There’s a semi-famous theory that says the best way to know what era a person belongs to is to ask what year it was when he or she turned 25. If you’re 30 in 2010, then you’re a child of 2005, but if you are 40 in 2010, then it’s likely you’re more the 1995 type. By this formula, the genre-defying Santa Barbara-based musical collective Headless Household belongs to today. Listening to their new double album, Basemento, and anticipating the big step up they are taking by moving their annual concert from Center Stage to the Lobero, the 25 in 2010 formula fits them well, because their music, which gambols freely from blue-eyed soul to wild-eyed improvisation, has never sounded more current. Despite the long pedigrees of the group’s main composers, Joe Woodard and Tom Lackner, and a band full of experienced singers and players, the amazing thing about Headless Household turning 25 is just how fresh it all feels. Recently, I spent an hour in their Mountain Drive studio with Woodard and Lackner. We listened to tracks, chatted about music, and mulled over how milestones have a way of coming up before you know it.
I understand that Basemento is going to be a double album. When did you start working on it?
Joe Woodard: We had the title Basemento, and the project just kept creeping along once it got started back in 2005. There were interruptions, particularly the Tea and Jesusita fires, but at some point we realized we had a mountain of material. It was Tom’s idea to divide our efforts into two sides and release them at the same time as a double CD.
Tom Lackner: Especially when Joe had written so much straight-ahead jazz and so many songs that were like standards; it seemed like a good idea not to waste so much time trying to make it all fit into one record.
It makes you guys seem like Outkast. For them, the double release brought a lot of hits.
JW: That’s great. After 25 years, our first hit is finally part of our business plan.
What got you through to the end on such an ambitious project?
JW: Booking the performance is what kicked our butts and forced us to finally finish this thing. Everyone’s excited about the Lobero. It’s a big change.
TL: It’s a big room.
When you work in so many different musical forms, is it hard to get the whole band on the same page?
JW: We have to drag Dick Dunlap kicking and screaming into some idioms, but on the other hand, he’s the Brian Eno of this Roxy Music, if you will.
How is Basemento different from the records you made in the past?
JW: I feel like something happened on this album with the connection to various types of 1970s music. We did our first soul song for this record—it’s called “I’ve Never Wanted You.” Julie Christiansen and Glen Phillips sing it.
TL: At first I was afraid the song might be too normal, but then we thought of Shuggie Otis. His album Inspiration Information gave us a clue about how to make the track work.
So Joe’s CD in the package is more pop-y, is that it?
JW: Pretty much. The CD with my compositions is called This, That … and Tom’s is called The Other.
TL: That about sums it up.
So Joe, does this mean you’re not the hardcore free improv guy I took you for?
JW: I’ve written a ton of normal songs. It’s a secret side of me that I’ve wanted to bring out. Some of the musicians that come in say they’re twisted, but I don’t hear them that way.
And Tom, are you the wild one then?
TL: Yes and no. My compositions are more open, but I have to say that if there is one thing I have learned in more than 30 years of playing music, it’s how not to be an extrovert.
Headless Household plays the Lobero (33 E. Canon Perdido St.) on Friday, March 19 at 8 p.m. For tickets and information, call 963-0761 or visit lobero.com. For more Headless Household recordings, visit householdink.com.