On the Way to the Bandstand

Plan A bounces back with its not-quite-Southern rock

Matt Woods' latest outfit, Plan A, was supposed to provide the singer/songwriter a welcome respite from the loud guitar rock of his previous project, the Southern-fried four-piece Magpie Suite. "With Magpie, we got to the point where everyone agreed we couldn't move forward anymore," Woods relates, relaxing over cappuccinos at a West Knox coffeehouse along with drummer Devan Brewer.

"The idea with Plan A was to have a band that operated on a bigger level, and musically speaking that meant having songs with much more pop appeal. Less of the big guitars, with more emphasis on tighter songs."

But something happened on the way to American Bandstand, and soon Woods' Plan A pop-rock songwriting efforts began taking on a familiar, more guitar-heavy cast. Four years and two locally produced full-length CDs later, Plan A sounds like a song-oriented band, sure enough, but the songs are tough as well as tuneful, driven by more than enough overdriven guitar-play to satisfy fans of Magpie Suite.

"The more we did it, the more straight-ahead rock it became," Woods says, pointing to the band's latest release The View Through These Words. "And it started to show more Southern influences, too, though I'm not sure I'm ready to call it Southern rock."

Active in local music since 1998, Woods is a graduate of the University of Tennessee in creative writing, a Knoxvillian by way of Roane County who has made a name for himself hereabouts as a solo performer, as one-half of the acoustic duo Absolute Wood, and with the two aforementioned rock 'n' roll bands.

His time in the university's creative writing program has served him well, as Plan A's lyrics are a cut above most confessional rock songwriter fare. Woods is a plainspoken fellow, a guy who mostly wears his heart on his sleeve. But he's also capable of clever metaphor, of penning just the right wry observation to ensure that his deeply personal lyrics engage, coming off as universal rather than as maudlin or self-absorbed.

On "Breaking Knoxville," the third track off The View Through These Words, Woods compares himself to "a wasted drink where the ice has all melted after I fell asleep." On "Behind," he tells of a girl fallen in desperate straits, "trying to find her way up again... holding tight for all its worth, to broken parts and lines researched."

Drummer Brewer acknowledges that though Plan A songs are tightly arranged and guitar-intensive, "everything is really vocally led. The lyrics are the selling point of the songs, even though they're well-orchestrated and well put together. Plan A is what I call a singer/songwriter rock band."

"I think people who hear our music for the first time hear something that's familiar, yet not overdone," says Woods. "We give them something they can connect to."

Plan A is a hard-working outfit. Woods, along with the current line-up of Brewer, lead guitarist Brian Jolley and bassist Grant Hauser, took some down time in 2007, but look to tour in support of The View Through These Words in earnest beginning in 2008.

The band's regular touring rounds take them all over the South and up the Eastern Seaboard, with favorite stopovers in New York City, New Jersey, and eastern Pennsylvania. "I really like playing up north," Woods says. "Our music has an element of the South even though it's not Southern rock, and that element goes over well up there."

"The further north we go, the more they say they hear our Southern roots," Brewer adds. "It's kind of like the people who say you have a drawl, even when you think you don't."

Their work, in the form of touring and plenty of online promotion, has paid off, most recently with a recognition from Performing Songwriter magazine, which named The View Through These Words one of its Top 12 do-it-yourself releases of 2007.

"Our mailing list and our online response keeps growing," says Woods. "The staple of our advertising plan will probably remain online promotion.

"Of course, we'd like any sort of help we can at this point," he adds, laughing. "Anybody out there who feels they'd like to throw a lot of money at us, please feel free to get in line."