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Interviews, Music

Interview: Royal Wood talks “Ghost Light”, fashion, and his Bay St. beginnings

Royal Wood collaborated with artists like Hannah Georgas, Felicity Williams, Rose Cousins and Alanna Stuart on his new LP, Ghost Light.

Royal Wood collaborated with artists like Hannah Georgas, Felicity Williams, Rose Cousins and Alanna Stuart on his new LP, Ghost Light.

This album is said to mark a change in your artistic path, bringing forth a rawer take on life in your music. Was there anything that pushed you to take that step?

I think it’s just the natural evolution of the human condition. If you allow it and you learn and at least what I’ve [learnt] over the years is that Dallas philosophy, that a truly wise man knows that he knows nothing. I’m finally at the point in life where I don’t think I know what I’m supposed to do. I’m just allowing it and following my intuition, being inspired, and if I don’t feel inspired, like I’m connected to my true self, then I say no to it.

This finally allowed me to be at a point where it’s very buoyant in my career. It’s a shit-ton of work, being a touring artist, and being independently employed. I have multiple employees and multiple staff. I’m at the top of that and I’m the decision maker. So it’s a full time job. The music business is the music business. It’s 99 per cent work and it’s one per cent art. This record, when it came time to do the art, I decided to turn that equation on its head and I made it 99 per cent about the art, shut the business down, and went off to create something.

It’s been a long time since I’ve done that. Probably since I first started my career. It’s kind of coming full circle, but it still feels like a new beginning, because I’m confident enough and mature enough to realize that I have to do that at these moments of creation, or you end up creating something from your head and not from your heart and that’s not where music is supposed to come from.

Definitely not. It must be refreshing to get back to that.

Yeah! It’s not only refreshing, it’s just… yeah, I guess refreshing, but it’s restorative. It’s this aha moment. At the end of the day, you’re excited. You’re exhausted, but you’re excited about the next day. You go to bed thinking about everything you just did that day and want to do the next day. That’s the way it was when you first start making music as a kid. You’re so excited, there’s not enough hours in the day and that’s what it was like making art.

Would you say that the writing/recording process was different for this album because of that?

The recording process was the same as when I first started making records, because I didn’t do pre-production, I didn’t know what the songs were going to be ahead of time. I didn’t rehearse anything, I didn’t work on parts at home, I just would roll into the studio and I’d be like “hey Bill, how about maybe this song today, what do you think about this?” And if he liked it, we were like yeah, let’s do this, maybe let’s hear this, yeah, let’s try that. You bounce around these things and grab an instrument. I would grab the bass, the guitar, or the keyboards, he would sit down at the drums, and by the end of the day, you have a song. From start to finish, there’s this song and there’s no thoughts, it’s just what are you excited by? What are you like, “yeah, this is great!”

That’s the way it was when I first started and somewhere along the line, not that I regret doing it, but definitely when I made We Were Born to Glory, oddly titled, I was so in my head, I made a record so from my head. I hand picked the songs ahead of time, I picked up-tempo things, and I wrote to drum loops, so it’d all be up tempo. I did all of these things that I thought, this is what I need to do to get out of my shell and maybe that was a part of it. Sometimes I think inside all misfortune is good fortune. The misfortune of making a record that wouldn’t be the one I’d ever play anyone, not the one I’m most proud of, it was just my head. When you do that kind of thing, art suffers. So this time around, I knew what I didn’t want to do, and what I didn’t want to do was think about it. I just wanted to make something, so that’s just me returning to the way [I was] when I first started.

It sounds like you had a lot of fun in the studio, jumping around from instrument to instrument. How would you describe the way it felt to go back to that instinctual process that you said was like when you were a kid?

It felt like being a kid again. When you’re a kid, I think ultimately, all kids can sing, all kids can dance, all kids can paint. They can write stories, they can do all kinds of things, because you don’t have this fear of being judged. No one’s watching you, no one’s critiquing you and you haven’t formed these little packs yet. Then in life, as you go through, especially when you get to high school and into the workforce, you get older and there’s these judging eyes that become a part of life.

So people dance, but they don’t really dance, unless they let go. They look around, like “how are they dancing? Oh, they’re dancing like that. I guess I’ll dance like that. Are they singing along to the songs at this show? No, so I don’t want to be the one to start singing.” We do that as humans, but when you’re kids… I look at my little nieces and if a song’s playing and they walk into a room, they’re dancing, they don’t care, they just dance. That’s what it felt like making the record. I just didn’t care, I just played it and I just picked the song, because in that moment, I wanted it.

It’s a good reminder of what life is supposed to be in the first place. Not only are you supposed to do what brings bliss into your life, but you’re supposed to make these choices, and there are no mistakes. There’s only feedback and the feedback you get either says do that again, or don’t do that again, but it’s not failure. I don’t believe in failure anymore, I just want to live, because this is it. None of us get another go around, so you better not die with the music still in you, that’s for sure.

You collaborated with artists like Hannah Georgas and Felicity Williams on most of this record. What were you looking for when you decided to bring them into the recording process and what do you think they brought to the album?

Hannah and I have been friends since 2010. I absolutely fell in love with that woman, as an artist and as a human. She was this fearless performer and this fearless person, who was so self aware. We became friends and we’ve always kept in touch. She’s always been that satellite orbiting. It was one of those happy chances, that she moved to Toronto and ended up sending me a line saying I’m here, what are you up to, what are you doing? And I said actually I’m in the studio right now recording the horns and things in Toronto. I had finished up the LA stuff, but do you feel like singing on a song, and that was it. She came in and that song was live off the floor for me, so I wanted the same with her. It’s all one take, nothing’s edited, nothing’s auto tuned, because I don’t believe in that world. That’s just her singing, then we high fived each other and that was that.

As for Felicity, I had Felicity and Carly sing on The Burning Bright. They toured with me and we’ve been super close ever since. I really wanted female vocals on this and I don’t think there’s a better arrangement going right now. I think she’s genius level. The record was done in terms of everything in LA, but I still had to do the strings, horns and backup vocals. I sent her the songs that I heard something [in], but I didn’t give her direction. I said here are the songs, here’s the style I’m thinking, now just go nuts and she would send me back her ideas and I didn’t edit a single one. Not one. They were all perfect.

Then we had Carly, and Alanna Stuart also sang on the record. We had a three part harmony going. Felicity wrote the parts, those three sang them, and that was that. Again, just allowing it and following intuition.

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