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Interviews, Music

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

Royal Wood. (Photo: Jen Squires)

Royal Wood. (Photo: Jen Squires)

You definitely get what you pay for on that front.

Yeah, and it’s also self respect. Why shouldn’t you have something you feel good wearing and are proud to use? I don’t like the consumerism that exists in the world, I really don’t. I don’t buy much, I don’t care about the latest gadget, the latest whatever. Most technology that I own is something someone has given me because they were getting rid of it, because they wanted to upgrade. (laughs)

I agree whole-heartedly, the consumerism in the world, especially around the holidays is kind of disgusting in my opinion.

My girlfriend has this amazing tradition at Christmas, that’s all secret Santa. It’s not a bunch of gifts for everybody, it’s just one gift and no one knows what it is, or who it’s for. They all go into a pool and you open it up and you’re like meh, and you trade it off. It’s just one thing and there’s a cap at how much you spend. I love that, it’s cool, or giving money to charity instead.

For my nieces Christmas presents, I got them all bonds for school, so when they finish high school, if they decide they want to go to university or college or something, their uncle put money away for them. That’s a better investment than a plastic toy from China that they’re going to use once and then decide they don’t like anymore because they have another one.

You made the switch from working the Bay street foreign exchange industry about eight years ago now. How have you evolved, even just as a person, since that initial transition?

I was never that person. At no point in my entire life did I want to be a foreign exchange trader. I was a musician, I was an artist, my philosophy did not fit in, in the environment that I worked in.

How it happened was I was working in record stores and things in Toronto, trying to make it as an artist and I couldn’t afford to do anything. I couldn’t hire my band, I couldn’t make a proper record and [when] you’re an artist playing any show you can get, [you’re] certainly not making a lot of money.

So I went in for a temp job, thinking, “you know what, forget the record store, I’m going to apply for this position. It looks like it’s just data entry, but it pays twice as much as my record store job does. It seems like it’s a short little contract, three months long. I’ll do it, I’ll put that money in the bank and I’ll make a little EP out of it, perfect. This is my plan.” I went in, I did the interview, and the woman really liked me. She said I think you’re too good for this three-month thing, I want to give you a 12-month contract and I just want you to help the traders on the floor. That’s all you’ve got to do. You seem very intelligent, you have a good education, so this is what we’re going to do. In my mind, I was like “I’m going to be gone in 12 months, goodbye, I’ll take it, I’ll do the office job, punch the clock.” I just didn’t sleep. I would finish at five o’clock, leave, go play shows, then I’d go to the studio, and I just worked around the clock.

Those 12 months turned into five years, but it made me a full trader by the end of that year, because I seemed to have a good head for numbers and good customer skills on the phone. Next thing I knew, I was a foreign exchange trader and it was a good pay cheque. I made a good enough pay with it that I hired a publicist, I hired my band and the second the tour was booked, I quit and never went back. I thank them for believing in me and funding what was the beginning of my career, but I would never want to be there. It was soul sucking to be honest, but they were very nice people and they allowed me to kick start what it was, so that’s the story.

Would you say it helped you to evolve into what you in the future became, mentally even?

I definitely would, 100 per cent, because I was managing million dollar books and I had massive clients. I had to solve crazy problems for them on a daily basis, I had to deal with really stressed out people and angry people, because it’s money, it’s business and they take it very seriously. That taught me how to problem solve, how to plan, and how to organize and by the time I finished that job, it’s not a surprise to me that I have a very successful company. I have a lot of employees and I run my own business. That’s what an artist has to do these days, you have to be your own business, or you’ll always be the independent artist that doesn’t get to have a family and doesn’t get to have the things that allow them to make their art.

I’m really grateful and very fortunate that that moment in time happened, because it definitely helped steer me into the business side of what music is. There’s the art obviously, and that’s the most important. That’s paramount, but if that’s not quality and that’s not genuine and connected, then don’t even bother. Once that’s done… I just know too many artists that have been screwed over by this business, because it’s a business, and you’re a commodity. The industry doesn’t care. You’re just a number on a spreadsheet, so you’d better manage your estate properly and you better know where the money is going. There’s just too many artists.. Billy Joel was bankrupt twice, one time it was his brother that screwed him over as a manager. It’s a good thing to understand what’s happening.

It’s a very cut throat industry as well.

Well, I think life is the lens that we see it with, and I think the world is cut throat if you want to see it for what’s happening. There’s the Trumps of this world and there are things that don’t make me very excited about humanity, but then there’s also incredible human beings like David Suzuki. So there’s a balance there, I just try to focus on the relevant and positive ones. I know some incredible people in the music industry, that are some of the most noble, honourable men and women alive, but I know some rat bastards that I wouldn’t leave around anything that mattered to me. You have to know that the other side exists and you have to look out for yourself in a positive way.

Yeah, I agree that it’s definitely humanity in general.

Yeah, we’re animals at the end of the day and we’re certainly as my grandfather used to say, the meanest animal born. There’s something to watch for, but there’s also qualities about us that make us something the universe intended.

Again, having set out for a rawer product on this album, were there any other themes that you threw in, aside from outlining your journey as a musician?

The theme was to be organic and connected. That’s the entire theme. That was the theme of my mode of working at the time and that’s my philosophy for this band, who’s backing me up for the tour for the next three months. It’s just how I need it to be now in my life. I’m in a point now where even as a human being, I’m trying to have connected, genuine and inspired relationships with family, my partner in life, my business practices, and just concentrically build it out from there. So the theme for this tour is definitely that. I’m working with an amazing lighting guy, sound people, tour managers, crew, and they’re all genuine people who come at it from a love of what they do. I’ve hand picked a team that loves what they do and they’re all self governing. I trust them, they’re a good crew.

That’s necessary too.

It’s definitely necessary, because there’s too many working parts. I’m at the point now where I can’t be governing every part of it. I have to trust that the lighting guy did his job, that the sound guy did his job, my publicist is doing her job, the label’s doing their job and the agent. At the end of the day, you have to. You put in those cheques and balances so that you get updated and can oversee and look at it. I have to believe the lighting guy when he comes back and says “this is our budget and here’s what I can get it at, here are the things I found and I’m excited that he did his job. I have to.”

Do you have a favourite song on this album, or one that you had the most fun producing?

I wouldn’t have thought I would’ve said yes, but one just immediately popped into my head. I think it’s “A World Between Us”, because it was the first thing that kicked off this whole recording project. In the moment of it, it was just me, like we’ve touched on, just a kid in the candy store playing music. I said to Bill, “Billy, I hear a melodic guitar solo like Harrison would’ve done. I want to play a guitar solo.” Which I hadn’t done since I made A Good Enough Day back in 2007. It’s been a long time since I’ve played electric like that. It ended up guiding the process a lot, I played a lot more electric guitar. It was fun to be doing it again.

I was a high school kid, I had a rock band and I played electric like I thought I would be Jimmy Page (laughs). You have all these hormonal things channeling through you. You think “ahh electric guitar, it’s loud and it’s rock and it’s amazing, turn it up.” That was a moment where I thought “I want to keep doing this, this is so much fun.” So I changed my trip, stayed longer, and we kept recording, recording, recording. But that was the first song.

That goes back to the full circle thing, taking you back to the beginning.

Absolutely.

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