Pittsburgh Americana Rocker Derek Woods Talks Upcoming Album, Performing With Leon Russell, & More

Hailing from The Steel City, Americana rock n’ rollers The Derek Woods Band have their sights set on a bright latter half of 2021.

Having cut his teeth as a solo act in 2011 in Los Angeles, frontman Derek Woods would ship east to Pittsburgh, where he would gather a core group of like-minded musicians for The Derek Woods Band. Along with Woods, the band consists of Joshua Carns (lead guitar), Chris Schaney (bass), Joe Scheller (sax), and Chris Belin (drums). Their unique and modern twist on Americana and rock is what has given them a steady following in the past nine years of playing together. 

Through the band’s hard work and persistence, they’ve had the opportunity to share the stage with other great acts such as Leon Russell, Cheech and Chong, Lisa Marie Presley and more. They’ve also had the opportunity to play in some impressive festivals and venues including Woodstock’s 50th Anniversary show at the Yasgur’s Farm in Bethel, NY, and The Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, CA.

Their past discography includes EPs, From Now Until Then released in 2018, and The Question released in 2019. The band was awarded for best Americana/folk/acoustic song at The Hollywood Music in Media awards in 2021 for their song, “Unforgiving Tree” featured on their The Question EP.

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The future looks bright for The Derek Woods Band, as they’ve been working on their new album, Picture Yourself, which is set to release this year. The band recorded the album with Daniel Blake, and four-time Grammy-award-winning engineer, Gavin Lurssen, who has worked with legends such as Robert Plant and Eric Clapton.

We had the chance to catch up with Woods to discuss the band, the upcoming album, opening for Leon Russell, and more.

So I was hoping you could kind of discuss the inception of The Derek Woods Band, and how you feel it’s evolved since?

This project initially started in Los Angeles in late 2011 as kind of a trial run following the release of a solo single. Soon after I relocated to Pittsburgh to let loose of the brakes. Joshua Carns was there with me in the beginning on lead guitar with DWB, and is still with the band today as my right hand man when it comes to arrangements. The sound began as more of a gritty rock n roll/jam band sound. In the early years, the stage often held a large rock n roll outfit with multiple special guests popping in and out. Through the years, Derek Woods Band has developed a precise and focused professional sound in the studio, while creating an entertaining live show of peaks & valleys, which include intimate songs as well as great heights of musical energy.

How would you describe your current sound and style?

The members that make up the ingredients of Derek Woods Band have a wide variety of influences, which results in a lot of the sound and playing styles throughout our song catalog. We grow through the years and our influences grow as well, so the sound evolves naturally with that. In the studio, we have captured a polished Americana/rock sound with a sometimes indie-pop undertone, and for the live show we give it a different experience with extended rock/jam adaptations. We try not to corner ourselves into staying solely in any specific genre, and believe that we have a song in our list for any type of listener.

How does the songwriting process work within the band? 

I am writing down ideas daily. Pieces of ripped up paper, phone memo notes, audio notes. When I have at the very least a song outline together, I will then present it to the band to give it a run through. Some songs go back to the drawing board, but some of the songs will grow and develop from that point. We record all of our rehearsal sessions and often listen back to see how we can improve the composition.    

The next stage of the process is often giving it a go for live show when it’s ready to showcase for audience reaction. Some select songs we decide to hold onto and record first in the studio before debuting it live.

So your new album, Picture Yourself, is set to drop later this year. What was the influence behind this album and what was it like creating it?

2020 was really a year of reflection. Stepping back from what we were comfortable with and so used to. The usual auto-pilot grind we were in and performing in public had all been taken away. We were left with ourselves to reevaluate and re-balance. This time inspired a set of new songs that we didn’t initially expect to come along.

How would you compare Picture Yourself to your prior releases?

This is an album of songs that displayed growth in the band from the songwriting to the instrumental musicianship. We approached this album with a much different process than we ever previously had with past releases. Much of the pre-production was done remotely, beginning with a demo that I tracked then from that point we began sending audio files back and forth.

With past albums, we would all be in a designated space together hacking away at ideas and running through songs over a period of time. I feel this particular process made us be more true to ourselves and left out the judgement that would follow after initial ideas were laid on the table and subject to change in real time. With the demo process, we recorded what we all heard should be in there, not knowing what the next band member in line to record would contribute to it. After demoing, we took turns going into the studio that we do our albums in and tracked everything again. The final product was then sent off to Grammy-Award-winning engineer Gavin Lurssen in Los Angeles for mastering. 

Are you still in the process of recording and working on the production? 

The process is complete. It’s just the behind the scenes finishing touches that are being put together now for the release.

How do you know when you have a quality song ready to be cut and distributed?

It really is a magical thing. You work so hard in the studio, pour your heart out, sometimes what feels like endless hours. You try to achieve a certain goal to create a good, quality song that is better than any of your last efforts. The best songs come from this hidden place that’s unknown…they just already exist and they come out when the time is right. 

You’ve had the opportunity to share the stage with many amazing artists. What few performances have stuck out to you and why?

We have been very fortunate to share the stage with some very special, legendary acts through the years. One significant concert that comes to mind was performing with Leon Russell in 2014. It was a great experience. His bright white grand piano took up half the stage. We were the support act opening for him, and his piano remained on stage to be ready for when he came out, so for our performance you just see his huge piano in the middle of all of us, it was really so cool. Leon put on such an incredible, energetic show too. He passed away not too long after.   

Another highlight is performing with Lisa Marie Presley in 2012. She was a very down to earth, good-hearted person who we connected well with and had long conversations after the concert.

What does success as a musician and songwriter mean to you?

It’s an honor to do what we do. When we see that one of our songs makes a mark on someone, that’s really a special thing. The songs come out of us from an influence in our lives that inspired us to write it, then if someone else feels a connection from it too, it gives the song continuous life and meaning.   

Aside from the album, what might fans expect from The Derek Woods Band as we slowly get into summer and beyond?

We are ready to hit the road running to support the new album, and it’s so exciting to finally perform for everyone again. Music is an important part of everyday human life, something we need and I think this is a special time in history where we all will really appreciate the value of live music a little more.

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