by Darcy Penner
This coming Monday, October 15, Toronto’s Royal Wood will be kicking off a cross-Canada tour in Winnipeg, at the West End Cultural Centre, to support his latest MapleMusic release, We Were Born to Glory. Stylus had the opportunity to meet up with Wood at the Winnipeg Folk Festival, and had a brief conversation about the album, growing older, and Wood’s successful career. The following is an edited transcript of the interview.
Tickets are $20 through Ticketmaster or the Winnipeg Folk Fest Music Store. Elisapie is opening. Doors at 7:15 pm, show at 8:00 pm.
Stylus: First off, some small talk – how has the Winnipeg Folk Festival treated you so far?
Royal Wood: It’s really one of the better ones. You know, obviously I’ve done a lot of folk fests, and this one—I’d always heard good things. I was supposed to do it a few years ago. I had to pass because I was getting married. So I’m thankful to be here. It’s a professional festival.
Stylus: Your fourth album, We Were Born to Glory, comes out July 10th. It’s a summer release and you’re starting touring it almost exclusively with festivals. Did you pick the date to release based on being able to hit a whole bunch of festivals in a row?
RW: No, it just ended up being slotted for around June-July release, and we decided we’d get a bunch of festivals lined up. The full proper tour will happen in the fall, and it’s going to be Europe in September-October, Canada in October, November, December, and the States in the new year. It’s a big run coming.
Stylus: Do you prefer festival hopping or the more traditional club after club?
RW: Honestly you can’t compare the two. They are such a different experience. You’re at a festival, it’s more like a big family reunion. You’re surrounded by all of your friends and peers, and when you’re on the road, it’s kind of insular. You’re with your crew, but it’s just you going from town to town to town, flight to flight, and its pretty encapsulated in a small, little family. And Folk Fest, there’s just so much going on all the time. So much for you to do – relax and food. It’s kind of like a big family reunion at the park.
Stylus: So presumably most of the musicians here you’re acquainted with to some degree?
RW: Yeah, everywhere you go it’s catching up with old friends. Ironically enough it’s people you see more at festivals than you do in your own hometown, even though they live a few blocks over. Because we’re just always on the road.
Stylus: A lot of your press releases for this upcoming album, and your own bio, regularly reference the upbeat nature of this album relative to your other ones. Was this a conscious choice or was this more of a natural process for you?
RW: This was a natural progression. It’s just where I found myself. I feel, just confident and hopeful. I went to Montréal to write the record, and that’s what came out. I came out with a ton of songs that are all up-tempo, and as much as they are examining darker subject matter, this record is melancholy as anything I’ve ever recorded. I just feel like I found hope in each song. And I wasn’t a cynic. I feel like I was sometimes a bit of a cynic in my past records, and I think I just was in my twenties. It’s part of being in your twenties.
Stylus: Which gets to my follow up question: Does that come from getting older?
RW: It comes from getting older and experience. It’s a combination of things, but it’s getting married, having a mortgage, seeing your family members have their first kids, it’s being a professional, being recognized by your peers. I just feel grounded now, and I felt kind of like a paper bag in the wind in my twenties.
Stylus: You wrote 50 songs getting ready for this album, and you selected 13. How do you go through the process of picking about one in five of the songs you have written? Obviously you will have invested a fair degree into all of them.
RW: They are all honest, emotional, and they all got to the core. They all come from the same spot. I looked at the body of the work, felt like there’s a certain driving theme—hence the title, We Were Born to Glory—and felt like I wanted to choose everything that would really encapsulate that.
Stylus: It’s described as hopeful, and you’ve also described it as a celebration of experience. As large as the theme of this album is—a massive celebration of life—the lyrics focus on immediate, personal situations. Why did you choose to go that route as opposed to directly dealing with broader, more meta-concepts?
RW: I think because from the macro to the micro, it’s all the same viewpoint. It’s just, magnified differently. I examine my relationships in songwriting as much as I examine the world. I think the glory is at the shout out to the universe as much as not giving up is such a relationship driven song. I wouldn’t want to overlook our relationship as something that is pedestrian, because it’s not. It’s the most important thing that happens in your life.
Stylus: It seems that you receive a lot of attention for your songwriting. Obviously there are the awards you have won (the Juno and iTunes one) which are exclusively songwriting awards, but also a lot of your press coverage, rather than covering how good of a singer and multi-instrumentalist you are, tends to focus a lot on your songwriting skills. Do you push that forward as an identity, or did that just end up?
RW: I don’t know how it ends up. I don’t know how you garner certain attention for certain things. It’s the same reason they want to discuss me going to McGill for business and working in the financial district. Those are one hundredth of my story. I went to business school because I had a scholarship, but all I did was skip class and go and play jazz music in smoky, dirty bars in Montréal. All I did was play music. And in terms of working in an office, it was because I couldn’t afford to make a record otherwise. So I got a professional job, paid for my records, and once my career took off, I was able to quit. Like I ever wanted to be there? I was an artist from the womb, but that’s what the press focuses on.
I’m as proud of my production, lyrics, vocal styles, and working with my band and crew as I am of my songwriting. But I’m certainly flattered as hell, like, if there was anything to be recognized for, I’d like to be recognized as a songwriter. It’s a feather in my cap, yeah.
Stylus: What are two or three records—not obvious ones—that you think people who are into you should check out?
RW: Start with John Southworth, an artist out of Toronto, and now lives in Montréal. I think he is one of the greatest songwriters Canada has ever had, and he has never been recognized. He will play to fifty people, maybe. But he has a huge decade of work. I think he is visionary, and one of his records is called Pillow Maker, if you can find it you will not be disappointed.
There’s Rose Cousins, out of the east. She finally released her record that sounds like she does live, and it really focuses on her voice, and she’s got one of the best voices in the folky tradition. She’s starting to get more attention and she deserves it, so there’s another you should check out.
And again, I’d say Patrick Watson and his crew have done it again. I tip my hat to them for continuing to be artists and not giving a flying fuck what the industry might think is valid or important. They really just do whatever they want. I try to the same, but I just greatly admire them.
Stylus: Well thank you very much.
RW: My pleasure.