Happiness Isn't In An Audience: An Interview with Will Wood

by - January 17, 2023

Trying to differentiate between Will Wood the artist and Will Wood the human has been a thought-provoking journey.

Wood has been fairly open about his comfortability in the spotlight and the highs and lows of his mental wellbeing. He has spoken about his bipolar disorder diagnosis, his struggles with addiction and has worked alongside various mental health charities.

“I don’t know if my public openness made as much of a difference as just being honest with myself has,” he said.

Being honest with himself has brought him to a difficult decision: His latest album, In Case I Die, will be his final release.

It started with an album he was planning on naming In Case I Die, because “I was considering dying and wanted to say some stuff before I left, but then I changed the name on a sorta bipolar upswing.” That album ended up being called “In case I make it,” and while it went in a different direction than originally intended, it didn’t end up telling the story he thought it would.

“I told that story while I was still on it, and now some people think it’s my ‘I feel better now’ album instead of my ‘goodbye cruel world’ one. It gave people the impression that the experimenting in genre I’ve done throughout my career could be tied to changes in my mental health, and that my latest record being mostly softer was me finally healthy instead of me at the most depressed I’ve ever been, and just a weird sort of meta-commentary on my older work through the lens that says mental illness sounds like evil jazz and wellness sounds like acoustic guitar. Really bums me out on a lot of levels. So I wanted to sort of reiterate some of the thoughts and feelings from the songs in a more stripped down and kind of aggressively direct way. Present something that included the songs from throughout my career that I feel represent the most, with a focus on those ‘goodbye cruel world’ songs so I could really say what I would want to say if I were to die. I’m not going to die though. I’m really excited for what my life might become.”

In Case I Die is comprised of 20 songs, performed live in venues across the country. Wood said that the biggest challenge was returning to the stage for the first time since venues shut down due to the pandemic. Not only was that intimidating, but he was also performing to a larger, brand-new audience that found him after a viral hit online.

“The first of the two tours we recorded was especially difficult because of this,” Wood said. “People came expecting a rock ‘n’ roll drag show instead of anti-folk and standup with a dramatic element and so I had to sort of re-learn how to do what I do, and fast. Once I learned to handle the hecklers, made the parents leave their kids at home (sorry kiddos, had to be done; too many of you were too disruptive, and honestly my show’s not age-appropriate) and really figure out what it was my audience and I had in common (which I think turned out to be something deep and essential), it was incredibly rewarding.”

He is not afraid to admit that the urge to write songs has been turned off for quite some time. Thinking about “Will Wood” as a project instead of an identity has been helpful, but he knows he will need some time to work out his “inner songwriter” identity.

He believes that he needs to put up a boundary between his work self and his real self; reconnect with important people in his life, travel without a gig being the destination, change the subject if his career as a performer is brought up.

“It’s hard to set a dream aside for a while, because it’s hard to come to terms with the fact that your dream is never going to be as you dreamt it; that maybe you made unnecessary personal sacrifices or had been naïve,” he said. “I’m not saying I think I made a bad choice or that I regret it all, but I’ve had to ask myself some tough questions and answer them honestly to come to the conclusion that happiness isn’t in an audience, on a stage or even in your proudest creative work; it’s at home. We all know happiness comes from within or whatever, but it’s such a bitch to learn it firsthand, because all you want to do is keep pursuing it the fun way, even if it’s ultimately a waste.”

Wood hopes that listeners find something in the live album that helps them feel less alone, and maybe a little more human. That has been an important part of healing for him, and he’s happy to say that music has helped him heal. But for now, he wants to find Will Wood the human again.

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