Artist: Donovan Woods
Hometown: Toronto, ON
Latest Album: Both Ways
Personal Nickname: Don
What’s the weirdest, hardest, nerdiest, or other superlative thing about songwriting that most non-writers wouldn’t know?
The amount of time we can spend thinking about the words “if,” “when,” “but,” and “and.” When these words feel natural and obvious in a song, it’s because the writer has taken care to make sure they all feel right. Tiny words can change a line’s meaning enormously and often make or break a phrasing or melody. I can argue with myself or co-writers about “but” versus “and” for hours. And I will. I’ll walk out of the room. I will die on the tiniest hill. Ideally, we endeavour to put sing-ability ahead of grammar always, but it ALL seems to matter.
How do other art forms — literature, film, dance, painting, etc — inform your music?
Most of the writing I do is a direct result of reading. I’ll read some thing in a book and put it down and go make some lyrics and music up. I don’t get a lot of reading done for that reason. And it’s not just books — it’s anything … movies, people you meet, and the way they speak to you. I suppose all writers have to train themselves to be aware and make note of pithy, meaningful language when they hear it. There’s a song on this record called “Truck Full of Money” which is a phrase I read in a book. I liked reading it, and I liked saying it out loud, and then I went and tried to figure out why that phrase resonated in me. If you can practice doing that, your mind gets surprisingly good at figuring mysteries like that out.
How often do you hide behind a character in a song or use “you” when it’s actually “me”?
I do it often, and I don’t think of it as hiding. Often a story about another person is as valuable and true to me and my life as a story about my own experience. Sometimes “me” is me, and sometimes it’s not. “You” is sometimes a specific person, mostly it’s not. Sometimes “you” is “me,” and you sing it to yourself. The thing that continues to excite and stifle me is that there are no rules.
As you travel around the world, what is the overriding sense you get of the people?
I am consistently blown away by how much people like music. They like it way more than me, and I like it a lot. I see it in the conversations I have at the merch table, in the messages people send — they love lyrics and melody, and it means a hell of a lot to people. Songs matter immensely in people’s lives. That stays true everywhere I go, and I’m surprised and reassured by it again and again.
What’s your favorite memory from being on stage?
I played alone a lot before I got the band, and it’s essentially a trick. Opening for another artist, sometimes in a big theatre, and walking out alone in front of thousands of people who have no idea who you are is a fun challenge. My favourite memories of being on stage are from the years I started to figure out how to focus the attention of a room that size. You can’t grab someone’s attention; you have to very gently gather it up. And it can feel really satisfying.