Royal Wood on jazz, Jesus, and his new EP

Royal Wood plays the Grand Theatre on Thursday, November 29.

Royal Wood released his eighth full-length studio album this year, Ever After The Farewell, and his third EP, Love Will Linger. The Toronto-based singer-songwriter, who was born in Lakefield, ON, has been a mainstay on CBC Music for years now, has received two Juno nominations, and toured extensively across Canada, the US, and Europe. He returns to the Grand Theatre this Thursday with special guest Elise Legrow, and Kingstonist had a chance to speak with him by phone ahead of the show.

Love Will Linger is billed as outtakes from Ever After The Farewell, but these songs really don’t sound like outtakes, it holds up just fine on its own.

Usually, I’ll have 5 or 10 songs leftover from a record and they just fall away and no one ever hears them and I forget about them. But with this music, it was a body of work that just couldn’t be mashed together. I think Ever After the Farewell had a very particular sound, it was all recorded in the same studio within the same few days. It all fit sonically and told the story I wanted to tell. And then I had these songs that for some reason went together in such a way that I thought the EP was just as important to me as the full-length album.

Do you have a routine when it comes writing or practicing?

Not really. I try to write or at least have an instrument in my hand on a daily basis. Music is a career, and it’s also a business, and 99% of my time is spent on business. I always have my iPhone with me or my journal and I’m jotting down ideas. I’m always trying new ideas for tours: different instrumentation, different arrangements. I’ve started playing harmonica again on tour and other instruments that I used to play that I forgot about. I’m having more fun these days on tour than I’ve ever had.

Danny Michel posted a couple of days ago about how much his income has changed as a professional musician. Are you experiencing things the same way?

I applauded Danny for having that dialogue. There needs to be copyright reform in terms of how music is paid for. It affects all media now. I feel for anyone who is in the creation business — movies, literature, media, photography — all of it is free and available. The model has to be figured out. I’m hopeful and I think technology is amazing, but we are the captains of our own ship.
Social media allows us to reach our fans, and run our own contests and tell them what we’re doing, but it has its drawbacks for sure. Even for this EP I didn’t have to press anything, I just put it straight on to the streaming sites, and because we’re out touring I think it goes a little more directly to the fans.
I’m not a naysayer and I don’t think it’s the end of the world, it’s just changing. It’s like the farmers plowing the fields in the industrial revolution and then suddenly there’s a bunch of tractors — we will figure it out. A few of us are going to have dig deeper than we did before, that’s all.

Have your influences changed over time?

I don’t think my influences have changed, the net is just widening.
There are lots of new artists that I listen to regularly: Michael Kiwanuka, Gregory Alan Isakov, all the Andy Shauf records. I’ve actually been going back to my jazz roots. Especially when I lived in Montreal, I was listening to a lot of stuff like Bill Evans, Sarah Vaughan, Nina Simone. I just love that level of mastery and musicianship and heart and passion. There are so few people making that kind of music anymore.

Do you ever think about putting out a jazz record?

I would think whatever I would end up putting out would be a tip of the cap to jazz vocalists. I wouldn’t say I’d ever start playing jazz piano again. I did that in my teenage years when I lived in Montreal playing at this place called the Upstairs. It was amazing. I got to play with some incredible players. Those are good years of my life. I don’t think I’d do that kind of thing again, but who knows what I’ll do when I’m 50 or 60.

Do you ever feel like you have to resist the muse?

The muse is always saying a lot of things, it’s interested in a lot of areas and I’m always chipping away at them. I know I 100 per cent will put out a fully orchestral record. I’ve been amassing songs that I feel will lend itself to that. I’ve done a lot of symphony shows and I’ve done all my own arrangements. I’ll get there when I just want to do the soft-seater theatre world and move away from the singer-songwriter thing for a bit. I feel like I will be in my 50s when I make that record, but honestly right now I’m loving the singer-songwriter world. I still love Billy Joel, Cat Stevens, and Lennon-McCartney more than Jesus Christ.

I am fully behind music that has lyrics and a story with something behind and something to be said, and there’s still so much for me to say. I’m young, I’m healthy. I’ve got a whole life ahead of me.

Last night, I was listening to Hardest Thing Of All [from Ever After The Farewell] and I was reminded instantly of Maybe I’m Amazed (by Paul McCartney). You’ve stated before that it was inspired by Lennon & McCartney.

It’s funny with inspirations because when it’s happening — and I have to explain this to my wife all the time when she’ll hear an old song of mine and say “Who is that about?” — Ninety-nine per cent of the time, it’s an emotion and something comes through you and you capture these words and a sound. You sit back and say ‘What was that? What did I say? What did I mean?’  I ramble into my phone and come back later and say “I like those words or that phrasing, how do I put that together?” and sometimes work backwards from there. You really just have to show up and then you have a song! I don’t always know where it comes from. If I did, I’d go there a lot more often (laughs).

Going back to the LP, the other song that struck me was California Nights. It always feels to me like it should be a country song — the theme, to me, sounds like it comes right off country radio, but it is so not a country song.

Well, the funny thing is when I wrote it, I was in the UK, and I wanted to the chorus to be “those Nashville nights.” And Jamie Scott, who produced the record and co-wrote that song said “Nashville’s pretty limited, mate, it’s gotta be California. The world knows California!” And it was like “Ok Jamie, we’ll go with California Nights, but my instinct is saying Nashville.”  So it’s funny that you say it’s got a country feel, because it does. The imagery in my mind was these ridiculous times with my wife and all her gal pals in Nashville the last 10 years. When I’ve been down there for work, I’ve seen girls out of the town having fun and this song is really for them — it’s not for me at all, those crazy nights were long ago.

Is there anything in your music career that you would do differently if you could start over?

I wish I could take the confident performer that I am now and put that in the kid I was when I was 24. I had the musician chops when I was 24, but it’s taken me 15 years to become a performer. Or, I would tell that kid to start performing and getting on the road when he was in his late teens. I didn’t put out my first EP until I was 25, and my first real record came out in my late 20s. I had a late start, because I was pretty shy and just wrote for myself.  I have no complaints and, to be honest, I’ve probably had these thoughts maybe three times in my life. I’m a happy, content man.


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