It’s unusual for drummer Paul Banwatt to do a Woodhands interview alone. But he’s on a brief vacation in Halifax, with only days to go before leaving on a European tour with bandmate Dan Werb. Xtra talked with Banwatt in a rare moment: solo and away from the intensity of touring.
“Is Dan in on this too?” he enquires over the phone, a touch of uncertainty in his voice.
It’s the mark of the close partnership the dynamic electro-punk duo are known for, one that doesn’t end when they leave the stage. This is not to say that Werb and Banwatt are partners. No, this is a love story of a different kind, an intense friendship found in the space between drumbeats and synthesizers.
The two musicians first crossed paths onstage.
“I was playing with Rural Alberta Advantage, and Dan was playing immediately after us as Woodhands. His act fluctuated at the time,” Banwatt says. “He played with a few different people, but this time he was playing solo. I was kind of mesmerized. What he was into was really neat, and I don’t see that very often.”
Keyboardist Werb had also been watching Banwatt, and after the show Werb approached him.
“He came up to me and said he wanted to play with me. So we took it from there. It all happened pretty quickly. Now he’s one of my best friends in the world. I haven’t made a connection with someone that way before. Our music quickly became wrapped up in our friendship.”
The duo came to be known as the permanent incarnation of Woodhands, with a signature blend of Banwatt’s furious beats and Werbs’ autobiographical lyrics, screamed, yelled and howled over thick synthy melodies. Leaving little to the imagination, everything Werb and Banwatt have created is raw, cathartic and bold.
The duo has released two albums. Their debut, Heart Attack, which dropped in 2008, received impressive accolades, appearing on several Best Of lists. But it was the 2010 Remorsecapade that cemented Woodhands in the late-night abyss of dance clubs, diving deeper into the emotional territory of Heart Attack, with songs that run from the deceptive bubble-gum pop arrangement of “Dissembler” to the explosive punk rock/electro hybrid of “Coolchazine.” The resulting creation is risky, emotionally resonant and dangerously addictive.
“I find it’s almost like two separate projects, writing for the studio and what Woodhands actually is. We’re a live band. The whole reason anything has ever happened for us is because of our shows. I mean, I love our albums, but they’re different. There is something about our live performances that people really respond to.”
Banwatt hesitates, mulling over the intensity of their shows.
“It’s wicked when the crowd can feel that sexual, intense vibe. It’s about connection, with the music and the crowd, that you’re living it as you play it. And I think that has a lot to do with our personal connection too.”
“There’s something so carnal and so basic about dance music…. Our music adds a complex level of emotional immediacy. And it’s fearless. The crowd can feel that, so they’re not afraid to dance. There’s not a single show when we don’t feel like collapsing afterward.”
The upcoming European tour begins in Inverness, Scotland, then heads across the UK to Germany. They return to Canada for their July 3 show at Toronto Pride. Not prepared to comment on the controversy over freedom of speech and the censoring of the term “Israeli apartheid,” Banwatt emphasized his appreciation of Pride Toronto.
“I’ve been a few times and we really wanted to play last year, but it didn’t work out. So I’m so excited to play. We’re looking at about a half-hour to 40-minute set, but we hope to have some surprises in there. Any time we play a Toronto show it’s awesome for us because we can call on our Toronto friends to come out. We’ll definitely make this one special.”