“If a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make noise?”
This age-old philosophical question takes on a kind of modern twist with the advent of The Woods, an indie three-way combo that’s definitely worth a listen. The trio’s debut single, “World’s On Fire,” is an engaging, catchy workout with fierce triple harmonies, a loose, acoustic country/rock groove, and almost esoteric lyrics open to multiple interpretations.
The band’s history is counterintuitive: The Woods (lead vocalist Dan O’Rourke, lead guitarist Leland Rooney and Canadian solo actor Raquel Cole) came together during the pandemic when the culture was generally separate. And “World’s On Fire” is also a little old-school miracle. “It’s pretty amazing that the song was even written in the first place,” says O’Rourke.
That’s because there was no real writing date when O’Rourke and a few Nashville friends molded it into a pre-pandemic world on May 1, 2019. O’Rourke was hanging out with his fellow musicians Nick DeLeo and Nick Halsted at the Donelson-neighborhood home the two Nicks shared near the Cumberland River at the time. They embarked on an informal jam session, with O’Rourke playing classic rock chords that, at an early stage, approached the turnaround of the Creedence Clearwater Revival version of “Proud Mary”. The progressions and rhythms evolved and the tempo slowed considerably as they found a comfortable pattern before a knock at the front door interrupted them.
As the hosts tended to this visitor, O’Rourke kept the chords on his own and began to noodle with off-the-cuff phrases, including a kind of “Hey, baby, the world’s on fire” mumble. It was the start of a song that might have gotten lost in the atmosphere if another friend – Levi Chavez, a non-musician who likes to watch jams from their living room – hadn’t picked it up.
“We were doing it quite frequently to the point that Levi knew when to hit the record,” says O’Rourke. “All of this exists because Levi is there and recorded and recorded what we did; otherwise, we might have forgotten about it.
This “world is on fire” line became the song’s opening line as O’Rourke, DeLeo and Halsted hammered it out in a short flurry of activity, following the apocalyptic hook with a question: “Let’s do us things properly if it ends? this evening?”
“This song has two different kinds of interpretations,” suggests O’Rourke. “The first interpretation is from a more personal perspective, like there’s a relationship where maybe things aren’t as amazing as they could be.
“The bigger picture,” he adds, shifting to the second meaning, “is sort of the same thing you see with humanity all the time. Every generation thinks the world is about to end We’re not the first to suffer global disasters and I’m sure we won’t be the last, but each time the true colors of humanity show.
The back half of the verses adopted a flourishing melody while alluding to other dialogue before bursting out fully into a chorus that demands physical contact: “Love me, hold me / We’ll be hotter than the outside world .” This refrain reaches a long note at the end of the penultimate line, loaded with tension in the middle of a seventh chord, before finally resolving with an upbeat closing observation: “It’ll be fine.” Curiously, while the song title begins the verse, it never appears in the chorus.
The three writers concluded the process by creating a working tape with trio harmonies outlining key parts of “World’s On Fire”.
Subsequently, O’Rourke enlisted a few Nashville producers – Chris Rowe (Taylor Swift, Midland) and Kenny Lamb (Rhett Akins, Barrett Baber) – to record solo material in July 2019. When it went well, he decided to tackle “World’s On Fire”, bringing in DeLeo on guitar and Halsted on cajon as part of the studio band. The Harmonic Identity was so strong that O’Rourke focused on putting together a more formal band, but the onset of the pandemic forced him to refrain from widening the net too much, which would have increased participants’ potential exposure to the virus.
Rooney was already a friend, and his harmonies and lead guitar were easy additions. Cole started doing high harmonies with them for line performances just to help out while they searched for another man to play the part. But before long, it was obvious she had the voice they needed.
“I never wanted to be in a band,” she says, “but the problem with The Woods is that I wanted to be in that band. I had success in Canada, but I didn’t burst into Nashville, and I was listening to these songs and I was like, ‘I want to be a part of this.
With the two new members in place, they tried to re-record “World’s On Fire” in its entirety, but the original rhythm section had such cohesion that they decided to roll with the 2019 recording. been captured,” says Cole. “We decided to add more, instead of, you know, feeling like we had to start all over again.”
Rooney added a new intro and incorporated a meandering southern rock guitar solo into the existing framework. “As for the little melody at the start,” he recalls, “it was actually Raquel, while we were in the studio, it was like, ‘Hey, we want the kids in their room to learn how to play this. It has to be guitar and it has to be accessible.”
The solo was also stripped down, but for different reasons. “Choosing the melodies and the actual notes that I played, it was really me trying to dance with the track,” he says, “kind of a call and response with the music instead of just playing it. .”
The band’s BSG label released “World’s on Fire” to country radio in conjunction with GrassRoots Promotion via PlayMPE on March 14, though the Russian invasion of Ukraine gave them pause. In the end, they decided not to let the images of burning buildings derail the optimism that is embedded in the track’s performance and its “everything will be fine” conclusion.
“We were a little on the fence about releasing it due to how quickly it is, but I think it will always be that way,” O’Rourke said. “Before the war, COVID-19, there were wildfires – like, literally, the world was on fire.
“I’m a history student, so I studied how it’s just the cycle of humanity, and I don’t know if there will ever be a good time,” he continues. “You look at the 60s, the civil rights movement, which we just had a resurrection of in 2020, and it’s all really bad. But I hope that after all that has happened, we are heading in the right direction.