewhat different angle, as raw emotion seeps through the songwriting and  vocals.

The triptych that follows “Iron Feather” is probably one of the most surprising moments ever heard on a Woven Hand album: 3 songs radically different from anything Woven Hand have recorded since their first album in 2002. Such a surprise may be a little bit unsettling at first, but the songs soon fit right in with the rest of the album. It begins with “White Knuckle Grip”. It's upbeat, nearly festive, with lots of brass (a first for Woven Hand), and does prove that DEE is a multi-faceted musician. On the next song, a cover of Antonio Carlos Jobim's classic bossa-nova “Quiet Night of Quiet Stars”, we get to hear DEE sing like a crooner for the first time, and with great success. This is a big, beautiful surprise. Then, the last song of the triptych, “Kicking Bird” quickly (within 2 minutes) sends the listener into uncharted, yet fascinating territories. As far as I can remember, I'd never heard Woven Hand play so fast. Obviously, this one is to become yet another highlight of the live shows.

The next song is another high point on the record (after “The Beautiful Axe”, “Not One Stone” and “Iron Feather”): “Kingdom of Ice”, on which DEE plays his beautiful 1885 banjola. We also heard that song a few months ago, during their American tour as a duo. David's voice has never before sounded so intense and exciting on a record: the song is not only beautifully written, but DEE's vocals are truly phenomenal.

The album ends with the beautiful, pure “His Loyal Love”, co-written with Pascal Humbert.
In a nutshell: Ten Stones is without a doubt Woven Hand's best album to date, the richest, deepest,   heaviest, and a genuine masterpiece. 4 of those songs are among the best the band has ever written, but on top of that, DEE has stepped out of his comfort zone and taken risks, exploring musical areas that were completely new to him -both to his great credit and much to the fans' delight. The production is simply wonderful, adding power, clarity and raw emotion to the new songs. Moreover, it has to be pointed out that DEE's lyrics are unquestionably the most beautiful and emotionally deep he's ever written. They are intensely poetic and exceptionally spiritual.

As we wanted to find out more about this masterpiece, exciting from beginning to end, we met DEE a few days after his stunning performance at the Sédières festival in Clergoux, and asked him a few questions about those extraordinary “Ten Stones”. 

First of all, congratulations on your exceptional new album, Ten Stones. How do you feel about it now?
Thank you very much. I'm really happy to hear you love the album. I'm definitely very proud and satisfied with the new record.

Would you agree to call it a “concept album”, with so many references to the native American culture? (“The Beautiful Axe”, “Iron Feather”, “Kicking Bird”, etc). These last few years, your attraction towards this culture has become more and more obvious, through your lyrics but also on stage -I'm thinking of the exceptional, epic version of “Down in Yon Forest” you played in Bonn in October 2005, during which, after a long vocal improvisation about the invasion and theft of their territories, you concluded with a very strong sentence: “we're all living on the Indian land”...
Yes, the native American culture has always been an essential part of my life in Colorado. It had a strong impact on me and plays an important part in my life, today more than ever. I actually think that it's always been present, in different ways, in my music, from the beginning until now. Throughout my career, the Indian culture has played a major part in my music. It's extremely important to me, and for many different reasons. However, you're right, this influence is even more present on the new album Ten Stones, and in a much more direct way. Of course, it had an essential impact on the album, without a doubt.

One of the most powerful songs on the album is “Kicking Bird”. Is it a reference to the eponymous native American chief? (Kicking Bird was the name of a Kiowa chief)
This is a traditional native American song. It was sung by many south-western Indian tribes. As far as I know, it never had a name, so I thought of calling it “Kicking Bird”, in honour of the Kiowa people, for whom I have immense respect.

You play the hurdy-gurdy on nearly all of your new songs. Is that your new passion? We know you enjoy this instrument and have used it on your albums for a long time (the hurdy-gurdy appeared on the credits of Low Estate in 1997), but this time, it is one of the main instruments, sometimes on the same level as the guitar or the piano. How did you discover the instrument and how did you bring it out into your musical universe?
The hurdy-gurdy is an exceptional instrument and I love it deeply. All those who are familiar with my music also know that I've always loved “droning sounds” in music, you know, those continuous sounds that add a very particular atmosphere to the music. And without a doubt, the hurdy-gurdy has the most beautiful continuous sound and the most beautiful “drone” to my ears. It's a very special, unique instrument, with a very particular sound, it's always moving, and it touches me greatly. I love that sound and I use it as much as I possibly can today with Woven Hand. I can't exactly remember the first time I heard the hurdy-gurdy, but I'm nearly sure it must have been on traditional Eastern European music, ou maybe even in some pieces from traditional French music. I can't remember exactly.

The sound and production of Ten Stones are radically different from the previous albums. They remind me a lot of your “live” sound, powerful and rich. For the first time on a Woven Hand album, the whole energy of the band as a collective can be felt. Can you tell us a bit more about the process, conception and recording of the new album? Incidentally, it's the first time in a long while that you haven't worked with Robert Ferbrache in Denver, Colorado. Did you decide to take a new direction and work with different methods, different people?
That's right, the recording process was very different with this album. Nearly all the album was done in analog and “live” recording in Daniel Smith's studio in Clarksboro, New Jersey, and we eventually finalized some parts in Glade Park, Colorado. This is why the album has so much of a human, “live” sound. We really enjoyed ourselves, and the recording went very well. Our friend Emil Nikolaisen, from Serena Maneesh, came from Norway to give us a hand, and he played on many songs. We had a great time recording Ten Stones. There really is a beautiful, new energy in the record.

On the new album, a lot of freedom was given to the other members of the band -for instance, some of the songs were co-written with Pascal (His Loyal Love) or Peter (Horsetail).
You know, I've always loved working with people I appreciate and admire, so these collaborations happened quite naturally.

Would you say Woven Hand is taking a new, “heavier” direction with the new album? Ten Stones is definitely not as atmospheric as Mosaic or Consider the Birds. You've always had an intense, electric sound on stage, but the albums tended to sound more intimate and acoustic. They had a heavy sound too, but in a different way. This time, the sound is bigger than usual, with heavier guitars and more powerful drums, etc.
With this album, we really wanted to lay emphasis on the band as a united group, an entity, so we naturally worked as a team, with the same attitude as on stage. Again, we recorded the album “live”, all of us together, and the conditions were very similar to those of our concerts. However, I don't think you could actually call it a new, heavier direction.

wovenhand x-roads

There are a few surprises on the new album, with songs like White Knuckle Grip, Kicking Bird, and especially Quiet Night of Quiet Stars. Can you tell us a bit more about White Knuckle Grip?
It's a song that Daniel and myself had started writing a few years ago, but we'd never had the time or the chance to polish and finish it. It had been left hanging. And this time, we thought the moment was right to bring it up again, work on it and record it. The whole band was there, and there was so much energy in the studio while we were recording Ten Stones, it was definitely the perfect moment to bring a song like this one back to life. This song needs a very particular energy, and we felt that this time, we had everything we needed to make it work perfectly.

What about Quiet Night of Quiet Stars? How did you discover that song? The first time I heard it, I was so surprised! It's the first time you've sung in a crooner's voice...
It's actually an old traditional bossa-nova song by Antonio Carlos Jobim. But the first time I was exposed to it, it was through Frank Sinatra's duo with A.C. Jobim. I'm a great fan of both Frank Sinatra's and Antonio Carlos Jobim's. So is Emil... and he is a fantastic bossa-nova guitarist, so we thought it would be an excellent idea to record our own version of this superb song. 

Can you explain the album's somewhat mysterious title, Ten Stones?
The title is a bit difficult to explain. How can I say... In a way, I see each song as a stone, and there are 10 songs on the record... “and not one stone atop another will stand” (a quotation from the extraordinary song Not One Stone). We're still in the register of heaviness. But you know, it's still very difficult for me to explain the title of my albums, or my lyrics, actually... It's complicated.

Earlier this year, you toured the US, as a duo with Ordy. You don't do many American tours, as your situation over there is quite complicated. I was fortunate enough to see you for most of the tour, and although the venues were considerably smaller than in Europe, and not particularly full, I had the feeling you really enjoyed playing those concerts. Some of them, notably in Nashville, Knoxville, Asheville and Chicago, were even very impressive. What is the main difference between touring the US and touring Europe?
The main difference? It's extremely simple... 40 people on the one hand, 800 on the other, that's the main reason, as you did notice. Our situation in the US is unfortunately quite complicated. But musically, it doesn't make a difference to me, as I always give my best, regardless of the concert, country, city, venue, or size of the audience. So musically speaking, I don't make a difference between touring the US and touring Europe. But in terms of crowds, yes, the difference is colossal.

Finally, I have a question of particular interest to our readers who play music. You don't have to reveal any of your secrets in terms of sound or technique, but you always play in open-tuning, a particularly low tuning that gives such heavy, dark tonality to your guitar-playing style...
I'm always very surprised when people ask me about my guitar “technique”, because if I play in open tuning, that's precisely because I don't have a technique! (laughing) Seriously, I've always played this way because I really can't play any other way, you know, with standard tuning. So I've developed a very personal type of guitar-playing, with a low tuning to fit my voice, but there is no particular secret behind it, sincerely...