Since 2012, respected Hudson Valley based guitarist and vocalist Jay Woodruff has led alternative rock band Of the Atlas through a colorful range of styles and incarnations. Started initially as a solo act by Woodruff, an enthusiastic and longtime member of the thriving and diverse regional underground rock community, he fleshed the group out into a powerful blend of introspectively vibrant indie rock and infectious power pop in the years leading up to their latest Brian Goss-produced EP, The Mountain. Of the Atlas is certainly the most personal, well-regarded and important project Woodruff has had his name on. In a less cynical world, OTA might even redeem pop as honest music while keeping their feet planted in the fertile soil of rock ’n’ roll’s elaborate and evolving history.
While OTA’s debut self-titled album was recorded on his own, the band released a second album, co-produced by Ike Shaw and entitled Upstate, back in 2016 and have played a variety of live shows to support it through the end of last year. Of the Atlas has shared the stage with such bands as DMA’s, Arkells, Cold Fronts, Gold Hope Duo, Kyle & The Pity Party, Schmave, Top Nachos, Rough Shapes, Brian Goss, Pitchfork Militia, The Grape and The Grain, Shred Flintstone, Conehead Buddha, The Black Ships and Belle-Skinner to name a few. All of the live experiences, twists and turns and adventures since have culminated in January’s The Mountain, two songs that find Woodruff, drummer Brady Totten and session bassist Evan Ducker firing on all cylinders. Tim Amerman is on guitar and Cole McCormick is on bass live as new members.
The Mountain features some of Woodruff’s most focused and mature songwriting to date, sure to thrill fans of everything from Teenage Fanclub to Dinosaur Jr., and maybe even a few Springsteen supporters. There’s a feeling of earthy awareness under the skin of these songs — the sense that we’re smaller than the world around us, but we still can find the strength of heart to weather storms, raise our sails and sing our hearts out until the morning comes.
I reached out to Woodruff to catch up with him about the exciting current state of one of the best bands in our area.
Kingston After Dark: How did your new EP come about? You have managed to get quite a few things up on the band’s Bandcamp since the group’s inception.
Jay Woodruff: I wrote a bunch of new material roughly from the summer of 2016 to the fall of 2017. I showed some acoustic demos to my friend Brian Goss and those were the two songs he wanted to record first.
KAD: “Easy Ride” has some great hooks and a fuzzy, warm and slightly retro pop guitar sound. Were you ever into Big Star or Teenage Fanclub? I hear some similarities in this tune. Do you feel like you have become more confident as a vocalist? You sound full voiced and confident on this record.
JW: Thank you. I wasn’t very familiar with those bands until a couple years ago when I started to hear the comparisons. I really like what I’ve heard from them so far and have been made aware that they were influential bands on early ’90s alternative music.
Yeah, I feel more confident as a vocalist than when I started this project a few years back. OTA was more of a home recording project on very low-budget gear when it started. I never thought I’d get to play all these shows and have these excellent musicians play in my band over the years. I had kind of given up on playing in bands when this whole thing started. I was stuck on a forklift six days a week at that point.
KAD: You worked with Brian Goss and Mike Billera (Spincycle Lava) on this EP, right? How did that come about? Two greats and old friends of mine from the ’90s alt-rock Hudson Valley scene.
JW: Roughly around last spring I got a call from Mikey that he would fund the recording if Brian produced it. Mikey has always been very encouraging to me and the other bands in the area for a very long time. I was super excited because I had been talking to Brian about recording us for a while. I’m usually very particular about OTA recordings and like to produce them myself, but I just trust Brian. I knew he would make it sound natural and full. He knows things about music and recording that I don’t yet. We all thought he was extremely easy to work with and had a lot of fun.
KAD: Are you still the primary songwriter and sort of ship-sailer for the group or are you more of a democracy right now? I mean, I know there have been lineup changes here and there but I always considered this “your” project.
JW: Yeah, this is my project. These are my songs, but there’s nothing better than working with musicians that you are on the same page with. I mean, I don’t have the chops and style Brady does on drums. I can’t work effects and play guitar the same way Tim does. I don’t have extensive knowledge of jazz and bass like Cole. There is a bit more jamming lately based on the particular group of people in the band. If we keep moving more in that direction, I’m totally fine with that.
KAD: Did it feel good to start the new year with fresh energy and a new release? To kind of head out of the gate with some positivity? Does music still get you through the tough times or “weather,” or is it more of a habitual catharsis or hobby?
Yeah. Everyone is very enthusiastic. It feels really good. Brady and I had friends filling in for a little bit while I worked on a more concrete lineup again. Tim and Cole joining the band has been very positive. Music definitely gets me through the tough times. It enhances the good times. It challenges and inspires me. I love playing music so much.
KAD: Any upcoming appearances we should know about?
JW: Locally, we’re playing Half Moon in Hudson on Feb. 9, BSP in Kingston on March 23 and Hi Lo in Catskill on March 31.