When the mightily-named Royal Wood takes the stage at Toronto’s Queen Elizabeth Theatre on Friday, it’ll be the latest in a string of 2010 gigs that have sealed his position as one of Canada’s major talents.
Since the release of 2002’s The Milkwood EP, Wood has quietly gone about the business of touring and putting together a steady parade of beautiful, string-drenched piano soundtracks to a bottle of red wine on a cold night.
But there’s something different about this year’s The Waiting. Songs like the relatively aggressive Do You Recall are a touch starker, a little more raw and a lot more personal. The cleaner sound may be the result of a more collaborative process helmed by super-producer Pierre Marchand, a significant change for the perpetually self-produced Toronto native.
“Nothing happened on this record that I didn’t want to happen,” Wood says, on the line from a tour stop in his beloved Montreal. “But it was a different experience for other musicians to have input. We’d be in the studio, I’d play them a song they’d never heard in the morning, and by the end of the day we’d have a song. No one got stepped on, no one got shushed. Then, the next day, we’d get up and do it again.”
There was also the steady hand of Marchand. “It was amazing watching Pierre orchestrate it all. He was great at pulling out what we wanted while making everybody feel like they contributed. The man knows what he’s doing.”
Decamping to Montreal — home to some of the songwriter’s “happiest moments on the planet” — to record also heavily influenced the new album. Breaking out of the daily routine that’s inevitable when recording close to home provided a buffer between creativity and life’s litany of dull distractions.
“It was really a focused amount of energy over the course of a couple weeks,” he says. “We captured a huge amount of fire from those initial sparks.
“As opposed to being in Toronto, when you go home and get into your bed at night, it kind of shuts off the creative mode. Because now you’re at home and your bills are there and your significant other is there, it just suddenly comes back to regular life. Whereas in Montreal, we’d get back to the hotel and the band’s still talking and we’re still listening to stuff. In the morning, you have a cup of coffee and go straight back to the studio.”
As Wood slowly gained success and became better known, the inevitable comparisons rolled in, and the singer has since been compared to the likes of Jeff Buckley, Tom Waits and Ron Sexsmith. Neither of which are terribly outlandish — Birds On Sunday has the gorgeous subtle touch Sexsmith is known for and Wood is certainly not afraid to use his voice to full effect when it comes to lining his songs with resonant emotion. But his stable of comparisons are all very different artists with unique voices that would be impossible to roll into one musician, no matter how staggeringly talented.
“None of that makes sense to me,” Wood laughs. “It’s always flattering that people I get compared to are highly respected. You don’t get much higher than Tom Waits for lyrical output, and obviously for a voice, Jeff Buckley left his mark. I think names like that are just placeholders for the time. It’s like “Oh, hey he plays a lot of piano,’ or ‘Hey, he seems to focus on lyrics, he’s got a Tom Waits things going on.’
“It’s only when I get compared to Billy Joel or Elton John or something, that’s when I’m like, ‘Now you’re just being incredibly lazy,'” he chuckles.
A prolific blogger on his website, Royal Wood has made much out of a serenity he appears to have drawn from having recently turned 30 — the once-dreaded milestone that seems to have settled into a new kind of vogue, perhaps fuelled by the hype over his generation’s so-called prolonged adolescence.
“It’s not like I suddenly flicked a switch, it was like I got into my thirties and I stopped and looked back at how much differently I approach my career, and how I approach life and my relationship,” he says. “Suddenly I was in it, and I stepped back and realized I was a different human being. My twenties were a blur, from relationship to relationship and suddenly I’m in this place where I’m enjoying every second of every day.
“It’s the good stuff.”
Royal Wood is currently on tour with Vancouver’s Hannah Georgas
– Nov. 24
Dublin Street United Church
– Nov. 25
– Nov. 26
Queen Elizabeth Theatre
– Dec. 19
Little Inn of Bayfield