On what if it was great?, the self-starting singer and producer breaks new creative ground
smART MAGAZINE | TORONTO | HOMEGROWN
JUL 05, 2023 | ISSUE 12
In 2022, elijah woods made the decision to pack up and leave Ottawa, the city where he launched his career. The singer and multi-instrumentalist bid farewell to the large basement studio where he had written, produced, recorded, and mixed his 2021 EP look what I did, downsizing to a smaller studio in Toronto. This new space served as the home base for what if it was great?, woods’ second EP, out now.
In 2018, woods skyrocketed into the spotlight after winning the Canadian music reality show The Launch as one-half of the electropop duo Elijah Woods x Jamie Fine. The group’s blend of pop, R&B, and electronic elements caught the attention of record executive Scott Borchetta, who signed them to his label Big Machine and executive produced their debut EP 8:47. Their song “Ain’t Easy,” co-written by Camilla Cabello and Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic, was certified platinum later that year.
Since going solo in 2020, woods has balanced meeting fan expectations with establishing a musical identity separate from his collaborative work with Fine. He has slowly inched away from the pulsing R&B-inspired beats and soaring choruses of his earlier production, opting instead for simpler and more atmospheric instrumentation. what if it was great? is moodier than wood’s earlier work, a lyrics-forward collection of confessional songs focused largely on big loves and ill-fated relationships. The production is more restrained than his first EP, and the vocals lack the grittiness that characterized his collaboration with Fine, though the anthemic climaxes are still there. Songs like “make believe” with its surprising use of breakbeat and vocal modulation, and “easier said” also flirt with experimentation, making this EP stand out from prior releases.
woods has described the creative process for this EP as “a journey inward.” With his relocation to a smaller studio in a new city and his experimentation with new sounds on the EP, the characterization makes sense. But that doesn’t mean the EP is an exercise in unrestrained creativity. As woods has stepped away from the mainstream spotlight he once shared with Fine, he has found a devoted following online, with millions of viewers regularly tuning into his videos on TikTok. what if it was great? is a streaming-friendly release crafted with these listeners in mind, a step away from woods’ previous output, while still maintaining the pop sensibilities of his career so far.
what if it was good Album Cover
what if it was great?
sM | what if it was great? has an altogether more robust sound than look what i made - the EP you recorded during the pandemic - what did you want to explore lyrically and sonically in this latest release?
ew ─ I've been making music for as long as I can remember. Getting started in dance music, the messaging was always me plus another person, me making somebody else sound good. My first EP was the first time that I got the chance to say: here's my story, here's what I've been through, here's how I see things. look what i made was about me being a solo act. Now, I’ve found my stride in terms of being able to voice my opinions in a unique way, so this new EP gave me the permission to focus more on my lyrics and the music.
ON THE LOW
sM | Your album title, song titles, and your name are all stylized in lower case, what inspires this?
ew ─ I read this article on what lowercase and a lack of punctuation means, and how it's a nod to anybody doing what they want. You write it how you write it, you play it how you play it, you sing it how you sing it, and that's just the way it is.
sM | Who are some of your musical influences?
ew ─ It changes all the time. When I first started, it was very much about what I could sing on a technical level. For this EP, the inspiration was a lot of textural, lyrical singers, people like JP Saxe, Fleetwood Mac, Cindy Lauper. This is hilarious, but also Nickelback and Dan + Shay.
sM | You write, sing, perform, and produce all of your music─where does this drive to go after it come from?
ew ─ I think ultimately it came from a place of never wanting to work a normal job. I never wanted to have to live by anybody else's schedule. If I like doing something, whether it's getting into cameras or learning how to press vinyl onto t-shirts, I just like doing that for me. It's the mastery of something that’s the most exciting part. But the cool thing with music is that you can't get good at it, that's exactly what's so exciting about music for me. I can feel the energy of what lyric makes a great verse, and then how that verse makes a great chorus. That chorus leads to this incredible bridge, which leads to this incredible song, and that gives me the idea for a piece of content. I am trying to fit these jigsaw pieces together and they're constantly changing. I like that.
sM | Do you consider yourself a Canadian musician?
ew ─ I grew up here and I have so many Canadian influences that I think it's impossible not to consider myself a Canadian musician. But, it was really taboo to be Canadian when I was coming up as an artist. Nickelback was one of the only bands to actually take that specific sound from Canada and export it. They took the best pieces of Canadian rock music and turned it into Americana. I think that's what great Canadian artists do. Justin Bieber, Tate McCrae, The Weekend, Drake, they're all number one artists, period. We own the charts right now.
MIDDLE OF SOMEWHERE
sM | What advice do you have for other people in small Canadian towns looking to get creative?
ew ─ My advice to everyone is that the only reason something is unique is because you put your filter on it. As soon as you try to be somebody else, it doesn't work. The only unique perspective you can have is your own. The fact that you're from Alberta means that you have a unique perspective that someone from Toronto isn't going to have. I'm a transplant here. I live right in downtown Toronto but I'm from a small town of 6,000 people. The reason why I have this perspective on life is because I had that experience of growing up in a small town. It's about allowing the world to filter through you. I think we're just vessels. I think we are just regurgitating and refracting information, we never create anything unique ourselves.
A piece of advice that is specifically for artists: keep ownership of your masters. Do not assign your masters to a record label, period. It's a crooked industry and everyone will tell you to sell your shit, but why would you make art, sell it for a fraction of what it's worth, and then not collect on it? It doesn't make sense.
sM | With 1.2 million followers on TikTok, and an equally impressive level of attention on Instagram and other platforms─how does this translate to IRL experience and sharing music with fans in a venue?
ew ─ I think it's been really strange the last couple years because the numbers have been so ridiculous. I look at that TikTok number and I think it's absolutely insane that 40 million people have streamed this song. I've never met 40 million people. There's no reason why you should be listening to this music, but the fact is, people actually are, and that blows my mind.
Not to belittle social media or anything, but when people actually show up for our performances, I get to engage with them. I get to steal their energy and I get to see them crying at lyrics that I wrote in my basement. That human part of it is so different from the experience on social media because social media is very short-lived. That video did well, this is having a moment, this is going viral, this song has X amount of streams. I'm so grateful for that. I said from day one that I'll always be a streaming artist. That is my goal. But the feeling of a song getting 10 million streams versus a song being sung back to you by 20,000 people, it doesn't equate. It's not even remotely the same thing.