IT ONLY TAKES some whiskey and few Old German tallboys to get the Woolen Men to open up. Vocalist/guitarist Lawton Browning and his woolly brethren—drummer Raf Spielman and bassist Alex Geddes—are sitting out on the patio of the Red Fox in North Portland, offering deep thoughts about not over-thinking things to a stranger with a notebook.
Which is part of what makes them so charming. The Woolen Men are a no-frills rock band in the truest sense. The Portland trio foregoes any aesthetic frippery in favor of simply writing good songs. And they're prolific, having amassed a breadcrumb trail of cassettes and singles over the past four years. "The record came out a week ago, but if someone asked us to make another one tomorrow we could," Spielman says.
The Woolen Men's self-titled vinyl debut for Woodsist is a taut collection of 10 pop gems that have been polished to a mid-fi patina. The songs sound effortless, even though the members say they put a lot of work into the oft-neglected art of writing a good hook. Songs like "Mayonnaise" and "Submission" are proof of that—a couple of earworms that'll burrow deep into your brain.
The band also has a relatively new compilation album called Dog Years, cherry-picked from four years of cassette-only releases and mastered to vinyl by Pete Swanson. Even though the Woolen Men seem to be perpetually juggling new tunes, they don't just release them all willy-nilly. "If it's a good song, even if it's your best song, if it doesn't fit it doesn't go on the record," Spielman explains.
Spielman and Browning are Portland lifers, and they're proud to call it home—which also adds to the charm of the band. They unabashedly speak highly of bands like Eat Skull, Sad Horse, and the Whines. And the members have a fondness for the localized scenes that birthed bands like the Minutemen and the Replacements; they love the Clean. "That's where bands dream big," Browning explains. "They're not sold a bill of goods."
He continues, "The longer we stay here, the weirder and weirder we're going to get." Geddes doesn't necessarily agree with this assessment, and Browning changes his position. "I mean we'll get angrier and angrier."
The three Woolen Men have struck a pretty good balance between band, career, and personal life. Browning is working toward a degree in speech language pathology, which keeps him busy. The rest of the band is happy to work around it.
They're only now starting to realize the benefits of being on a label like Woodsist. The band's forthcoming spring tour will see them playing at WFMU in May. And simply releasing an album on vinyl is something the Woolies hold dear. "Twenty years from now someone will find this and be stoked," Spielman says. "It's nice to think we'll be in a dusty dollar bin someday."
The members are perfectly content working at their current pace (which includes a split 7-inch with local pals Lame Drivers), but the Woolen Men's latest LP has changed their outlook. Browning estimates the band has written about 100 songs over the past four years. But he likes the way they've gone about things. "We don't think of the Woolen Men as a short-term thing," he says. "This is only the first record. It's funny to me."