Sound Seekers by Fateema Sayani is published weekly at OttawaMagazine.com. Read Fateema Sayani’s culture column in Ottawa Magazine and follow her on Twitter @fateemasayani.
Royal Wood buggered off for six weeks and came back a changed man. The story of that transformation comes alive on The Burning Bright, the folk-rock singer’s fifth album.
Last May, Wood rented a cabin in Ireland, some 10 kilometres from Rathkenny where his mother’s family came from. The spot had all the markers one looks for when seeking forced isolation, Walden Pond style.
Wood’s cabin was off a dirt road, surrounded by greenery, and seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. It didn’t have any technological indulgences like a TV, a phone, or access to the internet, and Wood had no imposed schedule. Every day he got up and did what he was inspired to do, like go for a run, read, or write songs. Wood was wanting for an escape.
The success of his fourth album, We Were Born to Glory, left him with a breakneck schedule, burnout, and a bit of a sour taste in his mouth.
“I did a pop experiment,” he says of the 2012 album. “It was up tempo and fun, but there wasn’t a lot of real, genuine heart to it,” he says.
While he doesn’t regret the album of what he describes as “radio-compressed, crunched pop,” he says the experience left him feeling like he had to go make art again.
“I’d be at the merch table and I didn’t want to point people to that record or play those songs,” Wood says. “I totally didn’t feel like the artist that I wanted to be up to, and until that record.”
We’re sitting inside the office of NAC Presents producer Simone Deneau. Wood was in Ottawa for a press day in March and obligingly did rounds of interviews, live performances, and photo shoots for various outlets. He even took this selfie with my phone.
Wood was forthcoming about the album’s inspirations, including the vagaries of the music industry machine and the demise of his marriage to songwriter Sarah Slean. He describes their separation as a paradigm shift.
“You enter this word as a couple, ’til death do us part,” he explains—and then it all changes. “I have great respect for marriage and commitment, I have no issue with it,” he says. “We’re thankfully friends and still love each other, but it’s just—it’s just life,” he shrugs.
That frankness, nostalgia, and wistfulness comes across beautifully on the new album. It’s heavy-hearted throughout, with telling titles such as, “White Flag,” and “It’s Only Love.” There is a bit of pop respite with “Forever and Ever,” a buoyant little breath amidst the pretty sorrow.
Wood divides his time between downtown Toronto and a studio in L.A. where he produces other songwriters’ albums. He recently took over his parents’ farm outside of Peterborough and manages a team of organic farmers who are setting up a co-operative to serve families, markets, and restaurants in the area. He’s also partway through his sommelier certificate at George Brown College and is hoping to become a master sommelier eventually. He brings tasting notes and textbooks on the road and brings his wine knowledge to the stage.
At his performance this weekend, Wood will discuss some of the wines he chose for the show. The NAC will serve his selections from Fielding Estate and Jackson Triggs before the show and at intermission.
Expect a big-band performance befitting a soft-seat theatre, with plenty of lighting cues and other dramatics to amplify the songs.
Royal Wood plays a full-band show on Saturday, May 10 at the National Arts Centre as part of the NAC Presents series. Opening guest: Peter Katz. 7:30 p.m. Pre-show wine pouring at 6:45 p.m. Ticket packages, including wine, a signed poster, and a copy of the new CD available ($54). General tickets starting at $29.
The fall NAC Presents lineup was announced this week. Highlights include:
- Timber Timbre (Sept. 18)
- Owen Pallett (Sept. 27)
- Sarah McLachlan (Nov. 14)
- Buck 65 (Nov. 22)
- Jenn Grant (Nov. 28-29)
- The Skydiggers (Dec. 12-13)