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February 21, 2024

Artist Interview: Wood Belly – “Late Bloomer”

By: Walker Lukens and Zac Catanzaro

BEHOLD PART TWO of our episode featuring  Colorado “new grass” experts, Wood Belly!! We highly recommend listening to the confession and song in PART ONE before Wood Belly singer Brennan Mackey tells us all about his life got flipped, turned upside down and, if you’d like to take a minute to just sit right there, tell you how he became the prince of a band called Wood Belly.

Check out more Wood Belly here:

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The full transcript of this episode of Song Confessional is available on the KUT & KUTX Studio website. The transcript is also available as subtitles or captions on some podcast apps.

Zac Catanzaro The Song Confessional podcast is a co-production of KUT/KUTX Studios and Good Taste Society.

Walker Lukens Hey, this is Walker Lukens and you are listening to…

Intro (sung) It’s the Song Confessional.

Walker Lukens Let me explain what we do here at Song Confessional. We travel all over the world recording people like you, telling us stories anonymously. We call these anonymous stories confessions. So we pick our favorite confessions, and we give them to songwriters and bands who turn them into new, original songs. In each podcast episode, you hear a confession. You hear the song it inspired and an interview with the songwriter who wrote it. You’re about to hear my interview with Wood Belly co-lead singer Brenan Mackey. I think you’ll enjoy it a whole hell of a lot more if you’ve heard part one of this episode that features Wood Belly’s brand new song Late Bloomer and the confession that inspired it. If you’re all caught up… [barbershop quartet-style harmony] interview. Who am I speaking with?

Brennan Mackey This is Brennan from Wood Belly.

Walker Lukens Brennan, did you write this song?

Brennan Mackey So I did write the song.

Walker Lukens Okay.

Brennan Mackey So Wood Belly has a long and varied history as a string band.

Walker Lukens Okay.

Brennan Mackey Bluegrass band. And there’s always two singers. So there’s the original. There’s Craig and Chris. And as the band started to pick up, Craig left to start a family and continue with his job. They hired a guy, Tom Knowlton, who now plays in the Fretliners. They went deeper into bluegrass, and then Tom left and started The Fretliners. And then they decided to move away from bluegrass, so they hired me. I kind of come from like, the indie rock world a little more. And then the most dastardly thing any bluegrass band can do is hire a drummer. So we got this guy, Dylan French, who kind of comes more from like, the jam band world. And now we’re expanding into different sounds a little bit. So. Yeah. So I, I wrote this one. So Chris moved to guitar, Chris Weist. So now it’s Chris is Chris is the throughline through the entire band.

Walker Lukens Okay. How long has Wood Belly been in the band roughly?

Brennan Mackey I think the beginning date of the band is like 2016 and I joined. It’s going to be a. I haven’t been in the band in a year. So like December.

Walker Lukens Okay. Oh, wow. Everything that you just said to me, from bluegrass to jam band drummer to acoustic indie rock, that’s all very Colorado to me. Do you think that’s a fair stereotype?

Brennan Mackey 100% yeah.

Walker Lukens Okay.

Brennan Mackey So there’s like three scenes in in Colorado and this band has like picked from from each one. Yeah.

Walker Lukens So okay. So so I guess. This band has had lots of songwriters over the years. It sounds like. And you’re the new guy.

Brennan Mackey Yes.

Walker Lukens So here, being the new guy, it just take me through this process. So you, you wrote the song and then you brought it to the band, and you guys arranged it together?

Brennan Mackey Yeah. So we. I wrote it, like right before we went on tour. So this was I mean, this was a fun one to do because it was very like it was very quick.

Walker Lukens Yeah.

Brennan Mackey So I wrote it right before we left. And then we kind of we arranged it on like the beach we’re in, like Santa Barbara right before we went into the studio, and we kind of sat down together. We didn’t have, like, we weren’t in a practice space or studio space. Dylan couldn’t play drums or anything and just, you know, Dylan kind of just did some kicking and some percussion stuff on us. And then we had a day off on the road, and our label has a little studio in their office building, so it’s like just this room in, like, an office complex. We went in and recorded it.

Walker Lukens I, I got to say, when I heard that you guys are going to record this song on your day off on tour, I was very skeptical. And I told Tate, Song Confessional Tate, that that probably wouldn’t happen based on my own experience touring and that we should we should plan to, you know, just figure out when their tour is over and be in touch then. I, I just because my experience has been that on days off band don’t always want to spend time with each other, let alone work. But but you guys literally recorded the song in a day.

Brennan Mackey Well, we did the, we did, the backing vocals when we got back real quick.  Yeah, it’s pretty much in a day. And of course we were like, well, so we’ll record the song and then we’ll get like two videos and we’re done. And somebody was like, dude, we’re not even gonna finish the song.

Walker Lukens Who’s singing the backup vocals on this track?

Brennan Mackey So the backup sister or the back… The backup singers are the Cody sisters, who are a sibling band from, I guess, not totally sibling band, from Boulder .They’re these young sisters in college who kind of came up in the bluegrass world. I met them on in Wisconsin on this last tour that we did. But they were taught by our banjo player, like when they were like, you know, 8 or 9, and they have since become, you know, just unreal musicians. They have that, like that bluegrass virtuoso. Like mentality. But now they’re now as they’re getting older, they’re they’re writing like more like indie pop songs. So it’s like they have this like awesome foundation and they’re like writing killer songs. I think they’re going to be they’re going to be someone to look out for.

Walker Lukens Their voices sound awesome and they sound really great with your voice.

Brennan Mackey Yeah. Oh thank you. Yeah. They’re like, you can’t tell who’s singing. But you know, it’s that weird sibling thing.

Walker Lukens They got that blood harmony.

Brennan Mackey Yeah. You’ll ask them a question and will respond in unison and like harmony. Yeah, it’s pretty wild.

Walker Lukens All right. Well, so I want to get in a little bit to, to this confession, but I want to back up. So basically we have this permanent booth at the Mishawaka, and we got all these confessions that weekend when you played, and I believe we gave you three to choose from.

Brennan Mackey Yes.

Walker Lukens And so you chose this one. That, our working title, we always have these stupid working titles for confessions just to keep them straight. So we called it Double Hug. Well, first off, what is this confession about? If you could just summarize it and then after you summarize it, what why did what drew you to this one?

Brennan Mackey Okay. So I feel like it’s pretty. It’s a pretty. I feel like everybody’s probably experienced this, but, basically, the story is. This guy is, he’s studying abroad or something. And he is having a night out with all his friends, and there’s a scowl there that he’s really into. And she decides to go home. And his friend. Tells him to walk her home, so he walks her home. They get to the front door and she leans in for a kiss and he gives her a hug. Then she leans in for another kiss and he gives her another hugs, hence double hug. Just not. He just didn’t read the the cues. And then eventually they curse. And he said it was an awful kiss. But yeah, I feel like most. Most guys, most people in general can probably relate to, not. Not picking up hints. I certainly can’t. Yeah. So yeah. The reason why I picked this song is because I had almost an identical story where I was back home for college, from college, and hanging out with all my friends would always go to this bar. The Otter Lodge, it’s like the only bar in town. And there was this girl that I’d been infatuated with for years, and we both lived. Our parents lived in walking distance. So I walked her home and we got to the front door, and I gave her a high five and then ran off.

Walker Lukens How old are you?

Brennan Mackey I was probably 20, something like that. You know, I have since have a little more confidence in myself. But yeah. So I definitely felt this dude’s this hurt.

Walker Lukens I, I have, I, I think there’s I think you’re right. I do think that most people have had this experience and that you’re just not picking up on these signals. And and you’re. And it also probably comes down to confidence, you know, it’s not because because, it. Yeah. That’s why you’re missing it. You’re just it’s like, well, how could this person like me if I like them kind of thing?

Brennan Mackey Exactly, yeah. Where are you? Where you think you’re picking up signals and you’re picking up nothing. I think it’s all over. All over the map.

Walker Lukens I have a, I had a similar experience in high school and and I actually was so tortured by liking this girl and her, her not liking me in my head that I, I worked up the courage to tell her that I just couldn’t hang out with her anymore because it was torture for me.

Brennan Mackey I mean, that is that’s pretty confident.

Walker Lukens It took I mean, it took a beer and a half and a lot of, prescripting in the conversation in my head, but I was like, look, I have this crush on you, and it’s just hard for me to hang out with you. And she was like, I have a crush on you. And my mind exploded into a million pieces. Yeah. Just young, young stuff, you know.

Brennan Mackey The amount of relationships that have never happened because people are just so ignorant, you know?

Walker Lukens So we called this double hug, but you called it late bloomer. Why is it called that?

Brennan Mackey It’s funny because after we recorded it, I was like, oh, yeah, it’s called Late Bloomer on the story. Someone was like, it’s double hug, and I was like oh. I think that’s like one of the first things he says in the story.

Walker Lukens That he’s a late bloomer.

Brennan Mackey It is. I just listened to it like a half an hour ago. It’s like the first in the first sentence. He’s like, I’m kind of a late bloomer. And then I, I think it just works with the chorus, I guess.

Walker Lukens Totally.

Brennan Mackey Yeah, the I tried to fit, an earlier demo has a reference to a hug. It just like it felt a little too cheesy.

Walker Lukens Yeah. Fair enough. If if somebody listens to the song, they don’t know the confession. What. what are they, what are they going to think this song is about?

Brennan Mackey That’s, that’s a good question. I think they’ll probably just think it’s a time, a time based song of somebody who’s always late for things. Maybe.

Walker Lukens Okay.

Brennan Mackey I, I was psyched about doing this because I’m trying to get better at writing songs that are a little more linear and less like abstract, which, you know, I don’t know if I nailed it.

Walker Lukens See, the thing is, from where I sit and everything, like, I, I’ve sat with this confession for so long that I can only I hear it in relation to your song in relation to it. And I think this song is fucking awesome. But I’m curious. I am wondering what people will think it. The thing is the the recording, the song in the in the arrangement stuff, it’s pretty. It’s pretty emotive, you know, and I think the backup vocals really help with that as well. So I think it’s it’s kind of a moving song, even if you’re not really exactly sure what it’s about.

Brennan Mackey Yeah.

Walker Lukens But you were, you were kind of going for the linear storytelling.

Brennan Mackey Yes. Yeah. Yeah. Which I love doing like prompts and and assignments I feel like it always can kind of pull. You’re like your self-editor critical mind like away from it. So I have to service this idea rather than like, is this what I think sounds cool, you know? And you can never really tell in the moment if anything’s good.

Walker Lukens Yeah.

Brennan Mackey It’s after the fact, usually. It’s often I’m nailing it right now. And then afterwards I’m like, this is terrible.

Walker Lukens I think us songwriters need it.

Brennan Mackey Yeah, exactly. Totally. Yeah, yeah. To be able to it’s kind of like free for yourself to to kind of write whatever.

Walker Lukens How many songs have you written in the Wood Belly canon?

Brennan Mackey So I have. Including this? Probably six. Maybe we have a new record coming out the 17th.

Walker Lukens Oh, damn. It’s coming up really soon.

Brennan Mackey So, yeah, there’s a new song out today, actually. Yeah. So I have four songs on that, and then I think we have, there’s like a batch of songs that we haven’t, haven’t done anything with yet. Well, yeah, there’s, there’s a, a few.

Walker Lukens If you were to write like a, like a Zagat style review of your songwriting, what, what do you write about?

Brennan Mackey Wow. Interesting. A lot of a lot of drinking songs.

Walker Lukens Okay, I can, I can I can I ask a question about that before you tell me more? Are they songs about getting drunk? Are they songs where alcohol is a is a is a either a character or, like. You know, a chaos agent or something?

Brennan Mackey Yeah, it’s usually the chaos agent. It’s not not. I’m not talking about, like, joyous, getting drunk songs.

Walker Lukens Okay. Got it, got it got it.

Brennan Mackey I’ve gotten drunk songs.

Walker Lukens I get it.

Brennan Mackey That, like, you know, I feel like recently it’s been more like relationship stuff. Yeah, I think. The general. That’s the general gist of stuff, but. I like. I like doing the song writing prompts and and trying to push myself outside of the.

Walker Lukens Yeah, why do you want to? Why is it what part of you wants to write more linear stuff and less abstract? Like what? What is the why is that?

Brennan Mackey I think I just, I love the. There’s so many songwriters that do it that, that I feel like it’s so satisfying. But then on the opposite end, like my, my idol is Bon Iver and like his songs. Yeah, it’s just gibberish.

Walker Lukens No one knows what those are about, but they’re all very evocative. Yeah. Yeah, I understand that. I think I like I would never make country music ever in my life, but some of my favorite songwriters are. I guess. Right? Country music. And it’s. You just know exactly what the songs are supposed to be about. And I really admire that. It’s, it’s I think it’s much harder.

Brennan Mackey Absolutely. Yeah. And because I feel like to. To tell a story. You can’t, you can’t use very flowery language. You kind of have to be straight to the point. So it’s like, how do you. How do you say something in an interesting way, but be direct with it?

Walker Lukens Yeah. Yeah. There’s a there’s a George Jones song called A Good Year for the Roses. And it’s about a couple splitting up. Yeah. And it’s, I mean, you get you get that from the first. Listen, you know, but there are like a few little mysteries in the song that are not. And, and it’s like, it’s it’s just like God mode songwriting because you can you can skim it and know what it’s about. And the melodies are great and you know that. But then, like, if you really dig in. I don’t know if you know this song, but.

Brennan Mackey I heard it.

Walker Lukens On the on the, on the Reddit, you know, the Reddits, the subreddits. We don’t know if the baby died or if the baby left. It’s real deep, you know, you’re like, shit, did this kid die or did the woman just leave with the kid? We don’t know. But yeah, it’s it’s that kind of stuff. I think that’s a it’s just a different I body there is phenomenal. I’m a huge fan of Bon Iver, but that is such a different thing to me. That’s like such a personal language and and but the, the country’s on the other side of the spectrum.

Brennan Mackey Yeah. And I love those, those songs that have like M. Night Shyamalan like twist at the end, you know.

Walker Lukens Yeah, definitely.

Brennan Mackey I throw in one thing and then the end of it. Oh, it’s, you know, boy names two or something.

Walker Lukens Totally. Okay, well, so I only have a couple more questions for you. I really appreciate you dive in and on this, this tune in your writing. So you guys are you have a record that drops November 17th. What’s the name of the album?

Brennan Mackey Cicada.

Walker Lukens Cicada?

Brennan Mackey Yeah. This is the one that’s going to disturb all the bluegrass fans of the band. That was the one the drums and and the electric guitars.

Walker Lukens But you’ve been touring with this Colorado Armada version of the band.

Brennan Mackey Yeah.

Walker Lukens And so you already you’ve already been pissing people off. I take it.

Brennan Mackey Totally. Well, you know, everybody’s been very, very receptive to the sound change. I think the general population is like is pretty cool with changes.

Walker Lukens Yeah.

Brennan Mackey It’s more of the they’re like die hard fans. You know, I was I was on a bluegrass subreddit the other day and there was something about, I mean, just a Facebook group. I can’t remember something, some argument about whether you’re allowed to have electric bass in a bluegrass band and that people were like, up in arms, like you can’t. Like what are you talking about.

Walker Lukens There’s electric bass on that recording, no? On Late Bloomer?

Brennan Mackey Oh, yeah. I don’t play like that. This is yeah. So I started playing bass for this band. Okay. So yeah upright bass is not, not in the cards quite yet.

Walker Lukens I was just, I was just confirming yeah, I, I, I’ve heard those arguments, I’ve also heard arguments that like, no drums, upright bass and you have to have, and you have to have a banjo and or a fiddle and or a mandolin.

Brennan Mackey Yeah, yeah, there’s there’s some, some, like, boxes you got to sit in, and I’m not really from that world, so, hopefully I don’t anger too many people, but it’s it’s it’s interesting coming in as an outsider and seeing, seeing this, this whole thing play out. But everybody has been very, very open minded. But also nobody’s going to say anything to me, you know. But yeah, everybody’s been super into it. Some people are like ecstatic about the sound change. It’s definitely a way more it’s a very big energetic sound vibe, which is super fun.

Walker Lukens Are you guys going to go on tour next year?

Brennan Mackey Yeah, we don’t have anything planned. I mean, yes we are. We’re going to be touring. We just don’t have anything like super nailed down. I think we’re going to be going to the Midwest in like early Spring.

Walker Lukens Very cool.

Zac Catanzaro If you think you have a story that we would want to feature on this podcast and could be turned into an amazing song, come by one of our booths. We’ve got a permanent booth at the Mishawaka Amphitheater outside Fort Collins, Colorado. We’ve got another permanent booth here in Austin, Texas at the Long Center.  Come in. Record a confession. We will hear it. If that is not convenient for you. Go to the liner notes of this episode. Click on the link to our website and see where we’re going to be next. We might be coming to a festival near you. Or you could always send us an email and contact us directly.

Walker Lukens This podcast is produced by me, Zac, Jim Eno, Aaron Blackerby, Tate Hoeven, Zahra Crim and distributed by KUTX.

Zac Catanzaro The theme song you heard at the top was written by myself and Walker Lukens. It was performed by me, Taylor Craft, John Calvin Abney, Dan Kramer, Will Van Horn, and some beautiful vocals by Tyler Brown.

Walker Lukens We want to give a special thanks to Elizabeth McQueen and Matt Reilly at KUTX, ONErpm, Jesse Rosoff at Mint Talent Group,  Bobby Garza and The Long Center, Danny Grant in the Mishawaka Amphitheater, late teenage trauma, psychedelics and universes out there who trust us with your stories.

Zac Catanzaro If you like this podcast, you can support us by sharing an episode with someone you know would like it. You can also support us by following us on Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook at Song Confessional.

This transcript was transcribed by AI, and lightly edited by a human. Accuracy may vary. This text may be revised in the future.


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