Wow, it’s been five years already? For a complete history of the band Wooden Sleepers, you have to go way back to sometime in late 2013. As it goes in Portland, the guys met through a series of chance encounters. Nik, originally from Maryland, moved to town and played a few open mic shows. Nolan, originally from north of LA, had just moved to town and ended up at the same show as Nik one evening and the two got to talking. Nik and Phil, originally from New York, met a couple times while playing indoor soccer with some mutual friends. Around the same time Nolan met Amy Hakanson, who shared a love of bluegrass music. Sometime that winter the four got together and decided to try their hand at playing songs. They quickly formed a great bond and decided, as folks do, to call themselves a band. Shared influences include Trampled by Turtles, David Bowie, Big Thief, The Wood Brothers, Elephant Revival, Milk Carton Kids, and Fruition.
After a few months of learning covers and working on some original material, the band settled on the name Wooden Sleepers, taken from a line in the Jack Kerouac novel On the Road. The name had a folksy vibe to it, much like the folk and bluegrass tunes the band had created in their harmony forward arrangement of acoustic guitar, mandolin, bass, banjo, and fiddle. Next came their first shows and the opportunity to not only hone their sound but also win over fans. Requests for recordings quickly followed and were answered by a four track demo titled Wooden Sleepers, recorded entirely by the band in their practice space. The demo, release on April 1st, 2014, includes three original songs and one Bill Monroe cover, with Amy Hakanson appearing on fiddle, banjo, and vocals.
The band’s first proper EP was recorded towards the end of 2014 over a long weekend on the Siletz River near the Oregon Coast. A small cabin was converted into their temporary studio space where they recorded six original songs that would come to form River Valley Sessions, a name inspired by the beautiful Siletz River valley. The trio of Nik, Nolan, and Phil was joined by longtime friend Alex Kocher, who documented the weekend in video and photographs. It was a simple, beautiful time with great laughs and epic jam sessions around the fire. The entire EP was produced, mixed, and mastered by the band, with Alex contributing album artwork and a music video filmed on the river.
On February 20, 2015, Wooden Sleepers had an outstanding album release party at Alberta Street Pub in Portland. Joining them were local acts The Desert Kind and Scratchdog Stringband. The crowd was well over 100 strong. Vibrant with energy, they fueled the phenomenal folk frenzy well into the night. Toward the end of the set, Amy Hakanson joined the trio on stage on fiddle and banjo along with the wonderful Tricia Laine on vocals and washboard. That summer the band continued to play shows and events all over the Pacific Northwest, and did a short tour through South Dakota, Montana, Idaho, and Eastern Oregon. Around this time the trio started to play more regularly with Carl LaRue, a good friend of Nik’s, also from the east coast, and a fine drummer and percussionist. If you’ve been around Portland for a while you’ve probably seen Carl on stage in one of many bands he’s played in over the years. With Wooden Sleepers, Carl’s washboard playing and vocals added a whole new energy as the band continued to hone their sound and write new material.
Throughout 2016 the band continued to play out in their traditional folk/bluegrass arrangement, from boot stomping shows in local bars to fundraising events for local non profits and wedding receptions. A live album titled To The Moon, produced in collaboration with Sofar Sounds Portland, captures this era. At the same time, a current of change could be felt. Practice sessions started to include a drum kit and electric guitars and new songs had elements of blues, funk, rock, and soul. It wasn’t obvious at the time, but the band was slowly evolving from it’s folk trio roots into something more dynamic and high energy. This new sound would eventually be captured in a full-length record.
Storm Floatin’ is a collection of 10 original tracks which offer a nod to the band’s folk and bluegrass roots while showcasing a more progressive blend of americana, rock, and soul influences. Continuing the DIY approach, the record was entirely engineered, mixed, and produced by the band over numerous sessions in Portland and on the Oregon Coast in 2017 and early 2018, with additional fiddle and banjo performed by multi instrumentalist Amy Hakanson. The final tracks were mastered by Gus Elg at Sky Onion in Portland, with one of a kind artwork created via block print by long time friend and printer Harry Schneider. Storm Floatin’ was released digitally on October 12, 2018.