Here’s what you’re supposed to do if you want to make it as a rock band: Record with big-name producers, build an online presence, tour constantly, work with the most buzzed-about record labels, partner with trendy corporate sponsors, look attractive in your photo shoots, and last but not least, play the kind of music the kids want to hear.
San Francisco’s Wooden Shjips hasn’t just ignored these guidelines, they’ve turned them on their head. In fact, guitarist and bandleader Ripley Johnson put the band together in 2003 as an experiment to see if nonmusicians could play the kind of music he liked — mysterious, minimalist rock influenced by psychedelia and krautrock — better than people who could actually play. Eventually, through lineup changes and experience, the band became proficient with their instruments, but they continued to defy convention at nearly every turn. They avoided MySpace, and when they did release their first material, it was only available on ten-inch vinyl — and they gave away all their copies. This potentially disastrous move ended up earning them reviews in Rolling Stone and other outlets, and soon demand grew.
So did the band’s output. Wooden Shjips has put out dozens of singles and EPs over the past few years, on a variety of labels — some of them for charity, all of them hard to find. Many of these singles are on two compilation albums. Today, Wooden Shjips’ releases are getting easier to find, they’re touring more regularly, and they’re online, but their music is as enigmatic as ever.
The Night Beats also perform.
WOODEN SHJIPS: The Casbah, Saturday, August 20, 8:30 p.m. 619-232-4355. Free show.