Some music just comes into your life at exactly the right time. Whether it’s a matter of headspace, life events or personal revelations – for whatever reason, the timing is impeccable and it nourishes the soul accordingly. One musician is well versed in such a phenomenon, as his new album, Without People, couldn’t have come at a more apt time. Introducing Canadian folk singer-songwriter Donovan Woods.
The troubadour had the name for the album under his belt for years, after it occurred to him that most of adulthood is learning to cope without people, and also with loss, our own loneliness, solitude, and our universal yearning for human connection. Then the pandemic hit and it took on new meaning.
The 14-song record was crafted alone in his makeshift home studio, but saw the musician collaborate remotely with impressive features including Rhys Lewis and Katie Pruitt. The first glimmer of new love gets its moment in “Clean Slate”, the complexities of a father-son dynamic are explored on “Man Made Lake”, then the importance of a lover’s embrace in Katie Pruitt duet “She Waits For Me To Come Back Down”, and “Lonely People” – with celebrated British singer Rhys Lewis – looks at the paradox of wanting to be alone, until you suddenly are.
We caught up with Donovan Woods and talked about human intimacy, and how his heartrending new album couldn’t have come at a more apt time…
Hi Donovan, how has lockdown been treating you? How has it impacted your music and creativity?
It’s been ok. I’ve had time to write more, and write with other artists I like. I feel sad for my kids, their lives have gotten a lot more boring. At the beginning, I couldn’t write. My brain loves to write about the tiny details of interpersonal relationships and that all felt extraneous in the middle of a global pandemic, and the most significant human rights movement of my life.
Where are you from and how has this influenced you sonically?
I’m from Sarnia, Ontario. Right at the bottom of Canada. A working class town so our dad’s all listened to country music but the radio stations we got were all from Detroit so we also got deeply into R&B.
Where are the most unusual places you pull musical inspiration from?
I don’t know if it’s anyplace unusual, but I like used bookstores. Titles of old books are loaded with pithy, useful language.
Congratulations on your new album Without People – what was it inspired by, and why that name?
I’ve had that title for a couple of years. It’s occurred to me that so much of adulthood is learning to cope without people. Your parents, ex-lovers, friends that move on, people who die. It also speaks to our desire to be alone, and the loneliness we feel when we are. Just that constant, irritating back and forth of the human condition. When we were making the record, the pandemic hit and we had to finish it remotely from home studios, so that title suddenly seemed to make even more sense.
What unites the tracks as a body of work?
The songs are all about loss, what loss does to us, or how we clamour to avoid it.
Do you have a favourite track/lyric – something you think will resonate deeply with your listeners?
I like them all at different moments. I think the opening song “Last Time I Saw You” is a great place to start. And it’s first line: “Last time I saw you, you arrived with someone else, I was happy just to see you, but I kept it to myself.”
The album features Rhys Lewis and Katie Pruitt – how did you decide who you wanted to collaborate with?
I love great singers, they both have voices that are so strong and pure. I’m a fan of what they do, and I feel lucky to have their voices included. I think every record needs a break from my husky-ass voice the whole time.
Love, family, vulnerability, loneliness and hope – how does it feel to cover such raw themes in your music?
It seems to be all I can write about. When I think of human intimacy, language just appears for me. So, if that’s what my brain wants to do, I better try to get really good at it.
Much of your messaging is really empowering – how do you want fans to feel when they listen to your music?
I want the songs to be useful. Helpful in making people feel thoughtful and understood.
What’s next for you? What are you looking forward to in 2020?
Well, I can’t tour this record of course. So, I’ll just start the next one.