Published in The North County Times of San Diego County, January 12, 2012
By George A. Paul

Alex Woodard used an ambitious promotion to draw attention to his eponymous independent album in 2008. Anyone who preordered it would receive a personalized tune.

“I got quite a few responses and it worked pretty well,” said the Encinitas-based singer/songwriter during a phone interview from Las Vegas. “I wrote a lot of songs for folks on my kitchen table. Then the record deal fell apart.”

Despite the bad news, Woodard’s spirit was suddenly lifted after attending a neighborhood guitar gathering with prominent area musicians such as Sean and Sara Watkins (Nickel Creek), Jon Foreman (Switchfoot) and Jordan Pundik (New Found Glory).

“It ended up being a fun and special night and became a recurring thing. Every time a few of us were in town, we’d get together at my house or across the street.”

Soon after, a letter arrived from a woman who had seen the album promotion and relayed how she puts pen to paper each autumn to commemorate the loss of a soul mate. She didn’t seek a special song, but wanted to share a piece of herself. Woodard told Sean Watkins about the letter, and they were inspired to create the song “FOR THE SENDER.”

That led to a same-titled book and CD project where a dozen songs were derived from that correspondence and letters by three other women and their life experiences: Kim, director of San Diego homeless shelter StandUp for Kids; Alison, an Aussie medic serving victims of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti through Sean Penn’s relief organization; and Katelyn, whose police officer husband, Dan Bessant, was slain during a 2006 gang-related Oceanside shooting, leaving behind an infant son. (The four letters can be read at
Woodard and others from the gatherings, plus veteran tunesmith and fellow Leucadia resident Jack Tempchin, contributed lyrics, vocals and music. Yet it took a while to decide where the songs would end up.

“I really liked the idea of writing about other people’s stories and having another voice sing them,” Woodard said. “I was so tired of myself by then. When you’re an independent musician, you’re pushing yourself all the time.”

The adult alternative music artist has put out five CDs since 2000, but it was the Americana-tinged ’08 album that found some success. “Halfway” garnered airplay at commercial country radio stations, and a music video to “Reno” (with Sara Watkins on guest vocals) spent two weeks atop CMT’s Pure 12-Pack Countdown.

With “FOR THE SENDER,” Woodard discovered that “the most direct connection you can have with the listener is doing something for them.” About three-fourths of the way through the project, Woodard noticed a similar thread ran through the folk, adult pop and alt-country songs and unexpectedly “found my own story in there toward the end.”

“The Table” revolves around a man whose partner dies of cancer. After penning the lyrics, Woodard’s dog, Kona, succumbed to bone cancer.

The CD closes with an acoustic live take he did at Eddie’s Attic in Atlanta with Shawn Mullins. Woodard produced the bulk of the “FOR THE SENDER” album, and veteran Grammy-wining mixer David Thoener (Santana & Rob Thomas’ 1999 megahit “Smooth”) “worked his magic.” Recording at home without a timetable resulted in “crazy” scheduling.

“No one was around at the same time. If a song was almost done, I’d have to wait a couple months to get it finished with whoever was doing it with me; then have time for them to come by the house, perform and record it. It was definitely an exercise in patience.

“A lot of my job was to take my hands off the wheel and let it go where it wanted,” continued Woodard. “By the time we got it done, it was cohesive. It might be hard to define because of all these layers, but I don’t really care as long as it moves somebody.”

What was it like collaborating with Tempchin —- the seasoned pro best known for writing/co-writing hits for the Eagles (“Already Gone,” “Peaceful Easy Feeling”) and Glenn Frey (“You Belong to the City,” “Smuggler’s Blues”)? “He came by with his old Martin guitar and we wrote ‘Act of God.’ That’s one of the songs I’m most proud of (in my career). Going back and forth with him was like being with an old friend.”

Tempchin didn’t want to stop.

“He wanted to keep doing this on more letters because he liked the process so much. He was a fan of Sara Watkins, so I arranged for her to come over and write with the both of us. That was a big thrill for Jack.”

Sara Watkins was moved by the entire experience.

“Working together with friends to tell a story from someone else’s life with a unified focus is unique to anything I’ve been a part of before. I’m grateful to the people who sent Alex those letters and shared a bit of their lives with us,” she said via email.

According to Woodard, the “whole crew” will be present for the live presentations at La Paloma Theatre on Jan. 19. The 7 p.m. show sold out based on word of mouth, so a 9 p.m. performance was added. A portion of the proceeds go to causes of the letter senders’ choosing.

“That’s the one night everybody’s in town. Jordan is flying out from the East Coast after doing a show, getting on a plane, doing this and then flying back there the next morning. It’s been a challenge to get everybody in the same room, but everyone really believes in the project and the work.”

After spending three years on “FOR THE SENDER,” Woodard is glad to see everything finally come to fruition.

“It’s been a very long process, but a beautiful one. At the shows, we’re going to present the letters and play the songs, but it’ll be done creatively.”

He plans to use video and audio recordings of each woman reading her letter. A limited number of books will be on sale there, but not with the album.

This spring, Woodard expects to put out print and audio components  simultaneously on a wider basis, but said, “We’ll have to see who embraces it. I think it would be a good (fit) for coffee shops and different lifestyle stores. … I’m obviously going to need help. The book is a new thing for me. I’ve been a musician for so long that I’m not quite sure how that world works.”

Woodard deftly weaves his own life story and personal losses into the self-published 120-page book, with chronological background on the letters and songs. Designed by “Sender” song contributor Nena Anderson, the impressive, compact hardcover release looks like something you’d see on the shelves of Barnes & Noble, though it’s only available for sale at his concerts.

“I’d like to do a different kind of book tour. I could take me, Sean and Sara Watkins or whoever is available out —- have a rotating cast. We’d do bookstores in the afternoon and play venues at night. That could be really cool.”

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