Jo-Jo O’ & The WOODS’ latest album has been a couple years in the making, but now it’s finally being released into the world.
“MoonChild,” the second record from the Lacombe duo consisting of powerhouse vocalist Jo-Jo O’Donoghue and guitarist Rylan Woods, was officially released Sept. 28. Since, they’ve embarked on their Alberta Release Tour to showcase what is being billed as their strongest material to date.
If their performance Saturday at their stop at Ugly’s Bar and Grill downtown was any indication, it certainly is stronger, especially in sound, as the group builds on their alt-folk roots and gravitates towards an edgier, rock sound.
“Our first record was a little more simple, and that was by design. We knew we were going to be touring as two people, so we made songs that translated effortlessly into an acoustic setting,” said O’Donoghue. “With this record, we really wanted to make it into a rock album. We wanted it to be epic.”
Naturally, that meant putting together the album was much more of a process than their first, “Old Friends and Lost Souls,” which was released in 2015. They’ve been working on “MoonChild” ever since.
They moved to Ireland for about a year, staying in a little Dublin apartment while scoring gigs at various pubs. Darkey Kelly’s, situated in the heart of the city, was one of the pubs they played at most frequently which catered to a more international audience. There, they tested some of their new material, but in 2016, the duo moved back to Alberta to hit the studio and really work on polishing their second album.
“We naively thought it would just take a few months, but it took a year and a half, just to get the musicians all together at the same time, find the time, find the money – find the inspiration to make it all actually happen,” she said.
“It kind of becomes your own worst enemy, because it becomes this beast – you don’t know when it’s time to be done with it, when it’s time to walk away and let it live. That’s what I struggled with.”
In some ways, the album itself is a “giant musical experiment,” as Donoghue says they didn’t always know what they wanted from other musicians they were working with. Songs became more structured, more complicated, but they’re always open to musical interpretation, meaning players sometimes interpreted what they’d written in a different way than she heard a phrase or song in her head.
The silver lining to that experience, however, is they now have a much clearer vision of where they want to be musically they didn’t have before, and the struggles they did have played nicely into the theme of their album, which, lyrically, is all about fighting for the dream.
“It’s about us still finding our way in the music industry, trying not to get too heavy – which is one of the song titles – about the lack of success we had hoped we would’ve had by now, to get over the idea of what you thought your life and career was going to be and start accepting what it is and what you can do with what you do have right now,” she said.
It’s a theme that resonates not only with themselves, but with many musicians and artists, including those they’ve performing with. In fact, O’Donoghue says it’s something she wouldn’t wish on her own worst enemy.
“If you have other skills, definitely do that,” she said. “It’s a hard path.”
As for the name, “MoonChild” came from O’Donoghue’s fascination with the moon, her penchant for being nocturnal, as well as Woods being born under the astrological sign of Cancer – the textbook definition of a moon child.
It has other local ties as well, including being co-produced by Lacombian Nich Davies, who recorded the drums and other additional instrumentation on the album. Kurtis Cockerill provided the bass.
While on tour, however, Davies and Cockerill won’t be joining them. Instead, Jo-Jo O’ and The WOODS have brought over a trio from the Isle of Wight, England, who they toured with last summer while in London, and during the Isle of Wight Festival, which attracted 72,000 people this year.
Keir Hicks provides lead guitar and vocals, Max Battista is on the bass, while Andy Barker is on drums.
Saturday’s tour stop, which was followed by an informal open mic jam session, won’t be their last in the area, either. On Sunday, Oct. 14 at 8 p.m., they’ll play at The Homeplace, located at 28317 Twp Rd. 400. Tickets are $30 each and can be purchased through Eventbrite at https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/jo-jo-o-and-the-woods-moonchild-album-release-tickets-50362983038.
For more on Jo-Jo O’ & The Woods, visit www.jojooandthewoods.com, or follow them on Facebook and Instagram @jojooandthewoods and Twitter @JojoOandWoodsy.