Different Flavours: Roy Woods Is Shaking Up The R&B Recipe

Toronto artist on his emphatic return, building his new album, and his love for the UK...

Gone are the days when going on SoundCloud – back in the early to mid-2010s – meant looking for artists considered as ‘hidden gems’ or discovering a funky version of your favourite track made by a kid in their bedroom on the other side of the world. Don’t get me wrong it still happens, but it will never hit the same. Coming up in that era of music was a time that you’ll never forget. One of those artists was Roy Woods; now an international name who’s reputable for sculpting a sound of his own. Often paired with the word “underrated” – cue the eye rolls – the Canadian native is gearing up for the release of his highly anticipated album, ‘Mixed Emotions’.

Journeying back to the release of his ‘Exis’ EP in 2015 – a project that houses one of his best-known songs, soulful masterwork ‘Drama’ – Roy Woods curved the lines of R&B with his distinct tone and created something timeless. It’s a project will transport you right back to the time you first listened to it, and believe me that’s not easy to do. Building a cult-like following, the OVO signee has recently returned with his latest twist on love, ‘Don’t Love Me’. 

Clash got the chance to catch up with Roy Woods via Zoom for a catch-up on all things music, the truth behind his break, and his forthcoming album. Tap in below to see what he had to say.

Take me back the beginning: I know you originally played football before getting into music. How did this transition come about? 

So, when I started singing, I was around nine to 10 years old in school. I was getting into groups that only females were in. I was playing American football a lot and that was my main thing at the time, until I turned 15 or 16 and that’s when people encouraged me to start singing. I started going to different studios and ended up with a small set-up in my bedroom at my mom’s house and it took off from there. 

Everyone was trying to be a baller, but I thought, if this football thing doesn’t work out then I always have music. If the music didn’t work out, I still wanted to go to school for psychology and culinary. I had a lot of options on my plate, but I wanted to do what I wanted first and luckily it worked out! I used to engineer myself and I had a little rap group and learned how to produce, write, and DJ a little bit. I was trying to do it all when I first started. 

When I got a bit older – around 17, 18 – I ran away from home. I didn’t look back! I moved from my city to another one. My mom wanted me to live with my dad so he would pick me up and drive home from Scarborough to the airport, take a bus from there to get to the mall, to then take another bus to get to school… 

That’s a lot!

Sometimes I would be downtown after school and stay with my girlfriend at the time and that’s when I started to take music more seriously. That’s where my management found me. I signed to OVO a year later! 

OK so talk me through the process of getting signed to OVO. How did this come about? 

I had music out already on SoundCloud but ended up taking some of those down prior to me moving downtown after I left my dad. I was making music all the time. I had maybe three or four singles out on SoundCloud and then Oliver [El-Khatib, co-founder of OVO] picked up one of them and hit me up through Instagram asking to connect. I emailed him over a lot of music which included what would have been the first version of ‘Exis’, it was a completely different tape. Oliver did his thing and made it what it is today. 

How did it feel getting signed at that age back then? Music has obviously changed a lot since then. Was it overwhelming or were you almost ignorant about it? 

I wish I had that approach! (laughs) I didn’t really know what was going on, it was a very surreal. I ran away from home, I didn’t talk to anyone and a year later I am signed to Drake! I was living in my own bubble, no one was really hitting me up. It was never “I’m the shit” or “I don’t deserve to be here” it was more like “How did I get here and why am I here so fast?” I was thinking in my head “Oh, maybe I’ll make it when I’m 26…” I’m 26 right now! All I was thinking was, now I have this opportunity I am not going to let it go. All I did was party and work, it didn’t throw me off because I loved to make music. I was always in the studio cooking up new albums and songs and just vibing. It was normal to me, it felt like home. 

You’ve just spoken about your work ethic, but you also took a five-year hiatus. In that time to slow down, amidst the pandemic and everything else, do you think your approach to music has changed? 

For sure! My approach to my own life is different now. I have always told people that my music reflects my life so anything I am dropping in that time is how I am feeling. I came from an innocent and vulnerable place when I first started dropping music. A lot of people tell me they have been listening to me since middle school or high school – that blows my mind because I was always into Drake from that age, so it’s like a mind fuck! But it also lets me know that people have been taking me in for a very long time and I never realised it.

Now I come from a very mature place, not just from COVID but with what I have been experiencing in life. It was such a toxic situation before, so I’ve made it more wholesome. Everything since then has been way better! Every box is being checked. I’m being a lot more hands-on instead of letting other people run the show, I know what I want, what I want to say, and how I want to approach songs. I don’t want to give the same song all the time, I want to give people different flavours. I am an artist who is very versatile. 

How do you feel about being called “underrated” – I know the word is thrown around a lot. I can imagine it being quite frustrating at times considering how long you have been making music. 

Yeah! I don’t pay it no mind at all. I am very glad to have the fanbase that I do, they still went on to support me even when I wasn’t dropping for so long. They kept me alive! I was going through so much more than they know, I love them to the death. I don’t look at it any other way! 

Talk to me about your latest single ‘Don’t Love Me’. It’s giving toxic king vibes! (laughs) What was the thought process when going into make this track?

This song I really wanted to paint a picture of what I am dealing with right now. It’s different to any other situation I have been in. The music I dropped before was coming from a place of needing love so hearing this single is kinda weird. I have tried let people love me as the person that I am right now, you can be the good girl or the bad girl, it’s hard to understand what goes on over here especially as someone who isn’t in the industry. It’s just not going to work! (laughs) It sucks though because feelings get hurt in the process. I hate that I have to say these things, but I can’t keep going through a process where I already know the answer! I would rather just be straight up; I don’t want to hurt anyone. I would rather me be hurt; I would rather take the pain because I have been through so much it’s not worth it. 

Look at you being the knight the shining armour taking the pain! (laughs) 

I don’t like the drama! (laughs) I don’t like the fights and arguments! You can end up hurting the people you miss the most and that’s why I hate it. Out of everybody, why do I miss you?! 

What about the visuals, how hands-on were you with these?

I was a little bit hands-on. The director she came through the treatment, and I was happy with it. It wasn’t too much and was simple! It’s a very classic R&B video, I think it showed what it needed to. 

We just needed you dancing in the rain, then you would’ve nailed it! 

It’s coming soon! I’ve got the album for that (laughs) 

Speaking of the album. The project on everyone’s lips! What can we expect from that? I heard you went to the Bahamas with Drake to work on it… 

It’s done! It’s fire and I love it. I have a song with 40 [Noah James Shebib] on the album, this will be our first record together and I am excited for the fans to hear what that will sound like. If you think ‘Don’t Love Me’ is toxic –  

Oh no… 

It’s definitely on the spectrum! (laughs) I have a couple of female features on the album so it’s very exciting! It’s more R&B rather than anything, but in different variations. 

Talk me through your creative process? What’s the secret to the sauce… 

The secret to the sauce? You’re killing me! (laughs) I taught myself how to write which I used to do a lot and just freestyle. Whereas now, I just mumble melodies… there may not intentionally be any words but it’s just to find the melody. Sometimes the word can spark the entire record which is fun and can allow you to really get creative. You use your imagination a lot! 

Putting the music aside, what do you like doing for fun? 

I play a lot of video games and shit – 

I knew you were going to say that! 

I mean sometimes but not as much anymore! (laughs) It’s either anime, or maybe I will watch a show. I’m currently watching Power right now, I never watched it. 

You’ve never watched Power… oh my goodness?! 

No wait! I’ve finished it all, I’m waiting for Tariq’s new season! (laughs) I like being in the outdoors and in nature. I try to do that as much as I can, you know, going for walks in the park. Feeding the little birds and shit… (laughs)

What else can we expect to see from you this year? 

I am really trying to come back to the UK it’s been too long! I remember when I first came to the UK, I had a show and I bought Nines out. Shout out Nines! That was a movie. I’m trying to do another movie! (laughs) The UK is the only place that is like Toronto! 

Everybody says that! 

The culture is very similar. The only other place that is similar to Toronto is New York. We kinda talk the same to the people in the UK, the same kind of diversity. I have always had a soft spot for it. But firstly, I am trying to drop the album, doing shows, I am going to be everywhere! 

You’re outside! You’re active! 

I’m OUTSIDE! Don’t play with me. I am going crazy this year! (laughs) 

Words: Elle Evans // @elleevans98

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