Three Imaginary Girls

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After only a few months of being together as a full band, The Redwood Plan has become one of the most buzzed-about bands in Seattle. Led by frontwoman Lesli Wood, whose previous band, Ms. Led, was a much-beloved neo-riot grrrl band that had played its last show in January. The Redwood Plan is a synth-heavy dance punk band whose shows are always tightly-wrought dance parties.

The Redwood Plan is playing two big shows on Saturday, September 19, playing at Fremont Oktoberfest at 9:10pm and then playing the first night of Vs., a queer dance party at the Rebar around midnight. The band is also recording the debut album this week and will be playing the Seattle Weekly’s local music festival, Reverbfest, on October 3. They had also just released an EP last month called Movers, Shakers, Makers.

I met up with Lesli Wood, who I have known as a friend for many years, over drinks at a Belltown tavern to discuss similarities and differences between The Redwood Plan and Ms. Led and what the future holds for The Redwood Plan.

It was a shock to a lot of people when Ms. Led decided to play their final show, but then you had another band, The Redwood Plan, was that by design that you went from one band to the next?

The Redwood Plan was at first Betty (ST), the drummer, who is my best friend, and I and we were getting together on the weekends to make music and hang out; it was just something I was doing for fun. Ms. Led was such a deliberate-style band and it was my whole life and it was a lot of work, so it was nice to play music that I was purely doing for fun and not worrying about a radio single or what the audience was going to think. That started out about a year and a half ago, about January 2008, when I started playing with Betty. We started coming up with a couple of songs; two of them were on our first EP and are going to be on the new album. One of them was a song I had for Ms. Led called “Expiration” but it didn’t quite fit with what Ms. Led was doing, so I had it off to the side and was considering doing a solo project, but then the songs really started to form and we brought in Jamie Hellgate, who is such an amazing musician, and she added so much that we thought “wait a second, this is going to be actual band” but I thought it would be side project idea and then we brought in Sidney Stolfus, who was playing in a band called The Kept. She had a background in hardcore music and was looking for something different, something that was a little poppier. The timing of it, with Ms. Led deciding to disband, was interesting with how it worked out. The Redwood Plan had been practicing for a while but we didn’t have an album or anything when Ms. Led disbanded; we were just kind of a thought and we got our first show and it ended up being on KEXP’s Audioasis with Erik Blood and we figured it was probably a good idea to put an album together. Everything happened so fast that it just took on a life of its own. I would say that The Redwood Plan officially formed in August of 2008; that was when Sid joined and this lineup definitely had a momentum of its own and it’s awesome. It’s been really exciting to watch happen because just fun and as soon as someone stops having fun doing it, then I don’t want to do it anymore. The point of this band was just to be in a band and make music we like with our friends and it’s been that way.

Has the band been embraced by the majority of Ms. Led fans?

It’s been nice to have that crossover of a lot of people coming to check out The Redwood Plan. Some people like it just as much because I’m still the frontperson and there are a lot of similarities but it is a poppier style and a dancier style and it’s got some more Electroclash ideas going that doesn’t really apply to all Ms. Led fans and there are a lot of people that really like the heavy-handed political aspects. Ms. Led was a rock band and it had four distinct people; like Peg (Wood)’s guitar work was amazing and that’s something I couldn’t reproduce in any other band. There’s definitely been some crossover, but I wouldn’t say that 100% of Ms. Led fans now follow The Redwood Plan. I made an effort to make sure that The Redwood Plan wasn’t Ms. Led II because I didn’t want it to be like it was my backing band; it had to be a brand new idea with three other unique people. I do understand that not all Ms. Led fans are into it because Ms. Led was such a rock band in that riot grrrl style and The Redwood Plan is definitely not a riot grrrl band. Lyrically, there is a lot of the same stuff in there, but it isn’t as apparent in The Redwood Plan as it was in Ms. Led. Ms. Led was a really outspoken, Clash-style, political band and The Redwood Plan is a pop band that has a lot of political aspects to it lyrically but that isn’t our MO.

Kathleen Hannah made the transition from a political, outspoken riot grrrl band to a dancier, pop band, with Bikini Kill leading into Le Tigre (via Julie Ruin).

That’s exactly what I thought when that progression happened. I wanted to do something different but I can’t change the fact that I’m a really political person and I definitely have my opinions and views on things and it’s always going to be a part of whatever band I’m in but I’ve done the throwback, riot grrrl thing for so long that I wanted to do something new. Honestly, I wanted to be a front person without being stuck behind my guitar. I play guitar on some stuff, but there’s a lot more opportunity for me to move around and engage with the audience with The Redwood Plan. There’s only so much movement you can have when you play guitar.

You also told me before that it wasn’t a coincidence that the last Ms. Led show was January 23 and we had a new administration that took office three days earlier.

Absolutely. We were so outspoken during the Bush era and I think bands had a responsibility to acknowledge what was happening politically and use that platform to be outspoken. That was something that Ms. Led was involved in, with our second album being released on election day and we had everything lined up with going to vote that day and being really active with mentioning we were anti-Bush in the [liner notes]. It’s not to say that political bands are done, not by any stretch of the imagination, look at what happened [last week, with Rep. Joe Wilson’s outburst during Pres. Obama’s speech to Congress on health care]; we still need to be outspoken but there were so many things that seemed to be coming to an end, from my living in Seattle and finally getting a “win” in the presidential election and it seemed like a good time to wrap everything up. I really wanted Ms. Led to go out on a really positive note and not just fade away; that time became perfect to celebrate so many things and we could look around a feel so much of a sense of accomplishment for what we had done. The last show ended up being such a great celebration; I wouldn’t change a thing about that last show.

You mentioned earlier wanting to play with three other unique people. This might be the first band I remember you playing without Matt Menovcik, who was the bassist for Ms. Led and also a member of Saeta.

It’s true. When this started, I wanted to work with people I had never worked with before. There is something that is nice about being challenged as a songwriter, even just a different dynamic of working with people I had never worked with before. I’ll always be working with Matt in some aspect, like supporting the music he is creating. He still comes to all of The Redwood Plan’s shows and we’re still really, really great friends; everyone in Ms. Led was really, really close but I’ve been in bands with Matt for almost twenty years and I really needed to branch out and try something different.

It’s been a really positive experience, but it’s also been a learning experience because I had such an intuitive dialogue with Matt, that has grown over those twenty years. Now I have to create that dialogue with new people. It’s been really positive and that’s great. Betty is my best friend and obviously I’m really close with all of the band members and we have a really great rapport, so I got lucky with the people in the band but it was something that I did deliberately to work with people that I hadn’t worked with before and, honestly, that I didn’t even really know that well. Sid and I maybe had a handful of conversations before she joined the band; Betty and I were really good friends, but we never made music together before. Larry (Brady) from Shorthand for Epic, I had never played with him before but I knew that when Jamie couldn’t be in the band because she needed to focus on H is for Hellgate, we needed to have some other players, we brought in Larry and Billie Stultz. Billie is an amazing guitarist, an amazing musician, an amazing bassist and she filled in part time and Larry filled in part time, but I didn’t know them very well, but the chemistry ended up being so great that now “poof!” we have two amazing bassists. Now we’re just playing with Larry as our main bassist. We’ve worked with so many amazing people in this band that has only been around for a year. A lot of people can’t have that great chemistry with two or three other people. Peg from Ms. Led played our SXSW tour last March, so it’s been one of those things where you can work with so many great musicians but I wanted it to be separate from Ms. Led. Matt is definitely one of the most talented musicians I’ve ever worked with, but I needed to be doing something new.

I was just going to ask about Jamie leaving the band.

H is for Hellgate is no longer around but they were such an amazing band that it deserved to have her full time attention. The Redwood Plan is a lot of fun and everything, but it is a full time band, it’s not a side project. We tour, we’re getting ready to go to Europe and put out a full-length album. For a while, I was in Ms. Led and Saeta full time, and it’s really difficult to be in two bands at the same time, especially two bands that are going full-force. The Redwood Plan hit the ground running, so it made perfect sense that Jamie couldn’t do both; she needed to go on tour with her band and be in that band full time. We all really love H is for Hellgate so it was a no-brainer to understand when that had to be the choice. It all worked out and we’re still great friends with Jamie.

We’ve talked before about how the show that really helped the band take off is playing at the Crocodile, opening for Ida Maria.

That was one of those feelings where everything was winding up. It was amazing to be sitting in the green room and getting a text from someone saying the line is around the corner. We realized we were going to play to a really packed house in the Crocodile and we had to really step up if we wanted to do it. We had been playing high-profile shows up until that point but this was going to take it to the next level. We had just played a show at the High Dive the night before and I have to admit we were a little tired and a little hung over but we went out there and tried to come out swinging and really felt it gel. That’s when I knew it was the real deal and we would continue to progress, if we wanted to. Everyone was there and we were on the same page. We recently played the Crocodile again, our CD release show with Seaweed, and it was the same kind of deal where we’re here and we had a lot of opportunities, we had just played John in the Morning’s show too, and we’re really grateful for that and want to make sure that we’re making the most of that by making really good and playing really good shows. There’s no learning curve in this; we’ve all been in bands before and we’re all serious musicians so I don’t want to spend a lot of time messing around with trying to figure out what to do. We know what we’re supposed to do, which is make good music and don’t swing your ego around and things will line up. So far, they have for us so I would assume that formula works for everyone.

Two things I remember about that Ida Maria show was that 1) you weren’t playing to your crowd, it wasn’t even a KEXP crowd but a crowd of 107.7 The End listeners and 2) when I saw you at the show afterwards and said hi you said you had to run to your apartment to get more CDs because you sold out of CDs there.

That’s right; we sold out of CDs twice that night. It was a totally different crowd; they never heard of me, never heard of Ms. Led, they just assumed we were a professional touring band, which is the ultimate compliment for a local band. We’re not hacks. We have been doing it for long enough to know that you play every show like it is your most important show. I think about how many Ms. Led shows have been ended up leading to a show in Stockholm or SXSW or shows with whatever bands. I think everyone in Ms. Led realized that every single show is your most important show. Every single person in that room either paid to see you play or is standing in the room to see you and deserves the absolute best version of your band. So for that night, it was really validating for us because the crowd really liked us and we had gone beyond Lesli Wood’s new band. We were a coherent group of four people. I love that people still acknowledge Ms. Led and acknowledge what I’ve done – I’ve been here for a long time – but there are four of us in the band and that was the moment where I though “ok, here we are”. I felt like we had arrived. I think that was only our fourth show in town and we had only been playing shows for a month.

What is going on with that full-length album that you just mentioned?

We’re going in the studio [this] week with Martin Feveyear and we’re finishing our album, finally. It should, hopefully, be released in November – but I’m really good at imposing false deadlines on myself. The main thing is that I am moving [to New York] and since I announced that, I’ve been getting a lot of positive responses from people that want me to stay, so I really want to make sure I enjoy this city and create music in this city as much as I can rather than sit around and do nothing for my last months’ being here. I was actually supposed to be moving [this] week, so it’s perfect that I’m working in the studio on a full-length album for The Redwood Plan to be released in a few months.

Do you know when you are moving to New York?

It would definitely be after the Europe tour and after the SXSW tour next year. I’ll definitely be here for a few more months. I took the bar exam in New York in July and I don’t even get my results until November, so it seemed ridiculous to move to New York before I even knew if I passed the bar exam and then I didn’t want to move over Christmas and then we’re going to Europe. I’m going to promote the album and I’m keeping the band together; we’re going to be bi-coastal and I’m going to come back and forth between Seattle and New York. It’s not like I’m leaving completely. My main residence will be in New York but I’ll still be in Seattle, too.

I’m glad that that is the case because we both know of so many bands that put out their first record and then break up right after that.

I love being in this band as much as anything else that I do. If anything, I’m moving to New York so I can live my life. I’ve been in Seattle for a really long time and it seemed like the right time to move but this is also a good time for the band to expand their horizons and play New York more, so the band is also going to be bi-coastal. I was in Ms. Led for nine years, so I definitely have long-term relationships with my bands; I don’t break bands up right away.