Q&A: Joe Wood on Bringing Change Today? Songs Back on the Road

Next week, former T.S.O.L. frontman Joe Wood and his band Change Today will take to the road for the second time in the past year, playing a set largely comprised of the Wood-fronted T.S.O.L. albums Change Today? and Revenge. While these albums are revered by fans when we last talked to Wood it didn’t seem like there was any chance of the songs being performed again. There were plenty of chances to hear the original T.S.O.L. but none to hear the goth and blues infused mid-80s records. 

As it turns out if you keep asking someone to do something they might eventually do it. Wood heard from so many people over the years that they wanted to hear his T.S.O.L. material that when he met the gifted guitarist Jimmy Zollo he decided the time was right. The project bears the name of perhaps his most enduring album. Change Today are working on a new batch of songs that retain the feel of Wood’s mid-80s output – the first track was released on YouTube. Wood, a veteran of LA’s early punk days, talked to Decibel about what it’s like going back on the road as a 60-year-old and finally getting to play for people who said his music changed their life. I believe in black magic.

I’ve talked to you several times in recent years and you were adamant this wasn’t going to happen. What was the driving force to get out and perform these songs again?

Oh God, I was just getting tired of people telling me to do it (laughs). The thing I’ve really wanted to do with my life lately is play my songs in a coffee shop. I was just starting to make a record and I got this new guitar player (Jimmy Zollo). I’ve tried playing my old songs before and they just need good musicians to do it right. I wasn’t going to go out and hack them. But Jimmy was really into it. He just kept bugging me and I told him the whole story of why I didn’t want to do it and that I’ve moved on. I swear i didn’t think I was the soundtrack to anyone’s life. I never thought of myself that way. But he kept bugging me and I finally said: “If we’re going to do this we’re going to do it right. I want a two-year commitment from everyone. We’re going to make a record and we’re going to tour.” At the end of two years we can evaluate. So that’s what we’ve done and since then it’s kind of blown up.

Do you remember the moment when things really clicked with Jimmy? Why was he the right guy to bring these songs back to life?

He actually had a record deal back in the 80s but got dropped like most of us. We were practicing and he started playing some Delta blues songs that no one knows unless you are obsessed with the roots of rock and roll. Only a handful of people know about it and you need to study that music. And he just played it. I mentioned a difficult R.L. Burnside tune and he just nailed it. 

You toured the East Coast late last fall, appeared at the LA Dark Fest and now you’re doing a West Coast run. What has the reception been like? Is the crowd people who were around for Change Today?, new listeners, or both?

It’s both. People are very passionate about these songs. Some people cry when we play them. That’s a little weird; I honestly didn’t know it meant that much to people. Music means a lot to me, of course. I guess when you are 17 and 18 and hear stuff music becomes ingrained in your soul. I didn’t think I provided some of that music but people have told me some of these songs changed their life and that made me very happy to be doing this. I owe it to those people to go out and do these songs and let everyone hear them for a couple of years. Even when the crowds are small it doesn’t phase me because I’ve played to a lot of empty rooms the past 30 years. 

Even if a crowd is small the records meant the world to some of the people there.

That’s my point. The small crowds don’t bother me a bit because I know whoever needs to hear the songs is hearing them. We’ve also had sold out shows so it’s gone both ways. 

What have the conversations been like with fans who’ve come to see the shows?

Everyone has received this a thousand times better than I could have anticipated. When we started playing these songs I actually got very emotional. I wrote these songs when I was very young and they still hold water which I can’t believe. Sometimes I can’t believe I wrote them. I have a friend who has 17-and-19 year old kids and they are listening to my stuff. She said she didn’t push it on them, they just discovered it. If I have inspired someone then I’ve done my job,

When you ended your run in T.S.O.L. there were bad feelings and you didn’t get that big break you’d been working for.  Guns N’ Roses opened for you at one point and look what happened there. Is playing these songs again helping you process that?

I processed those feelings a long time ago. So much of life is luck. Guns N’ Roses came at just the right time and had the right look. They had fantastic support. Some guys have all the luck (laughs).

How are you dividing the set between Change Today? and Revenge? Are you playing anything from Hit and Run?

I’m playing all the songs that I wrote or primarily wrote. When I was in the band Ron (Emory, T.S.O.L. guitarist) also wrote some songs and wrote a lot of hooks to songs. We’re going to do everything except for the last record that was ruined (Strange Love).

How is the new material coming along? You’ve already released one new song via YouTube. 

We’re in the studio right now and just finished basic tracks for the record. I wrote all the songs except for one. I’m ecstatic about the record. I’ll be releasing a new song before we leave and it’s an old song from T.S.O.L. Everything seems like it’s self-released these days but I have a few offers on the table so we’ll see what happens.

What is it like being onstage playing these songs again? 

I’m grateful I never stopped singing and grateful I kept surfing because it kept me in shape. When I’m up singing I don’t see or hear anything. I’m just the character in a song. I often don’t remember it until I see the videotapes. I’m happy I have these phenomenal guys in the bands, both as musicians and people.

Feb 21: Full Circle Brewing, Fresno
Feb 22: El Rio San Francisco, CA
Feb 24: Old Nick’s Pub, Eugene OR
Feb 25: Dante’s, Portland OR
Feb 26: The Funhouse Seattle, WA
Feb 29: Hong Kong Inn, Ventura, CA
March 1: TBD, Cardiff, CA
March 7: Skater Con After Party, Phoenix, AZ