Inside Elijah Wood's life as a DJ with Zach Cowie
by, Kenneth Bachor January 22, 2015 via Good Morning America
Digging through the comprehensive selection at New York City’s A1 Records, a treasure trove of vinyl excellence, Elijah Wood and Zach Cowie are enthusiastic to talk about their love of music. For nearly three years, the duo have been DJing various events under the name Wooden Wisdom and decided to kick off a tour this year, spanning nine dates throughout North America and Europe, see below.
Surrounded by music for his entire life, Wood, perhaps best known for his roles in “The Lord of the Rings” and “Wilfred,” initially began their foray as DJs as a hobby 15 years ago.
For him, Wooden Wisdom serves as a positive creative outlet and energizing medium that fills a certain space that acting does not.
Along with Cowie, who has worked with an impressive variety of record labels and artists, both personalities suitably compliment each other due to their aligned musical interests.
Wood and Cowie share an encyclopedic knowledge of the art of music, with their vinyl DJ sets serving as a sonic odyssey covering sounds from around the world. Though their audience probably does not recognize most of the artists that they play, it certainly doesn’t stop their fans from dancing and having fun.
First off, how did you guys meet?
Elijah Wood: We met through mutual friends, fashion designers Kate and Laura Mulleavy, whom Zach has DJ’ed for at their after-parties and has done their show music for the last four years, we met at one of their after-parties he was DJ’ing. I had my iPod with me and I think either Kate or Laura were like “You should go introduce yourself to Zach and play songs off your iPod!” and I was like “I don’t know, he’s already holding it down!” But the thing I noticed all night that really made an impression on me was everything he was playing. I kept thinking, “That’s stuff that I would play!” Our music taste was really similar and varied. Anyway, long story short, we played that night one-for-one, iPod to records, and we kind of ended up crossing paths again through Bushmills. I ended up doing this campaign for them and [Zach] got hired to do the DJ’ing for the launch event for it. Unbeknownst to me, he had already gotten hired, I had put him up for it and [said to Bushmills], “You should get Zach Cowie, he’s really good! So, we ended up DJ’ing again through that and just realized that we liked playing music together. It happened really organically.
Zach Cowie: It’s way more fun with two people because when you do it by yourself you’re really just a dude playing records and it feels strange to stand in front of people and do that. When you’re up there with a friend, you can kind of just goof around to each other the whole night! It really helps pass the time and helps you feel more comfortable standing in front of people to have a friend up there with you.
Elijah: It also ends up creating a musical conversation. We start playing records in threes initially, just to sort of get a vibe going and to find our pace. After that, we go one-for-one and that’s a genuine conversation that’s occurring. There’s something so exciting about when he puts a record on and I have to answer that statement and vice versa.
Zach: That takes it in directions that you couldn’t do by yourself, because we’re always just kind of throwing each other different ways and you have to play off of it and the adrenaline that creates, there’s nothing like it, it’s so fun. We played in Toronto a couple of nights ago and it was one of our favorite gigs we’ve ever done. We had the place just sweating and it felt so good that we could keep that energy up.
Elijah: There’s moments too where he’ll have a record and knows that he wants to get to that record, so he’ll be like “OK, I want to play this, get me there.” It’s fun!
Taking all of that into consideration, what made you guys decide to do a tour?
Elijah: Well, we had been playing for almost three years at various events that people would have us play at, or with other friends, Nightswim in L.A. during summertime at the Roosevelt, things like that. I think for Zach and I, we just wanted to take it a little more seriously and honestly, we wanted to travel and play to more people. So that’s part of what started it, and a little bit I think was inspired by a mutual friend we have, this guy called Fitz, who’s a DJ and tour manager in the U.K. He had set up stuff for us over there and we loved those experiences so much and thought, “We just have to keep this going and do more of this in the states.”
Zach: If you can’t tell, half of it for us is the record shopping, so the more places we go, the more records we get to play!
What are some musical influences both of you share?
Elijah: I mean, what we do now is so inspired by Mancuso and The Loft parties, Paradise Garage.
Zach: A lot of friends are big influences on us, we’re very interested in Turkish music and a lot of that comes from our friend Fitz. We’re also very interested in Brazilian music, which comes from our friend Joel, who we just visited earlier today. He had a store called Tropicalia in Furs, which was one of our favorites. It’s a nice combination of looking back at the history of what we do and being inspired by that, seeing what our friends are doing. Then just the places that [Elijah and I] end up researching on our own, our ears are so close aesthetically, that it all just works well together. We have very similar tastes that have nothing to do with genres, we just both have the same quality meter.
What are some specifics bands or artists you’ve been listening to lately?
Zach: We’re both very inspired by Theo Parrish. His new record is really nice. We love all the stuff Four Tet does and Daphne, in terms of newer dance stuff, also Caribou. We both love Flying Lotus and play his new record a lot. They don’t really work in the DJ sets, but we love those records.
Elijah: New Aphex Twin as well. A lot of the new stuff we buy are new edits of older tunes, so there’s labels like Soundway that put out 45s and 12-inches, there’s a bunch of those labels that are doing African 12-inch edit stuff that we buy and love.
Zach: I guess it’s important to say that there’s such a difference between stuff we DJ and stuff we listen to. I mean, we love the stuff we DJ, but we’re both into a lot of mellower stuff that would never work at the parties. You’re always just finding more of that. Like my friend Andy has a band called Vetiver, he’s one of my close friends. He’s an amazing record collector and came to L.A. a month ago with a crate of records. I never heard of a single one of them and just ended up wanting to buy all of them! The highlight of that was this Japanese group called Dip in the Pool. I’ve turned into a Dip in the Pool-head in the past month [laughs].
Elijah, do you find any similarities between acting and music?
Elijah: I don’t know that they are related, but I think for me, music has been a part of my life since I was a teenager, when I started to pay attention to it. So as long as I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with music and have been seeking it out and trying to learn about it. In some ways, DJing and playing records for people is as pure, if not more of a pure expression, of the interior part of myself. It’s like that thing when you walk into someone’s house and you either see their record collection or their book collection, you can tell a lot about who a person is and I think there’s something deeply personal about it. I don’t know if the two are related, they’re both extensions of creativity I think, but with records in some ways there’s something just more purely, uniquely me that doesn’t relate at all to the other world that I work in.
When you guys go out, especially on this tour, how do you keep every night fresh?
Zach: [Laughs] Well, we don’t play on anything! Obviously we’re limited to the records that we’ve chosen to bring with us, but each one of us has about six hours of music on hand and together, we only have to play for two hours. So we usually will decide together on what we want to start with and then just make it up from there, because you have to read the crowd and be mindful of the energy arcs that you’re creating. You can’t just throw on any song, they kind of have to work well together and there’s a lot of little moves that we like, but for the most part it’s totally made up each night and we’re taking in what’s being given to us crowd-wise.
For a set, do you guys sit down beforehand and think it out?
Zach: No, never!
Elijah: Nope, not at all! I mean, honestly the thinking happens with the record pool, that’s where the thinking happens where you’re kind of like “What are we bringing for six or seven days that’s going to sustain? What are we saying? That’s what we choose and then from there on out, we don’t do any talking. Toronto is an example where we went to a record shop beforehand, Cosmos Records, which was mind-blowing. We walked away with a stack of records each and there was this incredible disco-y Brazilian record that this guy brought over and [Zach and I] were both like “We should start with that! It’s perfect, we’ll start with a lower BPM.” So that’s as much of a conversation I think we’ve ever had about what we’re going to do.
Do you have any musical plans for the future?
Elijah: We want to do more mixes.
Zach: We’d like to put more stuff out there. We only made one little official mixtape and would like to do more of that and keep traveling, keep finding records and playing them for people. As long as they show up we’ll show up!
Do you remember the first record you bought with your own money?
Elijah: Yeah, I think it was the Batman soundtrack [by] Prince.
I know this will probably be a toughie for you guys, but do you have a favorite album in your collection?
Elijah: I can’t do that!
Zach: I think in music there’s stuff you grow up with that you love and then there’s things that you make the decision to love. A big one for me that just opened up the world was Brian Eno’s Another Green World. If I didn’t have that record, I wouldn’t be where I am now, so that kind of makes it my favorite because it just opened up everything for me and will always be so special. But you know, I grew up with Beatles records, which are always going to be my favorites, Velvet Underground records are my favorites, but [the Eno album] was the first thing I felt that was mine.
Elijah: I can’t top that, it’s such a good answer! I don’t have favorites, but I have similar records that opened up pathways. Like I had never heard Turkish music until Finders Keepers put out the Selda comp and that opened up an entire world for me. I remember the day I went to the record store, I went to Amoeba and saw it on an end cap. I think Andy Votel wrote something on the front, I was like “I love that guy!” I bought it, brought it home and it blew my mind. Then suddenly I was on this journey to discover Turkish music. There’s a lot of records like that.
WOODEN WISDOM 2015 TOUR DATES:
May 29-30: Istanbul TBD
June 1: Marina Di Ravenna, Italy Beaches Brew Festival
June 6: Copenhagen, Denmark Distortion Festival