Embracing Vulnerability and Renewal: An Interview with Donovan Woods

Donovan Woods has always had a knack for storytelling through his music, but his latest album, “Things Were Never Good If They’re Not Good Now,” takes this to a new level of personal reflection and emotional depth. Known for his poignant lyrics and heartfelt melodies, Woods opens up about the inspiration behind this evocative title, which stems from a therapeutic exercise designed to help him express his feelings more openly. The album encapsulates a profound journey of introspection, self-discovery, and emotional honesty.

In this interview, Woods delves into what it means to bid farewell to an unsustainable way of living, likening the album to a “funeral” for his past self. He shares insights into his transformative year, marked by a mid-life crisis that led to a deep personal and professional rebirth. Through collaboration with notable songwriters like Lori McKenna, Matt Nathanson, and Amy Wadge, Woods explores the intricacies of human psychology and behaviour, themes that resonate throughout his latest work.

From the warmth of friendships captured in the duet “When Our Friends Come Over” with Madi Diaz to the heart-wrenching nostalgia of “Back For The Funeral,” written with McKenna and Nathanson, Woods discusses the creative processes and personal experiences that shaped these songs. He also reflects on how his songwriting approach adapts whether he’s working solo or with others, always striving to communicate the clearest, most engaging version of an idea.

Join us as Donovan Woods opens up about his most vulnerable and self-reflective album yet, the lessons he’s learned throughout his career, and the exciting future projects that lie ahead. Whether performing live or crafting new music, Woods continues to evolve, embracing challenges and the profound beauty of human emotions in his art.

“Things Were Never Good If They’re Not Good Now” seems to delve deep into personal reflections and the complexities of life. What inspired the title of the album, and how does it encapsulate the themes within?

The title of the album is inspired by a therapeutic exercise that I practice. It involves openly declaring my feelings, especially when I’m enjoying something. Phrases like “I’m having a nice time” or “This is great!” help me express my positive emotions. The specific line “Buddy, things were never good if they’re not good now!” serves as a reminder to live in the moment and acknowledge my feelings as they are. This exercise is part of my journey towards being more open and communicative about my emotions, both positive and negative. The album reflects this journey, embodying the raw, honest exploration of my emotional landscape.

Can you elaborate on the concept of the album being “a funeral to the life I was living”? What does this signify in terms of your personal and professional journey?

Over the past year, I experienced what could be called a mid-life crisis. I came to the realization that the way I was living was unsustainable. This led to a period of deep introspection and rebuilding, where I stripped my life down to its core and started anew. The album signifies this process of letting go of my past ways and the emotional burdens I carried. It’s a representation of confronting long-held shame, dismantling coping mechanisms, and working towards a healthier, more authentic way of living. Professionally, it marks a shift towards greater vulnerability and honesty in my music.

You collaborated with several notable songwriters on this album, including Lori McKenna, Matt Nathanson, and Amy Wadge. How did these collaborations come about, and what was it like working with them?

Collaborations often stem from mutual admiration or through introductions by music publishers. I write with other songwriters almost daily, whether it’s for my own projects or for others. Lori, Matt, and Amy are all incredible songwriters and performers whose work I deeply respect. Working with them is always thrilling because it allows me to glimpse into their creative processes. Each collaboration is a learning experience, helping me grow as a songwriter by observing their unique approaches and perspectives.

The duet “When Our Friends Come Over” with Madi Diaz has been highlighted. Can you tell us more about this song and your experience working with Madi?

Madi and I wrote “When Our Friends Come Over” on the day we met in person in Nashville. We had previously collaborated over Zoom on a song called “Don’t Make Me Go Back To The City,” which I still cherish. The idea behind “When Our Friends Come Over” was to capture the warmth and comfort of having couple-friends over when you’re in a relationship. Seeing other couples navigate similar challenges can make you appreciate your own partnership more. Madi’s unique vocal delivery adds a special ache and depth to the song, making it a truly inspiring collaboration.

“Back For The Funeral” is described as one of the most heart-wrenching songs on the album. Can you share the story behind this song and what it was like to write it with Lori McKenna and Matt Nathanson?

“Back For The Funeral” encapsulates a universal experience of returning to one’s hometown under somber circumstances. While it’s not a direct recounting of my own life, it reflects emotions and scenarios familiar to many, including myself. Lori, Matt, and I wrote this song during a period when we were regularly collaborating. The song came together quickly because we were all in sync with the theme and emotions we wanted to convey. It was originally meant for a joint project that didn’t pan out, but it found a fitting place on this album.

How does your approach to songwriting differ when you’re working alone versus co-writing with others?

The core goal remains the same: to create the clearest and most engaging version of the idea we’re trying to communicate. Whether I’m writing alone or with others, I focus on capturing the essence of the concept. Collaborating with other songwriters, however, brings fresh perspectives and techniques that can enhance and expand the creative process.

The press release mentions that this album is perhaps your most open and self-reflective. What prompted this level of vulnerability, and how has it affected you personally?

The past year, marked by personal turmoil and growth, pushed me towards a deeper level of vulnerability. The tumultuous experiences I faced naturally led to a rawness in my songwriting. Articulating my thoughts and emotions through music has been therapeutic, helping me process and move past difficult experiences. It’s like capturing the essence of a moment in a photograph, allowing me to move forward with a sense of closure and understanding.

You’ve mentioned the psychology of people’s actions fascinates you. How does this interest influence your songwriting, particularly on this album?

I’m endlessly intrigued by human behaviour and the often irrational ways we act. Music offers a unique platform to explore and describe these complex emotions and actions. This album delves into the intricacies of human psychology, reflecting my fascination with the surprising and backward ways we navigate life.

In “Back For The Funeral,” you touch on the bittersweet nature of returning to one’s hometown. How do your personal experiences inform your portrayal of these themes in your music?

Returning to one’s hometown carries a mix of nostalgia and bittersweet emotions. I’ve experienced this pull of the familiar, often imagining what it would be like to live there again, despite knowing it’s not entirely rational. These personal reflections inform the themes in my music, providing a genuine and relatable portrayal of such experiences.

You’ve built a devoted following over your career. How do you feel your music and storytelling have evolved from your previous albums to this one?

I strive to become a better writer with each project, though it’s hard to objectively gauge one’s own growth. Feedback from listeners varies, but I focus on continuing the journey and improving my craft. This album represents a significant evolution in my storytelling, marked by increased vulnerability and a deeper exploration of personal themes.

What are some of the key lessons you’ve learned in your career that have influenced the creation of “Things Were Never Good If They’re Not Good Now”?

One crucial lesson is the importance of trusting and collaborating with talented people. Allowing others to bring their strengths to the project enhances the overall creative process and outcome.

You’re currently touring with Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors and have upcoming dates in Australia and North America. How has performing live influenced your music, especially these new songs?

Performing live has influenced my music by highlighting the importance of filling the space and creating an impactful experience for the audience. However, I’m now focusing on making records without overthinking their live performance potential. Even small, intimate songs can feel significant in a live setting, presenting a rewarding challenge.

What can fans expect from your live shows in support of this new album? Are there any particular songs you’re excited to perform live?

I’m particularly excited to perform “Back For The Funeral” live. It promises to be a poignant and memorable experience for both the audience and myself.

After this album, what are your plans for future projects? Are there any new musical directions or collaborations you’re interested in exploring?

I’m already well into the next album. I’m excited by the resurgence of folk music and the appreciation for lyric-driven songs. This aligns well with my style, and I’m eager to continue exploring and contributing to this musical landscape.

How do you see your music evolving in the next few years? Are there any themes or concepts you’re eager to explore in future work?

I want to work on singing with more power and intensity, like Chris Stapleton. Exploring the full potential of my vocal range and expression is a challenge I’m excited to tackle in my future work.

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