WOOL drapes you in warmth. Layers of chiming guitar cover a soft melodic underbelly propelled on waves of undulating bass. Sunny hooks shimmer on the horizon as singer/guitarist Troy Hancock's hushed baritone rolls overhead among the clouds. It's pretty as a lullaby echoing along a beach inlet.
The Raleigh quartet's only been at it a couple years, though Hancock began releasing solo material and touring a few years before that. They've grown tremendously in that time, adding new guitarist Zack Oden prior to recording last year's debut EP, Delta. Rather than follow with a full-length, they've recorded another five-song EP, Mannequin, which they intend to release early next year.
"We were thinking about doing our first full-length but we have a chance to tour and grow together as a band," Hancock says. "We have so many different ideas. We wanted to make something that puts all those styles into one small package."
Hancock understands you have to walk before you run, and before any of that, you need to tour.
"I've always been, 'We have to get on the road and play to people, like our friends in Future Islands,'" Hancock says, referring to the synth-pop act whose recent album debuted among Billboard's top 50 albums. "They toured nonstop for like nine years," Hancock says. "They've been on tour forever. It's paying off now."
Hancock discovered his passion for music in his brother's room, sneaking in to play guitar whenever big brother wasn't around. The first time he saw some good local music live in a small club, Hancock knew what he wanted to do. "It just seemed more real than anything else in my life," he says.
He had a place on the outskirts of Raleigh when he began making music. He released a couple singles, played locally, and toured a little bit around North Carolina. Unsure how to move forward, he took a year and a half off from making music.
"The style of music I was playing was very similar to what we're doing now, but it was like I had so many ideas that they were escaping me as fast as I could bring them in," says Hancock. "I had to step back and be like, 'Let's just figure things out.'"
A key catalyst for change was Hancock's move into downtown Raleigh. "I had been going downtown forever and meeting people there, but when I moved down there and I was around it all," Hancock pauses, and kind of chuckles excitedly. "It was such a powerful feeling of art — people just doing what they love. That was the first time I really experienced anything like that, being around people that music is what they've been doing forever and it's like, 'That's how I feel.'"
He started making music again, tentatively at first, unsure exactly how he was going to proceed. The rhythm section of Johnny Hobbs and Raymond Finn introduced themselves after one of those early shows and offered their services. Hancock decided to go forward as a band.
After releasing a single, "Bulletin Air," he encountered old elementary school classmate/future lead guitarist Oden at a bar, and they caught up. Oden had helped start epic Triangle dream-pop act Annuals. They enjoyed some success (Pitchfork, Conan O'Brien, Veronica Mars) before breaking up a year ago.
"We played a show at Kings in Raleigh and Zach came," Hancock recalls. "He was like, 'I want to join. I'll be at practice next week.'"
It's taken some time for the bandmates to learn to write together as a group and for Hancock to learn to break out of the solo mode. But the guys persisted with their collaboration, and the band's evolution is evident on "Stars." It's a creamier-sounding WOOL with more assured vocals higher in the mix. The guitar tone's fuller but also more distant and dreamy with a less pressing presence. "It's more drivey and coasts more on the guitar," Hancock says.
As you might imagine, Hancock's anxious to get out on the road and perform these new songs for people whether the EP's out yet or not. He's excited for the months to come, because this is in essence where their debut full-length will be hatched.
"You have to make sure you're weathered before you [release your full-length debut]," Hancock says. "I know some bands out there that are good, but they didn't tour and then they get sick of each other on the road. Or they just couldn't hack it, so they stopped. It's like you might as well prepare yourselves."