On the downhill side of a ride from Houston to Phoenix, The Stereo’s singer-guitarist-songwriter Jamie Woolford waxes thoughtful in a roadside Taco Bell.
“In the studio, if you really fuck up a take, you can just erase it and go back to the top of the tape,” he explains. “That’s kinda what happened with the band. We’re starting at square one, the beginning. Going back and trying again with The Stereo.”
He speaks to the significance of the title of the Minneapolis-based power-pop band’s third full-length, Rewind & Record (Fueled by Ramen). The disc, more of the anthemic, ’80s-inspired radio rock that is The Stereo’s trademark, comes after the messy breakup of The Stereo after their first European tour. Woolford and his then-band (guitarist Erik Hanson, drummer Jeremy Tappero and bassist Jeremy Bergo) had grown apart to the point of name-calling and cold-shouldering.
“We’d get out of the van in Europe and they’d take off and leave me with the driver. And that was fine, cause our driver was cool. They wanted nothing to do with me or even music and practicing. They just wanted to tour and party and go do their other band [Attention]. They all but said to me, ‘The only reason we’re staying in The Stereo is because we get to go to Europe, and it pays more.’ That pissed me off. That’s not why you do music.”
Upon returning, Woolford and the band kept their distance. Weeks went by and Woolford waited for the “we quit” call. It never came. Then, while skateboarding, he broke his arm in two places and during four months of downtime, resolved to end it himself. “I was like, ‘I wanna be a musician and write and express things.’ I’m in this for the art, I guess, and the fun of it. If you’re not having fun, then it’s not worth it. So I risked everything by kicking my entire band out in order to make myself happy.”
Hanson, Tappero and Bergo focused on Attention (supposedly named for a memo Woolford sent, asking them to leave) and a feud ensued. The discharged members alluded to mental instability on Woolford’s part; Woolford admits to some band-related depression, but maintains he wanted to make music and they didn’t. “They hated me for quite a significant amount of time.”
A reconstruction period followed, as Woolford debated whether to make The Stereo (which he co-founded in 1999 with Rory Phillips and assumed control of when Phillips split to reunite The Impossibles shortly after releasing their debut disc, Three Hundred) a solo project or attempt to rebuild it as a band. He went with the former, but ended up with the latter in drummer BJ Wuollet (Woolford’s bandmate in Animal Chin), guitarist Thomas Laufenberg (The Pistoleros) and bassist Chris Serafini (ex-Pollen).
“I ended up with the best band I could ever find,” Woolford enthuses. “These guys are so like-minded and everybody wants to contribute. They don’t care about money, tours, chicks, parties and all that crap. All they wanna do is play music like I do. In practice, I’ll bring in part of a song and they just devour it. They’re all really creative. That’s what I wanted—people to get fired up about the songs. And we’re friends. It’s a match made in heaven, I guess. I had to go through hell to get it, but I’m glad I’m here now.”
Woolford might have put the breakup behind him, but it’s obvious in every facet of Rewind & Record that it still smarts a little. Many songs carry a theme of loss and betrayal. The acerbic “Don’t Say Uncle,” gloomy “Vice-Versa Inquisition/No Name” and “Have I Paid My Debt To MPLS?” seem to deal with the band breakup, while heartfelt anthem “Pay No Attention,” the Bacharach-y “Stop Breathing” and “Two-Week Notice” cover love gone sour. Then there’s the album cover, which depicts poolside noir. Lifeguards attempt to rescue a drowned man, a hobbled drag queen panics (another seems to be giving an interview), a red-panted macho man shushes a giggling girl with a baton and Woolford, clad in white, sits in a wheelchair with Arizona plates, staring. It’s not just about starting over. He’s still looking for answers.
“It’s kinda confusing … a guy is drowning and everybody’s screaming. It’s like, if only you could rewind and record and see what actually happened.”
Despite this, The Stereo’s new configuration is a success. Woolford is immensely proud of Rewind & Record, content to enjoy the moment with his new friends and bandmates and to make music instead of worry about the future.
“This tour has been our best, and we’ve only been on tour a week and a half,” he says, obviously pleased. “We’ve noticed a significant build in our draw. It’s not huge, but it’s better. And the record’s selling well, although we try not to pay too much attention. Fueled by Ramen is honest, almost to a fault, and sends us weekly reports. But we try to forget numbers as fast as we can. We prefer to think nobody likes us. Then there’s nothing to lose.”
The Stereo, Club Xscape (basement), 115 South West Temple, Friday Aug 30 8: pm, 877-548-3237.