When the members of Wood Chickens ask me to meet them at a Burger King, my first thought is that they’re fucking with me.
The Madison rockers — who will release a new album titled Well Done! on Nov. 9 and play at High Noon Saloon that same night — assure me that this is a Wood Chickens tradition, a post-show meal that’s a sort of centering point for them. So this is my immersion into their world. And the more I speak to them, the more I realize what an interesting world it is.
“We’ve played (300) shows in the past three years,” says drummer Justin J. Johnson. That’s a lot of Burger King.
Formed by high school friends and Milton natives Alex Reilly and Griffin Pett, Wood Chickens began life in earnest. They played a handful of shows shortly after forming, with Rockford, Ill. being their farthest trip. Then Reilly and Pett moved to Madison in 2014, and Johnson — a native of Sauk City who spent time in bands in Nashville — joined shortly thereafter.
“I guess when we started out, Wood Chickens was more mellow, sort-of psychedelic rock,” says Reilly, the band’s lead singer and guitarist. “But there’s been a progression of getting kind of heavier and faster and crazier… We finally became Wood Chickens as a trio.”
The band released the LP Countrycide in June 2017, their first with Johnson behind the drum kit. Produced by Bobby Hussy, it’s a speedball of punk and country, with a healthy dose of psychedelia for good measure. And with Well Done!, also helmed by Hussy, the band strays even further from the path.
“We got real weird for this one,” Reilly tells me.
Influence came from all over the place. Pett says he and Reilly were into SST Records artists as teenagers; Meat Puppets were an enormous influence on the band. But for Well Done!, the band looked into more unexpected places when collecting influence. Like noise rock and Afterburner-era ZZ Top.
It shows through on the recording, too. Wood Chickens show a connective energy to their earlier work, with obvious experimental tangents. The turbo blues of “Mall Cop” stands out the most, a song as precise as it is freewheeling. And album closer “Golden Goose” shifts its druggy, Beatles-y intro into a barroom banger that sounds kind of like the King of the Hill theme.
Pett says the style explorations keep things fresh within the band.
“I think falling into patterns is the death knell of any creative projects. You keep doing the same shit, whether its playing the same places, writing the same songs, or doing the same sets,” Pett explains. “You just kind of shoot yourself in the foot.” Meanwhile, Reilly compares it to a moldy cup of coffee, generating rot the longer it sits.
This is likely the source of Wood Chickens’ geographical exploration as well. Those 300 shows have taken the trio across the country, playing to audiences that often span generational gaps.
“When we played at The Library in Dubuque,” Johnson regales, “there’s this lady that’s like 85, 90 years old, like, ‘Look at these sweet boys!’ and pinching our cheeks.”
If reaching diverse audiences was the goal, Wood Chickens have already accomplished that. And Well Done!, with its rowdy, shitkicking demeanor, is likely to introduce a whole new cadre of like-minded fans into the weird world of Wood Chickens.