Thursday, October 18, 2012

DONOVAN WOODS IS ONE OF THE FUNNIEST PEOPLE I KNOW. One of those people I can shoot the shit with for hours at a time. Like me, he can meander through a hundred subjects, talking about nothing and everything all at once, without worry or concern about losing track. For a gifted songwriter, he can forgo structure like nobody else I know.

He turned 32 this week and in the last 8 months his life has changed in a few significant ways. After he and his wife bought their first house (in Toronto's Bloor West Village) they prepared for the birth of their son, Porter, now just six weeks old.

Donovan's seen varying degrees of success in music, from hometown concerts and fans who tattoo his album art on their bodies, to songs on Degrassi Junior High and the Season 3 DVDs of Felicity. A few weeks ago he stirred up some local controversy when he was asked to write the satirical would-be national anthem of Toronto (notorious for its centre-of-the-world self-aggrandizing) if we became our own Republic.

This song, oddly, feels more like the Donovan I know than his recorded catalogue. His in-person energy is electric and rapid-fire, jokes constant and his intelligence always on clear display. He puts on voices and gesticulates wildly. His album (The Widowmaker, 2010) is decidedly measured, musically and otherwise, by comparison. While there are currents of his signature deadpan throughout, his music feels quite serious and earnest. But I'm not afraid to tell you, he's something of a wisecracker in real life. I feel lucky to get both sides of Donovan on a regular basis. (Gross.)

Most-recently he's been jetting to Nashville for country music songwriting sessions with some of the industry's major players. With songs in "the demo phase", he might soon be responsible for a music star's next big hit.

We talked about all this, the problems with the Canadian music industry and how a Rihanna song gets written. Below are out of context moments from our 2 hour conversation.

When he came out alive it was an unbelievable relief. AND I THOUGHT: 'I GET IT! I NOW UNDERSTAND OLD PEOPLE!" They live on this teetering edge of fear about their kids being healthy and alive every day, even as adults. As soon as they handed him to me I was like 'I get it, Mom!! I get it!'

Executives make changes to songs. And they can be good changes. I have a running joke that ALL MELISSA ETHERIDGE'S SONGS ARE ABOUT EATING PUSSY AND THE LABEL WENT IN AND CLEANED THEM UP. [puts on an executive's voice] "Okay, okay, Melissa, we love the song, the melody is great! But instead of 'I wanna eat pussy', we're gonna say 'I wanna come over,' and you know, if you eat each other's pussies when you get there, that's great!"

I QUESTIONED MY SEXUALITY IN HIGH SCHOOL. I was a theatre kid with a magazine subscription to Wallpaper*. When I discovered I was attracted to women, I was like, "Okay. I guess that's that."


If you're in the room, EVEN IF YOU JUST CONTRIBUTE TO THE MOOD IN THE ROOM, you should get a writing credit. The vibe is as important as what people come up with. If you were there, you contributed to it. And it's true, but there's no way to describe that.

Rihanna songs are written by a producer with a beat and then A PERSON CALLED THE TOP HOOK LADY COMES IN AND LISTENS TO THE BEAT AND [assumes the affectation of a Christina Aguilera-type] STARTS VIBIN' ON IT AND COMES UP WITH THE HOOK! Like "Where have you been all my li-i-i-i-i-ife?" - That's her. All those Rihanna hooks. Amazing.

THERE'S NO HOPE FOR CANADIAN MUSICIANS. I hate to say it. But there's nothing. The people at the Canada Arts Council and Factor [who give grants and loans to record albums and go on tour] keep their jobs by showing that grants lead to sales, so they continue to fund acts that are selling records. They need to be sure-fire bets. They still give grants to people like Avril Lavigne, Nelly Furtado, Feist. Multi-millionaires. It's fucking ridiculous, obviously. It's totally depressing.

I know my songs are good and I know I'm a great songwriter. But I also know what I look like. The people want waify music stars. The people who control the huge machinations of celebrity know what can be famous. I'M NOT UNDER ANY ILLUSIONS THAT I COULD BE A MUSIC STAR. So I need to monetize what I can. 

I KNOW A LOT ABOUT COUNTRY MUSIC RIGHT NOW. It's all I'm listening to. There are some really great country songs. Most good songs are written in Nashville. R&B, pop songs. When a pop star needs a song, they go to Nashville.

I DON'T REALLY LIKE CONCERTS.  I would never go to a big arena show. I don't like being in large crowds. If I'm performing at the front of it, it's okay. 

Some people produce sonic landscapes, and, don't get me wrong, I like sonic landscapes, but I prefer songsKATHLEEN EDWARDS WRITES SONGS. She's brilliant. In terms of Canadian songwriters, she shits all over everyone. 'Here's the melody, I'm gonna fill it in with great words. Verse/Chorus/Bridge.' She writes songs and she's fucking good.

Here's Donovan's cover of Sufjan Stevens' "Romulus". (Performed with his pal and Toronto music scene stalwart, Jon Hynes.)

And buy Donovan's music here.

(Shot on location in Donovan's home on October 17, 2012.)


  1. 6 hours later and I'm still laughing about the Melissa Etheridge comment.

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