For most young and budding musicians, starting a band means getting away from the parents and indulging in sordid and unhealthy activities while exercising a personal artistic vision. Not so for Derek and Hillary Woodman. For that bro-and-sis team, being in a band means spending more time with their dad than most people their age would ordinarily spend because their father, Frank Woodman, is the singer and guitarist in their band, simply called Woodman. Frank's 45; his son and lead guitarist Derek is 22; daughter and co-vocalist Hillary is 19. So that's got to suck, right? I mean, what right-minded early-20s rock 'n' roller wants to hang out with Dad? It has to be a recipe for some hardcore resentment issues and some kinda Michael Jackson-esque Peter Pan complex, right?
Sitting at the Loving Touch bar in Ferndale and talking to Frank and Derek — who are accompanied by bassist Adam Fuller, also 22 — the camaraderie between the three is hardly different from other bands. Derek will roll his eyes from time to time in an "Oh, Daaaad" sort of way. But it's done ironically: a family take on natural intra-band-banter than it is at all mean-spirited. In other words, Derek Woodman is a young man who actually enjoys spending time in his father's company. Frank, meanwhile, doesn't miss an opportunity to have some well-intended fun at the expense of his offspring:
"Hey, if shit's out of tune and you have kids to blame, blame 'em," he says, a big grin on his face — a face that faintly resembles Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson, minus the flute.
Naturally, this writer couldn't resist being a smart-ass right off the bat, beginning the interview with the question: "So, how did you guys meet?" Cue polite laughter. Nevertheless, the dumb question did help reveal that Derek Woodman and Adam Fuller have been friends since sixth grade, playing together in high school talent contests and such.
"Frank had a big impact on my musical taste," says Fuller. "He'd take us to see the White Stripes or to the TasteFest [later CityFest] and Arts, Beats & Eats every year since we were 12 years old. We'd go see bands like the Paybacks and the Dirtbombs."
"I'd pack up all the kids and take them to all the shows I could that didn't have an age limit," Frank confirms. "I took them to see U2 at the Silverdome for their first-ever concert when they were very young."
It may seem unbelievable but Woodman is Frank's first band. In fact, the talented guitarist didn't learn his first guitar chord until he was 30.
"My wife, Shelly, and I went to all the local shows," Frank says, wallowing in nostalgia. "We'd go to the Gold Dollar and we knew all these cats, and I always said that I'd love to form a band someday. The kids got older but I could never get a band together because of my weird afternoon shift in nursing. As they got more interested, though, we'd go in the basement and goof around. Derek turned out to be a really sweet guitar player."
The inclusion of Hillary Woodman came a little later. "Hillary wasn't in the first incarnation of the band, but my wife said that she was feeling excluded," Frank says. "So for her first show, we had her come up for a Sundays-esque version of [the Rolling Stones'] "Wild Horses" and she blew us away, so she's been in ever since."
Frank is keen to stress that, despite being in a band with his daughter, he isn't overly protective of her when faced with drooling dude-fans.
"I'm a pretty liberal guy," he sighs. "I'd like to think I taught her the same stuff that I taught Derek. She has a head on her shoulders. You know, there's gonna be weird dudes and she's going to know that. Outside the band, I taught her that there are assholes and guys who aren't assholes. I'm not one of those weird dads. And not to get weird, but she's almost 20. She's had boyfriends. We're in a fucking rock band. She takes care of herself."
"It can be a strange dynamic, though" Derek adds. "Having to deal with the 'cool' parent thing all the time. Things can get heated. There's a lot of history there. Dad doesn't know he's wrong a lot of the time."
So, would it be wrong to term Woodman "the Motor City rock 'n' roll Osmonds"?
"We reek of Detroit, we reek of family rocking, and we just reek," Frank laughs. "We take the dirt of Detroit to pride and now that the Muldoons are lying low, I'll take the reins and be 'the family band.' But if the Osmonds are the angel on your shoulder, the Woodmans are definitely the devil"
Musically, the band (completed by drummer Kevin Maliszewski) is happy to be described as "folk-rock."
"It was originally just Frank and his guitar so it was folk music," Fuller says, with a startling level of enthusiasm. "When everyone else came in, it brought a totally different dynamic to it. With everyone collaborating on Frank's idea, we became more heavy and started to experiment more."
"Neil Young is a huge influence," Frank says. "I like to think of us as a folkier Flaming Lips or a more punk-ish Wilco. The youngsters are loosening me up. I don't want to be a jam band, but they are adventurous players and aren't afraid to take chances. Still, we're a verse-chorus band. The Beatles, man. I still have to have a fucking song. Even a group like Marco Polio & the New Vaccines, as nutty as they are, have great songs."
Woodman may have hit its stride a couple of years ago when the group hooked up with the like-minded souls at Loco Gnosis, the label and collaborative group led by Duende!'s Jeff Howitt that also features the aforementioned Marco Polio, Pinkeye and others. Indeed, the family band found themselves a whole other "family."
"We really lucked out," Frank smiles. "They gave us our first gig. They put on this thing called 'Blue Moon in June' two years ago. A bunch of really diverse bands. We originally met Jeff by just going to various shows. We were the first band to play at their 'Blue Moon' deal and since then, they've wanted to include us in their party."
In fact, Woodman has just released its debut record on Loco Gnosis — a 45 featuring two of the group's live faves, "Wide Eyes of Brandon" and "You've Lost Your Way." The songs surely do justice to the band's blossoming live reputation. The Wilco and Flaming Lips references made by the band prove to be valid; the songs are beautifully and carefully constructed with an acoustic guitar, some delicious lyrics and Hillary Woodman's hypnotic vocals contrasting perfectly with her father's more world-weary voice. They are then deliberately deconstructed with scuzzy rock noise.
Frank couldn't be prouder of the record.
"To have wax with our name on it is incredible," the singer says. "It's different for these guys with MP3s and shit, but I almost got teary-eyed when I picked it up. Woodman put out a fucking record!"
"Everyone I talked to about it was caught off guard by the fact that we were putting out vinyl," adds Fuller. "My friends said, 'That's stupid! People don't listen to records anymore!' But all my adult relatives thought it was the coolest thing ever. People won't pay for your music anymore. But they'll pay for vinyl."
Woodman have been in the studio, working on the debut album, though they've a ways to go.
"We have 14 songs recorded," Frank says. "They're just not mixed. It's costly to mix them. I'd like to have it out by the end of summer, but who knows? Right now, we're just happy with the 45."
Sitting with Frank Woodman, you notice how excited he is about the band. Not only is he living some rock 'n' roll dream, he's bringing his kids along for the ride. When he hears crowds cheer and applaud, he's hearing cheers for his own, and for himself. He looks at the band's 7-inch and sees their names alongside his. Rather than living vicariously through his children, he's living alongside them.
And he has no intention of stopping.
"The thing about a family band is we'll never, ever break up," Frank concedes. "These guys will be in different bands and put out other records, I'm sure. But as far as I'm concerned, Woodman's always going to be a band."
Brett Callwood writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]
Woodman plays June 18, at the Elbow Room, 6 S. Washington St., Ypsilanti; 734-483-6374. With the Jehovah's Witness Protection Program, the Beggars and Black Lodge. Woodman's debut 7-inch record, Wide Eyes of Brandon, is out now on Loco Gnosis.