Royal Wood is ready to open up and share.
The Toronto-based singer-songwriter has taken down the barriers – lyrically and musically – on his fourth full-length album, We Were Born to Glory
"It's such a mature record for me, an honest record and a confident record," says Wood on the phone, somewhere deep in the Ontario countryside.
Recorded this fall at the Montreal-based studio of Pierre Marchand (Sarah McLachlan), Wood says the songs here strip away "poetry and metaphor," and take on "big questions." It was also the first time Wood worked with a co-producer – his longtime collaborator Dean Drouillard – and brought a full band into the studio.
Here, Wood tells CBC Music how We Were Born To Glory came together, and why he couldn't have made this album in his 20s.
Q: You debuted some of the songs on this record on a Sneak Peek tour earlier this year. Have the songs changed much since then?
A: The songs I performed live were limited in what I felt I could perform solo. There are some orchestral and percussive-driven songs on this record, and I didn't think I could perform them solo. So a lot of the crowds on the Sneak Peek tour didn't get to hear that side of the record. What they did get to hear were the more pop-oriented songs like "When the Sun Comes Up," "Hard Thing to Find" and "Release Me." And the lyrics and the form of those songs did not change.
What I really got a chance to do was to understand that if the songs that resonated (with me).. translated live. Performing those songs live cemented that I was correct – the songs that I was excited about my fans thankfully were excited about as well. I don't think I tailored anything becuase of their input, but their input validated what I felt.
Q: What is it about this record that you could not have achieved earlier in your career?
A: Lyrically, it's brutally honest and transparent. In my 20s, I covered everything up in poetry and metaphor. This time I didn't. It was cathartic. I decided to pull down a wall and asked big questions, philosophically and about relationship-wise.
In doing so, I was artistically pushing myself in the production and involving other people. And having Dean [Drouillard] producing with me and having my band in the studio as opposed to playing all the instruments.
It's such a mature record for me, an honest record and a confident record – I wasn't that person in my 20s. My 20s were a blur of figuring out who I was, and also just being shy. I was a shy kid, always was.
[LISTEN: Wood shares his craziest tour incident ever, a missed flight and a frenzied spot on Amsterdam radio.
Q: Is it important for you as a songwriter to be able to share freely, emotionally?
A: As a human being, I think it's far greater to experience and be honest, open and be fearful. To allow people in and allow yourself out. It's the only way to really grow, to reach any sort of potential. If you build the walls up and everything's safe, and do what's expected and don't say anything that's going to rock the boat, you are going to lead a boring life. I don't just mean artistically, I mean as the human experience. I don't think we're coming back, I don't think I get a do-over. So I have to do my utmost to really live, be scared, experience, make mistakes, fall. Part of that is letting others in.
I don't think that there's a greater adventure out there than actually being honest and open. It's one of the things I've learned from marriage. I was so closed off and insular in my 20s, and now I really don't. I find myself happily married, and I think one of the reasons I was able to do that is by being honest. Artistically, it's been the same, and that includes every part of my career. I do what I want to do and take chances.
Q: The first impression of an album is often its title – this one is We Were Born to Glory. What does the concept glory mean to you?
A: The album was based on that seed of potential that every human people – whatever our political stance, race, creed, religion or sexuality – we are all the same life force with the same potential. Some rise above their circumstances and some don't take advantage of the things they've been given. We as a society could reach a utopia if we really wanted. We have such potential. We are slowly getting there in some ways, and other ways I think we are taking multiple steps back.
I feel like just a relationship record can be kind of boring. I wanted to grapple something far bigger than "he said/she said." This, to me, was about the human experience, rather than just personal. Glory, to me, is truly living, being in the flow – the wind in your hair, the sunset, the sunrise, a baby being born, falling in love or out of love. It's the ecstasy of Theresa – being so filled with something that you want to burst.
This record was me being in the flow. It wasn't premeditated, thank God. If it was, I'd quit.
Listen to songs by Royal Wood on his CBC Music artist page
How I Write: Royal Wood
Letter to my teacher: Royal Wood
Exclusive video: Royal Wood, 'The Fire Did Go'
on Jul 09, 2012