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Stirring singer-songwriter Royal Wood’s latest album, The Waiting, is his pop record, something he felt he could tour behind. The release before that, The Lost and Found EP, was, he says, just a stop-gap to follow his second full-length, 2007’s A Good Enough Day. “I made that EP an art-boutique piece where I wrote songs I knew would not be immediately catchy but were purely lyric-driven,” Wood says. “I saved my pop writing for The Waiting.”
The Peterborough, Ont. native, now living in Toronto, is very particular about the songs he releases. He started playing piano at age four and soon picked up guitar, bass, drums, clarinet and trumpet, but never put anything out commercially until 2002’s The Milkweed EP. “I struggled with having an original voice, which is why I didn’t release anything until I was 23, 24,” he says. “I could play at a young age. I wrote like crazy and I played in lots of bands and tried lots of genres, but I always felt like I was wearing someone else’s hat. Nothing ever felt true.
But then something clicked. Since The Milkweed EP, of which he’s still proud, Wood lets a song write itself, coming out “the way it’s supposed to land,” as he puts it. “The majority of my writing is cathartic, but once you hear the melody and the emotional core, you can tell the direction.
In the case of The Waiting, producer Pierre Marchand (Sarah McLachlan) helped shape the sound by recording the first three songs: “You Can’t Go Back,” “Do You Recall” and “The Island.” The lyrical catharsis was the self-described “me-centric” Wood turning 30 and shifting his priorities. “There’s an antithesis to everything that we go through,” he says. “I had friends who were having their first kids and I lost friends to illness and we buried my grandmother and others got married for the first time [including him]. And you see there really is that mirrored experience for everything. Nothing is ever permanent and what you really should be doing is existing in the now. If you exist in the now, you understand what is valuable and what is important and what is meaningful.
“There was some huge philosophical wrestling that I went with,” he says. “It wasn’t just that I wanted to write songs and be a professional musician. It was some deep search for meaning and, even more so, what I wanted my art to say. I wanted there to be something to be reflected on when you hear it.”