“Look at me. Fact or fiction, what do you see?” – Danny Wood
Please put any prejudice aside before entering: Danny Wood is a Kid no longer.
For one thing, he’s matured; for another, his new solo album, Second Face, is a soulful mix of R&B, pop, and alternative-tinged tunes that any serious musician would be glad to claim as their own. But getting a proper hearing hasn’t been easy when your past pedigree includes having been part of that 80s phenomenon, New Kids On The Block; it’s been more of a Stumbling Block.
Despite NKOTB’s achievements (record-breaking live show attendance and sales; superstardom on a global scale), the ‘manufactured boy band’ image continues to linger around the former members, which is a source of frustration for the talented Wood. “I will never complain about the ride and what I learned from it, but musically it definitely wasn’t what I wanted to be doing,” he says of that time. “The backlash was unbelievable, because we were basically shoved down America’s throat. It’s one thing when you cut a compromise, but it’s different when you’re forced to do things that you know are just not cool, and not what you really want to do.”
“There wasn’t any blueprint” for putting together super-groups like there is now, Wood adds. “We definitely opened doors. When we were coming up, you couldn’t find any white kids who could sing and dance like that; it was unheard of.” They came by that crossover style organically: “Me, Donny, Jordan and Jon all started school when busing began in Boston, and we were bused to all-black schools throughout high school. I was in the minority at school, and you had to be street, you had to be smart, get along with everyone and be likable, or you were going to be in a world of misery.”
And it also helps to think of being in NKOTB as the world’s highest-paid internship. “I learned all the basics for what I do now. I dove into learning the whole recording process – producing, writing, engineering – from day one. ‘What does this button do? What does that button do?’…It was the ultimate learning experience.”
Wood had more lessons in store before he could release this album, including the loss of his mother and an ultimately successful custody suit for his son. He began recording in 2000 with producer Pete Masitti (whose credits include the latest single by Hootie and the Blowfish and the new Julio Iglesias, Jr. album). Inspiration, songwriting and actually capturing the work all ran smoothly – but then Wood found his past blocking his future.
“I had been recording steadily since 2001,” he recalls, “but it was really hard to get someone to believe in it. Everyone loved the record; all along, I never got any negative feedback from major people in the business. But no one wanted to take that step and commit to me. Then Paul Klein (president and CEO of Empire Records) came along, in late September 2002. From note one of hearing the first bars of Home, he said, ‘I’ll put this out.’”
Another angel arrived in the form of Jimmy Ienner (Donnie’s brother and a legendary music figure in his own right, having worked with luminaries such as The Eagles and John Lennon). “We met several years ago, and he always remembered me,” Wood says. “I was nice to his kids. Once I started doing this record, we hooked up, and he started giving me really good criticism. He helped me make this record sound like it does. He told me, ‘I want to help you out, because you have the talent to make it; no other reason.’ He never asked for anything. He’s like my musical consigliere.”
“I don’t have to sell a million for this to be successful,” Wood sums up. “If I can make a living, then that’s all I care about.
“Any preconceived ideas, throw ‘em out the window. Musically, my past doesn’t have anything to do with this record. Give it a chance. Listen to the first song, and if that doesn’t hit you, I don’t know what will.
“This record has never been about dollars; it’s about being heard, it’s about respect, and ultimately, it’s about showing people that there’s more to me than what they think.”
If you never give Danny Wood and Second Face that chance, you’ll never know what you’re missing. So what are you waiting for?
Here, track by track, is Wood’s own take on Second Face:
Home: “It’s the first song and a pretty emotional one; if this doesn’t affect you, then I don’t know what to say. When my mom passed away — losing someone is always difficult and everyone deals with it differently, but sometimes we wallow in the ‘what-if’ and we forget what was so great about that person. I went through a lot of that. This helps keep that memory strong, and helps keep her with me. I actually took a lot of positive things away from her passing.”
When The Lights Go Out: “It’s a song about interracial relationships. It hit me really close to home, because my son is racially mixed, and the whole thing I went through with the custody suit – it definitely pertained. This song was one hundred percent relevant.”
Suburbia: “This is a song about how the suburbs can look so good but they tend to have the same problems there than in the city. You can’t judge a book by its cover! It’s a very powerful song.”
Broke Me Down: “It’s about bad relationships, and how a person can tear you down from the person you are and turn you into someone you’re not. And…I’d rather not be with you, than let that happen.”
Losing Myself: “That’s one of the only kind-of love songs on the album; it’s my message to my significant other.”
What If: “This is thee story of two people living on the street, and what they go through on a day-to-day basis.”
Goodbye: “That’s just about a relationship that didn’t work out, and you wished it had.”
Fall: “I don’t want to talk about what that’s about. That should be left up to people to interpret their own way. It’s definitely means different things to different people.”
Let It Go: “We tend to get caught up in our lives and let everything stress us out, and this is about how if we let those things go, life would be a lot more enjoyable.”
Get Away: “I think everyone can relate to this song, which is about dealing with the stress of everyday life. It can be anything, from someone raising their kids to working in a corporation. It’s just expressing that desire to get away from it all.”
Perfect: “People, when they first meet, sometimes look at each other and see everything they want in the other person. But then after time, it doesn’t turn out that way, and we have to learn that we’re not all perfect. And it also pertains to friendships; you have to learn how to accept people with their faults if you’re ever going to have relationships, whether it be friends or intimacy.”
Molly: “This is about someone I actually knew growing up and she ended up a stripper/prostitute. She was a beautiful girl. It was tough seeing someone grow up and have to have that kind of life.”
Wannabeme?: “I was sitting down one day thinking about past relationships; before the group and then being in the group, and how a lot of times I was pressured into having serious relationships that I didn’t want. So I lumped all those scenarios together in that song, which is something I think most people can relate to – even females going to meet the boyfriend’s parents, and all that – always being judged.”
Second Face: “I wrote this before my mom passed away, and while I was going through the custody suit. It was the first song I wrote for this record. When I moved down to Florida, I found out who all my friends were. People, man – it’s such a cliché, but when you’re on top, everyone loves you. And when you ain’t on TV no more, or doing favors for them, or living around the corner where they can come and ask for money, people forget about you in the snap of a finger. That’s what this song is all about. And it’s true.”
Where You Are: “Trying to find that middle ground, trying to come together and work out all the difficulties in a relationship.”
Now: “When a relationship is on the brink: do we walk away? Do we stay together? When things are either going to be over, or someone’s going to have to bend somewhere.”
My Way: “For me, kind of my message to whoever is going to hear this. A lot of this record also came out of the frustration of past groups I’d worked with, or companies I worked for, or situations I was in – always helping people out and doing favors, and never getting anything out of it. This kind of says, ‘I’m not going to do that any more.’ I was producing groups and they were getting deals off my demos and then cutting me out of the album itself. It was not pleasant.”
You’re Not Alone: “That’s to my kids, for when I’m away. I always tell them you can put that on and listen to it and I’ll be right there with them.”