Who is the REAL Will Wood?
Will Wood is one of the most interesting and captivating artists on the N.J. indie scene. His creativity is boundless, his charisma unmatched, his intensity intimidating, his philosophies confounding. A Will Wood performance is more stimulating than an 8-ball straight to the dome and will absolutely not leave you limp. But when faced with the question “Who is the real Will Wood?” the answer is still elusive.
On March 18, at Backroom Studios in Rockaway, New Jersey, Will Wood put on a one-night-only performance entitled “The Real Will Wood,” which was filmed and recorded for an upcoming dual live album/video. In Wood’s own words, “This party [was] a multi-cam film production in high-def, high-fidelity, high-on-mescaline glory.” I spoke with him earlier this week and he guaranteed me that I would be surprised. But then, I never doubted that.
I first wrote about a Will Wood performance back in January. I was instantly mesmerized by everything about it. Wood is not merely a remarkably talented musician, but also an incredibly theatrical entertainer. As he told me in our February interview, “I hate a concert, but I love a show. I want bright lights, I want drama, I want bold colors and loud noises and spectacle.” The possibilities for what “The Real Will Wood” could actually be were endless.
The show, which sold out over a month ago, was one of the most professional and expertly produced D.I.Y. shows I have ever seen. The stage was decorated with tapestries and psychedelic paintings, all too fitting for Will Wood’s overall aesthetic. The floor was covered in glitter, and balloons bounced around through the air. The lighting was precisely choreographed for the show, and there were cameras everywhere. The crowd was packed in shoulder-to-shoulder, and the room quickly became steamy, reeking of sweat, with Will Wood standing front and center before his keyboard.
Before each song, Wood would break the fourth wall (like Woody Allen, had he been less into young girls and more into psychedelics) to give a personal anecdote explaining the background of the song and its significance in his life, including stories of alcoholism, drug use, social anxieties, love, lust, and his search for and discovery of identity. Each of these anecdotes was more raw and brutally honest than the last, unmarred by shame or embarrassment. While Wood took the audience on this journey through some of the hardships of his life, he managed to still be wildly comedic with a dark and largely irreverent tone.
Wood performed some of his biggest hits from Self-ish and Everything Is a Lot, including “6up 5oh Cop-Out,” “Front Street,” “White Knuckle Jerk,” and “2012,” as well as some new, currently unreleased tracks. It was impressive to see the entire audience singing along to so many of the songs and understand how many people seem to truly connect to and be influenced by the music of Will Wood.
Toward the end of the night, Wood dropped the character work he’s known for and started having off-script, open exchanges with the audience. He began to explain that the show wasn’t something he was doing just because he loved to do it or because it was his dream. He denounced the perception of wanting to be a Rockstar or “doing it for the p****.” To Wood, the music, the performance, is all he feels he can do. “I wish I could just work at Macy’s,” he said, “but I can’t without hiding in the bathroom sticking pins in my fingers just so I can feel something.”
Wood then played a song about his daughter, an exceptionally moving piece about his hopes and fears and what he wants for his child as she grows up. It was powerful well beyond anything else I had seen or experienced on a stage and perhaps one of the most humanizing moments for an artist who at times seems larger than life.
“What’s normal?” Wood asked before his closing song. “It’s not fucking this,” he exclaimed, pointing at himself. He went on to discuss his feelings that it’s okay to not be okay, it’s not fucked up to be fucked up, that it’s normal to not be normal. It was a message of accepting yourself, finding peace within yourself, loving yourself, which Wood noted is something he’s still learning to do. For the particularly young audience that attended the show, I think it’s an important message to hear, for anyone else who faces similar struggles with emotional wellness, drugs, alcohol, identity, etc. to be able to relate to and draw strength from. I think perhaps if Will Wood were to hear me call him a role model, he’d probably laugh and tell me to go fuck myself, but to a group of young people who may not have anyone else and are also looking to overcome what he has overcome, I don’t think you could ask for anyone better.
So, who is the real Will Wood? Fuck if I really know. Talented artist, sure. Gifted entertainer, yeah. “Mutant alien that was born despite three kinds of contraception,” quite possibly. “Teenage girl in a grown man’s body,” not my place to say. But I think really, Will Wood might be more “normal” than any of us, or even he, believes he is. I think really, he could just be a person with a keyboard and a story to tell.
Photos by Kieve Cooligan