All the songs on Human to Human, the 2019 release from The Woolen Men, were written by singer and guitarist Lawton Browning — a definite change of pace from the collaborative process the Portland lo-fi indie rock trio usually works with when writing new material.
“This is definitely a Trump-era record. There’s no way that it couldn’t be,” Browning tells me over the phone, especially the song “Big Shot,” in which he tries to get inside the mind of someone sliding into fascism.
“I was trying to think about the seductive power of falling into an ideology and how good it feels when you’re in it,” he says.
Human to Human also touches on the existential anxiety created by issues such as climate change. For instance, the song “Crash” anticipates the end of things. “The fear that we all live with that the news could tell us something about the end of world,” Browning says.
Musically, The Woolen Men are brainy and loose post-punk indie rock, Browning’s self-taught guitar playing adding bursts of noise and angularity, with grooves both awkward and infectious.
“I picked up a guitar like most disaffected, bored teenagers when I was about 13,” Browning says, but lessons didn’t stick. “I have a very weird style,” he says, but the gaps in his technique give Woolen Men’s sound a unique cast.
In the studio, the band records live with no multi-tracking, applying the notion of “first thought, best thought” to their music.
“With a vocal take, if it’s not there in the first one to three takes you need to go back and rework what you’re doing,” Browning says. “More often the not it’s the first take that turns out to be the best one. We’re not interested in slaving over the songs. It’s more about them feeling right.” ν
The Woolen Men play with Eugene’s Doink 9 pm Friday, Jan. 17, at Sam Bond’s; $8 door, 21-plus.