Thursday, May 20, 2010

INTERVIEW : Royal Wood speaks on life, love and lust as muse

Reaching him in Winnipeg early yesterday afternoon, Royal Wood was bright and enthusiastic when we spoke over the phone. And why shouldn’t he be? Wood is halfway through a tour supporting label mate David Gray, playing to full theatres every night. On top of that, he has a new album to showcase to these crowds. The Waiting, Wood’s third full-length recording, is already out on iTunes and physical copies are set to be released via Maple Music Recordings on May 25. The future, as they say, is bright.

The Waiting differs from Royal Wood’s previous efforts in that it was not self-produced. Wood had previously arranged and played almost all of the instruments in all his records. However, this time around, he felt the “uncomfortable” challenge to take the album “to another level that you can only achieve with someone else.” This someone else turned out to be producer Pierre Marchand (who had previously worked with the likes of Sarah MaLachlan) who produced 3 tracks off The Waiting. The remaining tracks were co-produced by Wood and Dean Drouillard, who also supports Wood on guitar. The Waiting was recorded in Marchand’s studio in Montreal over a span of two days.

Below, Royal joins me in a conversation regarding the experience of letting go of control in the production process, the muse (almost with a capital M) of his music, and becoming a confident songwriter.

Brenda: What do you think the goal of this record was?
Royal: Sonically, I wanted to enter into a new territory. I wanted it to not just be about me anymore. And when you’re self-producing, it’s hard to expand into that since you’re calling all the shots, and you’re pigeonholed by your own choices and limits. That’s why it’s so valuable to have a producer and artist coming together to make something that you alone couldn’t make. That really was the vision I wanted to enter upon, this artistic realm where I had the producer and my band with me. My band that I had with me throughout the years, having them there to have a say. So it wasn’t just me writing the parts and dictating it for them, but having them come up with the parts together in the studio. It was a big group effort.

B: Having produced all your previous albums, what was it like to let someone else grab hold of the reins?
R: It was terrifying. That drive up to Montreal to Pierre’s studio was definitely nerve-wracking. There were a couple of sleepless nights. I knew what I wanted, but it’s strange to play your songs for others and for them to add their own ideas.

B: It’s like having your songs before a panel discussion before you record it.
R: Yeah, exactly. But Pierre acted as a captain. Everyone had their own vision of what they wanted the album to sound like, and Pierre filtered a lot of the ideas so we don’t have the cello or whatever going off in a complete different direction.

B: Do you feel like there was a cohesiveness to The Waiting?
R: Most definitely. I knew what my budget was going in; I knew how many songs I could make. Some artists could record 18 tracks and pick out 11 of the best songs, but I didn’t have that luxury at this point. I was recording with Pierre in his incredible studio, in a different city; expenses were very high. So I had to plan out the songs, which ones would be ballads, which ones would be rockier, or mid tempo, and also met the story I wanted to tell.

In terms of inspiration, Royal Wood returns to the muse of life and love again and again. Known for writing love songs, Wood emphasizes that he can’t write jingles or “hokey pop songs that make someone cry.” Songs seem to flow from the pen for him. That’s not to say that The Waiting is an album which only addresses love; for example, “Birds on Sunday” is a song about faith, whether religious or atheistic, about having it, losing it and trying to regain it. All in all, Wood emphatically states that life is the only muse. “That’s what inspires every artist, and what inspires every human being; it’s our existence.”

B: Tell me a little bit of the title, "The Waiting." What does that signify to you and how does that weave into the songs?
R: "The Waiting" is in all intents and purposes an awakening. Hitting my 30s, and realizing that I had spent a good deal of my 20s becoming the man I am, and learning how to have relationships in life, whether that’s with family or your lover, or whomever. Sometimes I found myself waiting for mirror experiences to happen. If you’re in a great relationship, waiting for it to split, and when it has, waiting for it to come back.
With everything, so many of us are not existing in the moment, and The Waiting is about that. In this industry we also live by a calendar, you live on a tour and you have all your days planned out. You’re always thinking of the next 12 shows but what you should be thinking about is the one show you’re doing. So the songs are about that, the duality that we live with, and what I had learned through the process of writing the songs over the course of the two years - how to live in the moment.

B: In your bio, you mention that this is your first album with “real love songs.” Why do you think you can write those real love songs now, as opposed to before?
R: They were love songs, but they were different. They were honest, obviously. When I was a teenager and trying to write, those songs were fake and forced and I never let them see the light of day. That’s why I didn’t produce my first record until I was 24. I just didn’t know how to write something from a place of truth. It was always just about trying to write a song. What differed this time was that search for true relationships, unlike the majority of relationships in my 20s. That’s what I ended up writing about back then, songs based in love but mostly about figuring out what love is – love of your family, love of yourself, love of your partner. It was about learning how to navigate life as your own person but also how to share your life with someone else. Once you actually learn to share your life with someone and let someone in, then I think you truly learn what love is, and that’s what led to some of the songs on The Waiting, this opening up.

B: At your last Vancouver show, you had mentioned that you recently got married. Do you think that the album was a manifestation of that in your life, to be able to write about this love?
R: Oh absolutely. That’s the muse that led to songs that were strictly about having love – not losing it, not wanting to lose it, not trying to lose it, but about just having it.

B: Yet your first single, “On Top of Your Love,” is a song strictly about lust.
R: That song was purely about lust, yes. Lust of someone that you can’t have. In my industry, we have to work a lot of time away from our loved ones. I certainly have to spend a lot of time away from my wife. That definitely led to that song.

Music video for "On Top of Your Love":

Royal Wood also had some songwriting advice for aspiring musicians. A pianist friend had asked a technical question about the song "Thinking About" on his Lost and Found EP, in particular why he had left it unresolved. He points out the importance of intuition, of letting the ideas flow before trying to impose a structure upon them. (Yes, it does pay off to follow me on twitter)

B: I have one more question from someone who’s a big fan of yours. He’s also a pianist and asked you a technical question – why is the song “Thinking About” on the Lost & Found EP left unresolved at the end?
R: Why I left it unresolved! Good question! You can tell him that with everyone song I make, I wait for a particular feeling. I just have to respect that; something tells me what the song will be, when I’m lyrically exhausted. I’m never thinking in a musically technical way, like whether something is unresolved, or this shouldn’t be diminished because it leaves this feeling. I don’t write it from that standpoint; I write it from the muse first. Afterwards, when the song is complete, then I can think about it in a musical, technical way when I’m doing charts or scores or arrangements for my musicians. It’s just what comes out.

B: So the technical follows what your intuition tells you.
R: Correct. Intuition first, technical after. I find that part of the problem of when I was a teenager writing, I would think technical, of what my peers were writing or what people I was listening to were writing. Listening to them, gathering up all that musical knowledge, and trying to write something. It was technical, it wasn’t inspired and it wasn’t from the muse, nor the heart. If you think technical and write technical, it’s going to sound that way. It’s going to sound like music theory. So there wasn’t a specific reason for me to leave it that way, strictly that’s what had felt right to do.

Below are the upcoming Royal Wood dates as he travels through central Canada and the east coast. North by East West has a contest going on, so you should hop on over and take a look if you'd like to win spots on the guest list for yourself and a guest :

20 May 2010 20:00
Foster’s Inn Stratford, Ontario , CA
22 May 2010 20:00
Hamilton Place Theatre Hamilton, CA
23 May 2010 20:00
National Arts Centre - Southam Hall Ottawa, Ontario , CA
25 May 2010 20:00
Centre In The Square Kitchener, Ontario , CA
26 May 2010 20:00
St. Denis Theatre Montreal, Quebec , CA
28 May 2010 20:00
Halifax Metro Centre Halifax, Nova Scotia, CA
2 Jul 2010 20:00
Stan Rogers Folk Festival Canso, Nova Scotia, CA
14 Aug 2010 20:00
Salmon Arm Roots and Blues Fest Salmon Arm, BC, CA