Twelve years ago, emotional-downtempo producer Dntel pleased his cult fanbase by wrangling some guest vocals out of future-O.C.-darling Ben Gibbard. The resulting track would be so well loved, it would inspire them to form an indie-tronic pet project, collaborating through both email and The (United States) Postal Service. The rest is platinum-selling history.
What most don’t know about their sleeper smash, Give Up, is that a relatively obscure Seattle singer provided the female vocals for both the lead single “Such Great Heights” [LISTEN] and the poppiest break-up track this millennium, “Nothing Better.” No, it wasn’t Jenny Lewis, but rather Jen Wood, a stunning singer-songwriter in her own right.
Wood formed her first band Tattle Tale at the age of 15. Although the group would only last a few years, they toured the west coast, released a couple records on Kill Rock Stars, had their music featured in the movie But I’m a Cheerleader, and helped pave the way for the likes of Tegan and Sara as well as Kimya Dawson.
While impressive work for a teenager, Wood decided to try her hand at solo acoustic music, but she “couldn’t settle” solely with singer-songwriter tropes. On the track “Bend” from Getting Past the Static, she experiments with down-tuned guitars and out-of-key chords. As she explains, choices like this come “in part came from [her] love of moody and dissonant music, [as she] used to listen to a lot of punk rock and indie/emo bands…like Slint, Elliot Smith, Lungfish, Joan of Arc, etc.,” she continues, “the way I write is all based off of emotion, it’s very intuitive. So depending on the mood I’m in or the topic I will just play around with chords until I find the ones that really convey and boost the emotional intensity of the song.”
This can be also felt with the melancholic apathy of “Pills,” which opens her 2010 album Finds You in Love. The two-chord verses in 6/8 time and subtle poly-rhythm in the drums reflect the lyrics’, pardon the cheap yet fitting rhyme, simultaneous lilt and wilt. The reason for this is Wood’s resolve to not take mind-numbing medication, and the victory she feels in this situation despite the worry of her loved ones:
As for her new album – finished this very week – Wood is “bubbling with excitement” over what she’s described as “definitely the best record [she's] ever created.” She’s in the process of shopping the “beast” around to labels in the area, and again refuses to stay “quiet” and “soft-spoken,” dealing instead with “personal, social and political change in the context of marriage, family, religion and war within our society,” all of it played “loud, [and] full of angst and raw determination.”
While we wait for that to drop, though, she’s been plucked to reprise her role on the hits that beefed up the Garden State soundtrack and gained enough notoriety to warrant a cease and desist from the actual United States Postal Service. On that, she had to say that the experience already feels “surreal, that we can all come together and celebrate the success! The whole thing feels like a dream to me, in a good way; it’s going to be a very special moment in time.”