Published May 12, 2009Royal Wood's The Lost And Found EP may be a buffer between his celebrated 2007 release A Good Enough Day and his full-length follow-up record, but it's not a disc that'll fall through the cracks. The only crevices Wood's enchanting piano melodies and symphonic string arrangements will traverse are those that lead to our deepest, most cherished sentiments. He wields his passions like a sword, eager to fight for his right to share those universal human emotions with no strings attached. The Toronto-based musician took the time to chat with Exclaim! about the honesty, integrity and openness required to write truly emotive music.
You've had a lot of success with your previous albums, some of your songs ending up on high-profile soundtracks like Grey's Anatomy. Did this success encourage you to approach the songwriting on The Lost And Found EP with future film and television opportunities in mind?
No. I always come from a very emotive place and honest place, and what happens as an end result is sort of icing. I don't want to write a song for radio and I don't want to write a song specifically for television. I just want to make what my heart wants to make. And after it's done, then the business side takes over and I go from there.
What is it about your music that makes for great soundtrack material?
Well, from the feedback I get, it's very emotionally charged and very honest. Which is truly flattering for me, because that's truly what it is. And I think in film, for a soundtrack, you really need something that comes off that way. It's supposed to back up the visual. It's supposed to get at the emotion that the visual might not get otherwise, because sometimes the visual won't give that.
How personal would you say your music is?
It couldn't be more personal. It's pretty much a diary page.
What did you find yourself expelling, so to speak, on the record? The whole impotice behind The Lost And Found EP was I wanted to sort of bridge the gap between A Good Enough Day and the full record that is coming out. It gave me a chance to pick songs that weren't lost, but that I had just kind of tucked away. Now I'm presenting them for people to hear. At the time I was writing those songs, I went through an emotional break-up and finding a true and honest love. So I think those are two themes that resonate throughout the entire EP.
What do you think it is it about your music that makes it so malleable and accessible to so many audiences?
I think it's accessible because it's honest and I'm writing about what people want to hear. People want to hear about their own lives in music. I don't think that's what artists should aim to do, but I just think they should write out the experiences that they've been through as opposed to trying to write a hit single.
Your press release mentions how your approach to songwriting harkens back to traditions of song crafting that go straight to the heart of the relationship an artist creates with his/her audience. What is it about songwriting today that fails to create that bond?
I think songwriting today is kind of like what Nutrasweet is. It's a manufactured sweetness or sensation and it's so formulaic, it follows the standard verse-chorus-verse-double chorus-bridge-outro. It's so succinct. It has to be three-and-a-half minutes and it immediately has to go to the hook and the chorus and win someone over, as opposed to expanding upon an idea or thought or emotion and just allowing a song to be born. When you listen to the radio, it really is that. It's synthetic sweetener.
When did you first want to rebel against this modern approach to songwriting?
I would say my entire life. But I would say all of the artists I like and respect really do the same. The ones that have made a successful career are the ones that have kept to that, and it resonates with people and they've followed through with it. They're all writing from honest places and the public actually finds it acceptable. I think a lot of people are afraid to make that choice. And they're also afraid to wait. A career, a truly-built career with a fan base and success behind it takes a long time, and people want the lazy way out. It's kind of like popping a diet pill instead of going to the gym. They want an easy out, and writing the easy way out is a lot 'easier' than putting yourself out there and taking risks or chances.
Is songwriting a personal, cathartic process then or is it a conversation between yourself and others?
I would say it's both. When I first started, I was very protective and I really covered my heart up. I wrote honestly but I wrote in code. I would dress up in metaphor and really be poetic about it for the sheer sake of protecting myself and the ones that might've been involved. But the older you get, especially when you hit a certain age, you become very comfortable and confident in yourself and the life you lead. So now, like I said, it's really a diary page and those involved know it.
You already touched upon your emotional influences. Now what were some of the sonic influences that contributed to the creation of the EP?
When I go sit down to make a record, I don't listen to anything. I try to filter out everything I might be surrounded with because you end up bringing it into the studio and trying to recreate someone else's work, which is ass-backwards. I think you should sit down with a song, let them resonate and stir inside of you to find the emotional core of it. This time around, I was trying to make something new and unlike anything I've done before. I really felt like having a trio with upright bass, drums and piano, and having everything centered around the vocals with the strings to weave that emotive feeling behind, would be perfect for these songs because they were so personal. It was about figuring out what would paint the perfect picture.
How did stringed instruments and chamber pop music come to be your musical weapon of choice?
Well, I was certainly raised on it. I was raised on the Frank Sinatra records and all the Glenn Miller Band stuff. Definitely that older crop of songwriting and arrangements, but it's kind of evolved as I have evolved. As my budget has grown and as my musicianship has grown, I've tried to expand it more and more into that realm and it's happened organically.
I noticed that the string arrangements almost tell a story of their own. When it comes to songwriting, do the lyrics come first or do the melodies?
Certainly, there will be times when a song is based around a poem or a stanza that I've written just because at the time I needed to get something down. It could be a particular word or theme, like something I've read in the paper that's sparked a particular message - like a "save the world kind of idea." Sometimes that happens first, but other times, it's the melody and you start to weave a verse or a chorus - I don't know where it comes from, I'd like to think the universe - but the words come after you write the melody. It lays it all out for you.
Maybe it's the girl in me, I don't know, but when I listen to the EP, it makes me want to cry. Am I going crazy? Is this the kind of response you were looking for?
First of all, any response anyone has to any art is valid. There is someone who could look at a Picasso and want to laugh, and then there's someone who'd break down and weep. But in terms of what I was feeling, yeah, I was certainly in an emotional time when I wrote that, both from sadness and joy. Both were such extremes that tears would've definitely be involved.
So there's some hope in your EP then?
Yeah, definitely. Even in the songs that sound otherwise. Without hope, we're pretty much nothing. It's about finding the good in the worst of things.
If you could capture The Lost And Found EP in a single black-and-white photograph, what would it look like?
It would be an abandoned building with a flower growing out of the corner. Because there's always still hope.