In Between the Acts, The Globe and Mail takes a look at how artists manage their time before and after a creative endeavour.
“That doesn’t exist anymore, the thing she was to me.”
Singer-songwriter Donovan Woods is speaking about Alanis Morissette and the impact the she had on him as a kid in Sarnia, Ont. Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill album from 1995 won her international acclaim and five Junos. Life has a funny way of sneaking up on you, it’s true, and Woods recently covered one of the record’s hit singles, Ironic, as part of CBC Music’s Juno Sessions. “I loved that song from the moment it came out,” says Woods, who, with the release of Both Ways, is now (seemingly suddenly) five albums deep into a career still on the rise.
One day after this year’s Juno Awards, Woods sat down backstage at Massey Hall to speak about the annual award show, Morissette and the job of making and playing music. He’s asked about songwriters who gig reluctantly – those who’d love to make a living just writing songs for others. “That’s funny,” says Woods, who splits time between Nashville and Toronto and whose songs have been recorded by country stars Tim McGraw and Lady Antebellum singer Charles Kelley. “Because I could do that if I wanted, just writing for other people,” he continues. “But I love playing my songs and getting paid to do it.”
And isn’t that ironic?
The Junos seem to exist on two tiers: The non-televised Saturday night awards, which seems like it’s within the realm of possibility for me, and then there’s the Sunday arena show. I think this year the Arkells moved up to the Sunday tier, which is nice. I think Daniel Caesar did as well. So maybe the Junos are coming along.
Last year when I was nominated for the songwriter award, I assumed Gord Downie was going to win, and that’s what I wanted to have happen. But when we got the seat assignment for me and my girlfriend, we were basically being told we weren’t winning. There was literally no direct path from our seats to the stage.
This year, I covered the song Ironic for a CBC thing. They were trying to get the past Juno songs of the year covered. As a kid, Ironic felt very serious and real to me. Looking back now, it feels quite lighthearted. There was no one like [Morissette], though. There still isn’t. It was fun for me to sit down and attempt to learn the song. I realized I already knew how to play it, and I knew all the words.
I’m doing interviews now for my new record, Both Ways. When you’re a solo artist you get tired of having these conversations about what your song is about. There’s an assumption that they’re all first-person narration and you’re the protagonist. You get bored talking about yourself. It feels arrogant. It feels self-obsessive.
This is Album 5 for me. Do I want another album about the things that are going wrong with me, with girls? That’s just not sustainable. You have to take a turn and write about other things at a certain point, or you’re going to run out. Or you’re going to hate it so much that you’re just going to stop.
Donovan Woods plays Toronto’s Danforth Music Hall, April 25; Edmonton’s Starlite Room, April 26; Calgary’s The Gateway, April 28; Regina’s The Exchange, April 29; Saskatoon’s Broadway Theatre, April 30.