Cory Hanson has never grown a vegetable garden, but he imagines it’s a little bit like jamming with his band. All the songwriting on Hanson’s band Wand’s brand-new release, Laughing Matter, came from jam sessions — tossing musical seeds into the soil, just to see what might grow.
“We tried to be as relaxed and untouched as possible,” he tells me over the phone from north Pasadena, California, where he lives. Hanson plays guitar and sings in Wand, and he’s busy preparing for going on tour, a regimen that includes taking his guitar and amp to the shop.
Hanson loves playing music for live audiences, but he calls life on tour exhausting. “It will completely drain every molecule of your body,” he says. “It feels like you’re dragging.”
The enduring friendships within Wand help the band get through tough times on the road, Hanson says.
“We’ve all known each other for a really long time. That helps keep the relationship intact when things start to unravel. We’ve weathered the storm once or twice,” he says.
But when Hanson gets on stage, that all changes. “It becomes this physiological phenomenon,” he says. “You just play. Then coming off a stage feels great — finally I’m awake! I’m alive!”
Wand’s goal with Laughing Matter was simply to loosen up, to not care so much and to give the songs the respect they deserve. While piecing the album together, the band had hours and hours of jam sessions to sift through.
“We logged all of these jams,” Hanson says, looking for themes and melodies to emerge, to form their own thing.
But instead of sounding like the inchoate product of a jam band, Laughing Matter is surprisingly precise, minimal, Philip Glass-like indie rock, with spiraling melodies on guitar, bass, keyboards and drums accentuated by the occasional Nels Cline-esque distortion burst, ambient interlude or electronic scribbling — just enough of both to get the band tagged as “psychedelic.”
Throughout, Hanson’s brassy voice and stream-of-consciousness lyrical style recall Thom Yorke — back before Yorke forgot how to write a melody.
The song “Walkie Talkie” could be a Wilco tune. Elsewhere, “Jennifer’s Gone” recalls Lou Reed’s soft side, and the song “Rio Grande,” despite the non-California-related subject matter, has that driving-on-the-101 feel of life in L.A. at its most romantic ideal.
Speak of jamming, when it came time to write lyrics for Laughing Matter, Hanson often just winged it.
“I’ll just start singing some things — follow the syllables in the words, inspired by phrases emerging out of the music,” he says. “It’s only good if you can follow through with the music, if the lyrics are reinforcing the music and the music is reinforcing the lyrics.”
With the record, Hanson says he would like Wand to join a constellation of Southern California bands that have continually done what they wanted to do and made the records they wanted to make, pushing their fans and listeners to unfamiliar places.
Wand’s jam-oriented songwriting process does spill over into their live show, with a lot of improv. “As much as we think we the audience can tolerate,” he says.
Wand with Palm Tree
Saturday, May 4 • 9:30 pm
Sam Bond’s Garage
$12 adv. • $14 door