The word “Americana” was never very popular in the lexicon of troubadour musician Woody Pines. For him, it denoted a certain style of music that had long ago seen its heyday.
But with changing tastes among music listeners today and a younger generation of musicians looking to get back to the basics of songwriting, Americana has taken on the connotation of “new and unfolding” for Pines, who has made a name for himself blending the sounds of acoustic blues and country with rockabilly and, occasionally, hip-hop.
Pines – a New Hampshire native who now lives in Nashville – has also found a deep appreciation for Americana music as an American musician who tours regularly throughout Europe.
“Americana is basically people harnessing the original spirit when old time music in the ’20s and ’30s was a new and exciting style,” Pines says. “Today, it’s a continuation of that sound, and it’s having a new renaissance.”
Pines spoke while driving his van into St. Augustine, FL, on a brief tour through the Sunshine State. He says he was looking to get some sun after coming back from playing a festival in Scotland, where he didn’t see the sun for 15 days straight.
Pines’ tours around Europe are a long way from his days as a street busker in Eugene, OR, where he made his name as a solid roots musician with the band the Kitchen Syncopators (which also included current Old Crow Medicine Show contributor Gill Landry). When he was first starting out, Pines says he always wanted to continue to do street performances no matter how popular he became.
“I always wanted to be able to play on the street towards the end of my life – to be like one of those old blues guys in a three-piece suit picking a guitar,” Pines says. “You always wonder where these guys have been, and some of them have probably been around the world and back.
Today Pines performs with a rotating cast of musicians who utilize everything from fiddle and string bass to saxophone and clarinet.
The wide range of instruments and musical styles plays a prominent role on Pines’ latest release – Rabbit’s Motel – which debuted in March of 2013. Pines says he spent the latter half of 2012 recording and mixing the album, finishing the project a few days before Christmas.
Rabbit’s Motel is a kaleidoscope of universal themes, like a wanderer’s spirit in “Railroad Vine” and lost love in “Heart Breaker.” The album’s title was derived from an old cinder block motel/soul food restaurant called Rabbit’s Motel near Pines’ former home in Asheville, NC, where he says customers could find some of the best oxtail and pickled pig’s feet in the South.
Pines says his original concept for Rabbit’s Motel was to help raise money to reopen the restaurant after it shut down due to an illness in the owner’s family and most of the kitchen equipment had to be sold. However, after a conversation with the former owners, Pines found out they weren’t interested in reopening the restaurant, but he decided to proceed with the album regardless.
Rabbit’s Motel began in earnest in May of 2012 when the song “Hobo and His Bride” was recorded in an empty art center hall while Pines was on tour in Scotland. He says the band had two hours after a sound check and decided to use the echo of the large empty space to record the composition.
The rest of the album took shape over a 10-day period in a small studio in the middle of the woods in Southeast Ohio. A fan of the band had a full studio at his home and invited them to come and stay.
Pines says the atmosphere was perfect for recording – no cell phone signal and no distractions. And the studio was like a “sonic playground” with a variety of different instruments for the band to experiment with. Each day, they were in the studio by 10 a.m., and they often wouldn’t leave until 2 a.m.
While writing the songs for Rabbit’s Motel, Pines says he went every day to Robert’s Western World in Nashville – a famous honky tonk on Lower Broadway – where he would get a hamburger and listen to the country bands for inspiration. When something moved him, he came home and would write down whatever he was inspired by.
“The good songs come out pretty fast,” Pines says. “It’s a train of thought, and if you don’t ride the train it will eventually go off and you’ll miss it.”