Carey Wolff lives the only way he knows how: as a depressive Americana singer-songwriter.
By CAROLINE COLLIER
Carey Wolff was a mite surprised to learn he had won the readers’ choice for Local Rock Star in the Weekly’s 2008 Best Of issue. With his puppy-dog eyes, Joe Six-Pack build, and laid-back demeanor, the 41-year-old father of two and DWM isn’t exactly Julian Casablancas. Anyway, Wolff said, “I don’t want to be a rock star. I just want people to like my music.”
In more than two decades of musicmaking, both as a solo artist and as former frontman of beloved local Americana quartet Woodeye, Wolff has always been music first, everything else second – sometimes to his own detriment.
Born in Littleton, Col., Wolff moved to Fort Worth while still in elementary school. By 1989, not far removed from his “good Christian boy” status, he was playing bass in a goofy math-rock band called Dead King’s Pillow. His stage-name: Abercrombie Xiliathuexetl.
In 1992, he moved to Florida to pursue a romantic relationship and also a career as a solo artist. It was slow going. His girlfriend at the time loved the rock ‘n’ roll glamour, Wolff said, but not the day-to-day stuff. “There’s no reason to hold grudges about the past,” he said. “You write a song about it and move on.”
With music as his Prozac, Wolff moved back to North Texas. A few years later, he was asked to join a new band, Woodeye. Actively avoiding a “Texas-country” tag for fear of “having to write songs about Shiner beer and pickup trucks,” he said, the quintet mixed barroom rock with Texas Music and alt-country to arrive at something resembling heavy Americana. Business-wise, however, Woodeye didn’t play its cards right. “We were too nice,” Wolff said. The band didn’t make a habit of asking for guarantees or doing much self-promotion. Thanks to jobs, classes, and wives, the guys were, as Wolff said, “lazy … scattered.”
In 2007, after 10 years, Woodeye played its last show. Members Scott Davis and Kenny Smith had already begun playing full-time with Fort Worth troubadour Jason Eady. (Davis and Smith now play with another troubadour type, Hayes Carll.) In Wolff’s opinion, Woodeye’s music had the kind of radio-friendly richness that might have permitted the guys in the band to quit their other jobs. But any follow-through was sorely lacking. (Wolff has some advice for young musos: “If you’re going to do it, you need to put everything in it and be ruthless. Make sure you take care of yourself instead of trying to make everyone else happy.”)
Of course, as soon as Woodeye was fini, Wolff began working on his first solo record, 2007’s I’m Still the Darkness, a wonderfully apt title for an album full of melodic, sparsely arranged but rich heartbreak. “When I’m happy, I don’t write,” he said. “It’s easier when I’m miserable.”
On “Nineteen Years,” he bemoans his absence from much of his older son’s life. “When I’m Nobody” is the song about his Florida experience. Another track, “Our Song,” unintentionally presaged his recent divorce. “I may not be a great musician,” Wolff said, “but I can write a song that will make you feel something.”
Wolff, who has been regularly gigging solo since Woodeye’s dissolution, recently joined forces with Scot Cloud, Neil Schnell, and Brandon Bumpus, otherwise known collectively as the rousing and extremely popular cover band Velvet Love Box. “I like to surround my self with guys who can tell me what key I’m playing in,” Wolff said.
The foursome, newly titled The Morning After, is learning I’m Still the Darkness, old Woodeye material, and some B-sides. The goal, Wolff said, is to have a band that reflects all four guys’ contributions. “I play because I couldn’t ever stop,” he said. “Otherwise, I would. It hasn’t made my life any easier.”
Carey Wolff and The Morning After
Fri w/Bruce Robison at The Fairmount, 600 W Magnolia Av, FW. $20. 817-420-9455.