April 21, 2019

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Sad songs say so much

Songwriter finds success in Nashville with heartfelt compositions

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/2/2016 (1158 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It’s not uncommon for Donovan Woods to make his fans cry… and then cry with laughter a few moments later.

The Sarnia, Ont.-born singer-songwriter has a penchant for penning some of the most heartbreaking songs you’ll ever hear, but his self-deprecating humour, candid stories and razor-sharp wit create an oddly endearing balance.

“Part of me feels self-conscious about how sad all the music is and that’s how it comes across, and part of it is that I love people like that,” he says of his banter between songs. “I love a guy like Loudon Wainright; he’s really funny in between songs. The songs are pretty dour, but he’s really funny, kind of acerbic and kind of irreverent... 

“I have always just thought things were sad. A good example would be parenting. When you have kids, you’re just an open wound for the rest of your life. You really are just so vulnerable to being just brought to tears thinking about them and that they will be alone sometime in the world. Even just saying that I could feel weight in my eyes.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/2/2016 (1158 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It’s not uncommon for Donovan Woods to make his fans cry… and then cry with laughter a few moments later.

The Sarnia, Ont.-born singer-songwriter has a penchant for penning some of the most heartbreaking songs you’ll ever hear, but his self-deprecating humour, candid stories and razor-sharp wit create an oddly endearing balance.

Supplied</p><p>Donovan Woods</p><p>

Supplied

Donovan Woods

"Part of me feels self-conscious about how sad all the music is and that’s how it comes across, and part of it is that I love people like that," he says of his banter between songs. "I love a guy like Loudon Wainright; he’s really funny in between songs. The songs are pretty dour, but he’s really funny, kind of acerbic and kind of irreverent... 

"I have always just thought things were sad. A good example would be parenting. When you have kids, you’re just an open wound for the rest of your life. You really are just so vulnerable to being just brought to tears thinking about them and that they will be alone sometime in the world. Even just saying that I could feel weight in my eyes.

"That’s where the emotional tumult of life is.  I think the way you get away from that is by having some kind of catharsis through sad songs. You can look at those things, briefly, in a sad song and feel emotional about it, and feel relieved afterwards that you just get to go do something normal. I see the value of them."

Woods, who opens for blues-rocker Matt Andersen at the Burton Cummings Theatre Feb. 26, is preparing to release his fourth full-length album, Hard Settle, Ain’t Troubled, a record full of more of those sad songs, but one that also showcases his chops as a songwriter and storyteller. Woods has a way of using lyrics to flawlessly inject modernity into otherwise classically structured folk songs — not many writers could credibly title a song I Saw on Facebook That Mike Proposed, or pen an entire tune about how our phones provide us with too many opportunities to be jealous, as he does on his new single On the Nights You Stay Home, but the emotions he develops are so heavy, it’s impossible not to take them as purely sincere.

"You can be happy in a relationship while also hating it; you can hate something while also loving it, and those thoughts and feelings can be present simultaneously and they can both be true. Something in your life can be a positive and negative change at the same time, and that’s OK — you can be all right with it. It’s possible for two opposite things to be true," he says.

Woods, who released his debut album The Hold Up in 2009, lets out a gruff chuckle when he hears he’s often given the moniker "Canada’s best-kept secret" — a title that may have something to do with the fact he’s been writing songs with and for some heavy hitters in the country-music world during the past few years, including Charles Kelley of the Grammy-winning band Lady Antebellum and superstar Tim McGraw.

Despite his increasing success and undeniable talent, the humble Woods doesn’t take any of the praise he’s been getting for granted.

"Anybody talking about you is probably fine," he says, laughing. "When people talk about you, it’s like, ‘At least anybody cares about what I’m doing with my day.’ A lot of people make music and nobody listens to it.

"The funniest one that I get, and I think it’s meant as a compliment, but people write to me on Twitter and say, ‘How are you not more famous?’ I think it’s kinda funny. I always want to write back and say, ‘Looks, maybe? There’s some barrier, but if you have any ideas let me know.’

"I’m just happy that anybody gives a crap about me at all."

erin.lebar@freepress.mb.caTwitter: @NireRabel

Erin Lebar

Erin Lebar
Multimedia producer

Erin Lebar is a multimedia producer who spends most of her time writing music- and culture-related stories for the Arts & Life section. She also co-hosts the Winnipeg Free Press's weekly pop-culture podcast, Bury the Lede.

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