The Wooldridge Brothers Nod to Days Gone By
Never let it be said that the Wooldridge Brothers aren’t men of their word. It was more than three years ago when the duo launched a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund not one but two albums—a rustic, largely acoustic solo LP from Scott Wooldridge and a more rock-oriented group effort. Scott’s self-titled album arrived as promised in early 2015, and this week the brothers will make good on the second part of their pledge when they release their latest album, Starts At Dusk.
The new record took them a bit longer to finish than they’d have liked, Brian Wooldridge admits. With the brothers scattered across two cities (Scott lives in Minneapolis, Brian in Milwaukee; and their drummer and co-producer, Scott Gorsuch, in Evanston, Ill.), finding time to record was often an ordeal. “We would just schedule a time every couple of months to get together and work on it, then with the distance between everybody, it would take forever to get together for the next round,” Brian says.
During that time, the scope of the project expanded. The brothers had initially expected to record a short record with producer Jon Munson of the Minneapolis bands Trip Shakespeare and Semisonic. But from there the material kept coming. They were shooting a video at an old drive-in theater when an idea hit.
“I just got inspired to create this kind of drive-in theater-themed album,” Brian says. “We hired a guy to follow us around that day while we were shooting the video and just take pictures. And I was looking through those pictures, and we had this classic car club come in for the shoot, so there were a bunch of old cars sitting around, and it was the off season, so all this grass was overgrown and the theater looked abandoned. I started thinking that you just don’t see a lot of places like this anymore. Scott was writing a lot of songs about looking back at youth and lost summers, so this summer theme took shape of days gone by.”
So they continued recording more material with Gorsuch, whose “arranging and production style helped make this record blossom and come alive,” Brian says.
The years after the Kickstarter campaign turned out to be some of the most satisfying of the band’s career. In September 2015, the brothers were invited to play a Big Star tribute concert in Minneapolis, where they shared the stage with luminaries like Big Star’s Jody Stephens, R.E.M.’s Mike Mills, Ken Stringfellow of The Posies and Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum. That gig led to an invite to join Mills’ band, The Baseball Project, on the road for a week in ’16, the same year they opened for Ben Folds at Summerfest.
“We didn’t seek any of these things out, they all came to us, but the past two years have been pretty nice to us,” Brian says. “We feel like we’re peers with these people even though a lot of them are our musical heroes.”
All that time in the company of so many power-pop and alt-rock greats seems to have influenced their recent material. Stars At Dusk is a considerably peppier, livelier record than the woodsy Americana of the group’s previous work, a bright pop record in the tradition of Big Star’s Third and R.E.M.’s late-’80s LPs, filtered through the sensibilities of Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen’s heartland rock. It is being rolled out with an unusual release model. For the next month or two, it’ll be exclusively on sale at Anodyne coffee shops—a sort of local Milwaukee spin on those CDs that Starbucks used to sell a few years back.
“Fans requested it on vinyl, and people were offering us money to put it out on vinyl to help support it, but I couldn’t guarantee we could make the finances work,” Brian said. “It’s funny, because some of the younger people that have been discovering us have talked to me and said they only have turntables at home—they either stream music or listen to it on vinyl. They don’t have a CD player except in their car. And I said, ‘Hey, this is a drive-in theater, mid-summer-evening type of album. Drive around, roll the windows down and crank it up. That’s what it’s all about. The best way to listen to this music is probably in your car.”
The Wooldridge Brothers play an album release show Friday, Aug. 4 at Anodyne Coffee, 224 W. Bruce St.