Interview: Donovan Woods

Siblings relationships are like none other; in the case of acclaimed Toronto-based songcrafter Donovan Woods, a conversation with his sister shaped his life’s trajectory.

“My sister sorry told me I wasn’t sporty or good-looking enough to get girls, so I should probably get a skill or an instrument I could play,” he admits with a laugh. “I took it seriously, so I got a guitar and figured out how to play it. I thought it was good advice, sisters are good for real talk.”

Straightforward sibling comments aside, Woods also attributes his love of music to his mother, who was a singer herself. “She sang in a group as a kid and actually recorded a record in Canada,” he explains. “It was called The Starlight Singers, a gang of girls who sang religious songs. My dad is not musical. I don’t have a musical family other than my mother, who still sings, though not professionally. I think all you have to do to make kids sing is to sing to them a lot, and she did that, to the point where it was almost annoying,” he laughs. “I wrote a lot of poetry when I was in high school, that concept came early to me. The songwriters that I was introduced to at a young age, that idea of like economy of language and making a song with fewer words that we still clear was a good goal,” he says. “I used to think that, even the songs I wrote as a teenager, there were too many words in them. That’s always been one of my big motivators. I think I was just lucky to be exposed to what I heard early on.”

It’s no secret that Woods is a brilliant writer; his musical storytelling and turns of phrase cut right to the quick, and speak to the essence of the human condition, and he’s not afraid to push the envelope. He cites the Southern Ontario Gothic of Alice Munro and the work of feminist poet Bronwen Wallace as the main inspirations for

his new album, Both Ways, set for release on April 20th. A recent video for album track “Burn That Bridge,” showcases, through dance, the relationship between best friends who fall in love. “I have a friend who’s gay and he fell in love with his best friend–it was a kid he’d grown up with and they fell in love with each other.  It was a narrative that always was amazing me, that idea,” he explains. “That’s what I felt like this song was about, falling in love with your best friend. The exciting part of Americana music right now is that the people who are leading the charge are people like Brandi Carlile or The Avett Brothers or Jason Isbell, people who don’t necessarily fit into traditional molds of Americana music,” he adds. “That’s exciting to me.”

Woods is unapologetic about speaking to issues that are still hot buttons, at least in the States, and wants to make sure his listeners know he’s speaking directly to them. “When I look at my listener stats on Spotify, I’m looking at 46% who are kids between 18 and 28 years old who are listening to my songs, and the issues that they’re dealing with more complex than Americana music is traditionally focused on,” he reveals. “That meant a lot to me when I was a kid. I was a chubby kid, and even seeing chubby people saying things meant a lot to me, you know what I mean? That representation, it’s as simple as that. I still get excited when I see a chubby person making a statement and they don’t talk about him just because he’s chubby,” he laughs. “I want to make sure that if there’s a 22-year-old kid listening to me, that he knows I’m talking about him too. I’m talking about everybody, and I want to make sure that that idea is present in the music.”

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