On his newest single ‘Way Way Back’ Donovan Woods is exploring relationships and the odd familiar comfort of getting back with an ex. Of the topic Woods says “The whole song — production and arrangement — is indicative of this push and pull between the risky excitement of something new and the ease of something familiar.” That tug of war between the risky excitement and ease and comfort doesn’t seem evident on this track. Teaming up with producer Todd Clark on the single the two aimed to push the boundaries of folkmusic. Coupling nicely together as always are the storytelling lyrics and sweet vocals of Donovan Woods blend with this fresh production.
Having the opportunity to sit down with Donovan Woods we talked about his road trip playlist, the new single Way Way Back, his complicated relationship with John Mayer, the inspiration of Portland, Maine, his multi location shoe collection, and more. Check it out below.
Hi Donovan, It is really cool to be talking to you. I went to your show last night in Salt Lake and it was great. I had a friend message me today how much she likes your music and so this is really exciting to be with you. Thank you!
I usually like to people I interview like how I know them and why I made the request. So a few years ago me and my friend that you met last night went on this big road trip from Utah to Banff National Park in Alberta and we made this rule that as soon as we cross over the border we are only listening to Canadian musicians…
DW: (Laughs) That’s a funny idea! That is a very Canadian idea. That sounds like something we would do.
It made it so fun (laughs) we had this really great playlist prepared for the Canadian side we had like Justin Bieber who you went to summer camp with his mom I read, we had Wild Rivers, Jon and Roy, all sorts of people.
DW: (Laughs) That’s right. I did go to summer camp with her.
So yeah your music was on that list and a huge help on that road trip and has been on many playlists after, so I wanted to ask who would be on your road trip playlist?
DW: Um, I’m going into the Bon Iver record right now and I’m super into this YBN Cordae guy for hip hop. I really am it is exciting for me to hear what is coming out, now that I’m a Spotify dude I’ve been going to listen to the New Music Friday list and listening to the whole thing and try to find stuff I’ve never heard of. But like anybody I was super into Maren Morris’ new record and they did this high women record. I try to stay very very contemporary if I can.
So speaking of new music Friday, lets talk about your new single that came out last month ‘Way Way Back’ and kind of the intentions to push the boundaries of folkmusic and relationships and how that has changed. What can you say about the new single?
DW: Um yeah, that is sort of the notion of it. I think that so much of singer songwriter stuff and especially countrymusic for sure is about that kind of weird way that we are always in touch now and like what that does to our relationships. You never really cut ties with people and that makes a lot of things difficult. Yeah I think the recording of it, I always try to use those singles in between album to sort of create space for myself so that I can do more as a singer songwriter than just put out folkmusic and we are trying to push the boundaries as much as we can. I think it is interesting that like not very many people have mentioned the sort of more broad production on that song other than people like yourself or when I talk specifically on the song. I don’t know people hear your voice and they go “Yeah that’s him” and that’s it you know (laughs). I wonder how much it matters to people.
So you are a fun twitter follow, I think I have already referenced like two funny tweets in 4 minutes with you. I think you’re one of the funniest follows.
DW: (Laughs) Oh thanks. That always stresses me out (laughs) because then I start going “Oh gosh, what am I saying on this fucking thing.” But I appreciate that.
Based on your tweets I wanted to ask you about your relationship with John Mayer, especially on Twitter.
DW: (Laughs) Oh geez, this is um this is a heavy subject for me. Geez.
Um it goes back (laughs) there are a lot of tweets there. And so I love John Mayer, he once put a picture of shoes and the “recipe” to create it on NikeId and I did it. So there isn’t usually a John Mayer thing that I don’t like, but I didn’t like his newest song and I was searching for why I didn’t and I hop on Twitter and you had a tweet about it saying “You’re damn right my therapist is gonna be hearing about how John Mayer is out here rhyming ‘summer’ with ‘bummer’. I was already having a not great week.” and I immediately started laughing out loud. So what are the feelings there? (laughs)
DW: Well I’ll tell you… I have grown to like that song. Um but this summer and bummer line notwithstanding, I can’t as a songwriter I can’t support that. But I think what he is doing, he is moving into a later period and I think he is trying to write things or songs that stay in the Cannon you know like become broad things. I think like ‘Love on the Weekend’ I feel like he did that like a song that is useful and I don’t know… then also he might just be getting worse? I think maybe (laughs) and I’m just rationalizing it? I don’t know. I have no idea. That’s the thing, I don’t know if I like him, if I love him, or if I hate him. I don’t know. I’m so, I have nothing but conflicted-ness about that guy. The other thing is that we have the exact same birthday he and I. So every time it’s my birthday I have a thousand people saying “Did you know it’s John Mayer’s birthday too?” As if I would not know that already so there’s like some… I don’t know. I can’t… I don’t know how I feel about him. It just goes on and on you know? I think he is just so good looking. I see pictures of him… sometimes I’ll just look at pictures of him. You know what I mean? Like just like look through, see what he’s wearing, look at his hair and I’ll think “Wow if I looked like that I’d be so fucking famous.” I don’t know how I… I don’t know I don’t know how to explain what I feel about him. But it’s tumultuous that’s for sure. It’s not healthy.
(Laughs) That is so funny. That was what I was laughing at in your tweets some were that you are reading everything that he does, and one of the things about him is you mentioned and it makes me mad I’m losing my hair and every single thing he does with it works. Everything.
DW: I know yeah I’m losing mine too. It’s fucking annoying it’s the sickest hair I’ve seen in my life. Like his hair line is like he got a hair transplant in each follicle or something and it makes me sick.
So I guess by law I should notify you that I am calling on a recorded line… but I only bring that up because I read about some of the inspiration writing ‘Portland, Maine’ and that it started from frequent collection calls you were getting which I’m sure started with letting you know you were on a recorded line… so they were calling for a girl named Janessa? and that helped inspire your song ‘Portland, Maine’? That might be the best outcome of a collection call ever.
DW: Oh yeah. I had this cell phone I used in America for a time and yeah I kept getting phone calls from Portland, Maine. Which is why I wrote that hook for the first time. I thought of that idea because I couldn’t remember, having not toured extensively at that time I couldn’t remember if Portland, Maine was the east coast one or the west coast one. So I thought of that line just based off of those missed calls that I got. I worked on it from there and tried to figure out what that line would mean in a story and why somebody would say something like that. It’s a strange line, a very strange line and so when you have a strange line like that that somehow feels important usually when you dig around and try to find the idea of the song if you can find something that leads you to that line than you’ve got a good idea.
And I’m glad you talked about that process where you found a line and were able to create a song and story out of it. You’re an incredible songwriter, last night you told the story of writing ‘Another Way’ seeing a wedding being set up at a hotel and you not being a wedding guy and the possibility of some time looking at weddings another way. I was wondering if you have any random moments that turned into one of your songs?
DW: I mean, I think ‘Leaving Nashville’ which I wrote with Charles Kelly from Lady Antebellum for his solo record I think was a real reach. It was like writing a song about what it was like to be a Nashville songwriter and I had only been one for about a month and a half at the time. So it was just sort of guessing and projecting and you know its funny when somebody that’s not mired in it looks at it from a distance they’re able to see it more clearly than maybe someone who is down in the muck of it. Everybody says that they can’t believe how much we nailed it on that song and we just thought “wow we were really just guessing” (laughs)
You mentioned writing ‘Leaving Nashville’ with Charles Kelly and I wanted to ask what the differences were for you in writing with somebody as opposed to on your own?
DW: Um I think it is hard work no matter what. Either way its hard. But when it is with somebody else at least there is someone there to keep you accountable and to keep you on task. The thing about writing alone is I’ll take months and months to put something together because as soon as it gets difficult I just go and do something more fun because why would I torture myself? So when you are sitting there with somebody else and you are both time allotted and you are trying to figure it out it can be really uncomfortable, it can be awesome, and it could be really wonderful too. So it is like sort of just riding that. It can certainly be uncomfortable. But you also get instant feedback which can help you feel that you’re really good at it.
When was the first time you really knew that you were good at this songwriting thing? And how has your songwriting evolved over time?
DW: Um I don’t know, I still don’t feel like I’m good at it. I think everybody is a little embarrassed by their old work and feels a little uptight about their stuff they wrote when they were… I think for me it is like a lot of really naive ideas about love and um sometimes I’d just go on like an A-rhyme run and I’d go like ‘stable’ and ‘cable, able’ and I’m just like “Gosh what am I doing.” But I think like the arrogance of youth is part of it and I think that everybody just looking back on their own… like I think everybody even looking back at their old text messages would feel self conscious about themselves. But I think when people who are you know when someone like Tim McGraw expresses interest in your song, it is a guy that hears a lot of songs because he cuts a lot of outside songs by other writers and so he hears the best of the best and he likes the thing it makes even a self conscious guy like me say “you know… maybe I’m okay at this.” It was a real lot of confidence that’s for sure.
So like you just said your song ‘Portland, Maine’ is heard by Tim McGraw and he uses it on his album, how does that song get in front of him? And what does that feel like when he approaches you?
DW: Um well the guy I wrote it with his name is Abe Stoklasa and it came through his publisher and we had sent it to them and I guess somebody listened to it for him and said no it was too sad or something. Then somebody who worked for his publisher knew Tim, he used to babysit his kids I think. He just like burnt the CD and took it to him and he heard it personally and called and said he wanted to do it. I never got to… I only met him after the record came out. I never got to talk to him beforehand. I remember the moment of it was like months and months and months of process before he actually cut it and we sort of felt like oh maybe he’ll get over it and won’t want to do it. Then I remember finally when they sent me his recording of it, I remember listening to it in the middle of the night and being so tripped out hearing his voice on it. It was such a weird weird feeling.
That is so so cool. I can’t imagine. So I really want to be friends with Wild Rivers and I know they toured with you so I reached out to them for a question I should ask you. They told me to ask about your shoe collection, and that on tour you wore a new pair of shoes at every show…
DW: Yeah… that’s sad but true (laughs).
And so what’s the size of this collection like?
DW: Ehhh um I don’t know. Don’t make me put a number on it (laughs). I don’t want to (laughs). It’s a lot. It’s a lot. It’s a lot of shoes. I don’t want to count them up. Nobody wants to count them up. It’s depressing, there is no reason to do it. There was a time in my life where I was going through a lot of stuff and the only thing that made me feel good was buying a pair of shoes. So I did that… about every fifteen minutes for a good stretch of two or three years there. So now I have all of these shoes and honestly I look at the shoes and go “what am I doing? What am I doing?” But I do like them very much. I was a kid that you know I loved basketball shoes and you know I still like them now unfortunately. But I am buying all my dream shoes that I wanted when I was a kid.
So I won’t ask for a number, but I will ask how you store them. I am always curious how shoe collectors store them. Where are they in your house? Is it to the point that you have separate rooms for them?
DW: I don’t store them in any way to organize or make any sense whatsoever. There’s like I have a whole closet in the upstairs area of my house that is filled with them and it is full. Then I have a whole bunch of Tupperware bins in the basement that are filled with shoes. Then I also have some Tupperware bins in an undisclosed storage locker. In my defense, I do give the shoes away. If people express interest in the shoes I will give the shoes away. I know that I don’t need this many shoes, I admit that I have a problem and am working towards bettering myself.
I was waiting to see. I knew if there was a storage locker it was at the level I was expecting.
DW: Yes it’s a real problem if there is a second location, that’s for sure.
You talked about giving some away, is there a favorite pair that you absolutely could not giveaway?
DW: Well I love Jordan 5’s a lot. Those are the shoes I wanted so bad when I was a kid and now I have many (laughs) many. But I do really like that kind.
I have a question I ask every interview. The answers I get are always surprising. I am always curious with musicians that perform on all sorts of stages if they first like karaoke? and if so, what their go-to song be?
DW: I do not like karaoke. Except in Toronto in Koreatown you can rent a room where you do karaoke alone privately with your friends and I will do karaoke within that environment and if I do, I like to do rap songs.
DW: Yeah we are just wrapping up the end of this tour, we’re at about halfway which it’s very long. It’s very long. But it’s going really well and it’s fun. I have this until November and then I have a few shows in Canada at the end of the year. I have a big show in Toronto in December. Then I am back into making songs. We have like four songs in the can now and those are kind of slowly coming out and then we just need to see what’s next. I think probably an EP next year too.
Well Donovan thank you for your time. I appreciate you and your lyrics and all that you put into your music. It is really great to listen to. Thank you again and great show last night.
DW: Well thank you. I really appreciate you and the time. Thanks for having me.