Just a short decade ago, Danny Wood was riding high as one fifth of the hottest band in the world—New Kids on the Block. Alongside childhood pals Donnie Wahlberg, Joe McIntyre and brothers Jordan and Jonathan Knight, Danny experienced major success after major success with hit singles, world tours, music awards, money, fame and girls, girls, girls. For a while there, it was impossible to escape Danny and his pals, who created havoc wherever they went, usually in the form of screaming teens clamoring for a piece of the super-hot, super-cool, super-rich Kids.
But the good fortune wasn’t to last. Fickle audiences soon lost interest, denouncing the New Kids’ brand of fuzzy pop, and before they guys knew it, fashion staples like peace signs and fluorescent suspenders had been replaced by torn shirts and unwashed hair as a whole other genre crept into the mainstream. In half the time it took the New Kids to rise to the top of the charts, they became obsolete.
The years since they ruled the airwaves, however, have been relatively good to the New Kids on the Block, with Donnie shifting gears making his name as an actor, and Joe and Jordan experiencing reasonable success as solo artists (Joe’s 1998 Stay the Same album was, in my opinion, one of the best pop releases of the ‘90s). Now, after a short-lived career producing other acts with little success, it’s Danny’s turn to try his hand at reclaiming the spotlight.
Second Face introduces audience to a very different Danny Wood. From the get-go, it’s obvious the singer has worked hard at developing and fine-tuning his sound and his writing. The result is heartfelt and mature, and while still firmly planted in the pop genre, it demonstrates Danny’s ear for melody and timing. Quite removed from the baby-I’m-a-want-you style of his former group, Second Face chronicles the singer’s life prior to and following his success in New Kids on the Block. Sure, there’s a love ode or two splattered throughout, but the album is mostly concerned with the self-exploration of its creator with Danny tackling everything from the death of his mother to interracial relationships to the horrors of suburban living. And he does it all with a sense of humor, and, more importantly, a keen awareness of the peace-sign flashing, baggy-pants wearing, Pepsi-shilling chip resting firmly on his shoulder.
Danny Wood spoke candidly to PopMatters about his past, his future and the release of Second Face.
PM: What kind of reaction are you expecting from people towards Second Face? What’s your main objective?
DW: I don’t think people are expecting much. I wasn’t the lead singer of [New Kids on the Block], I wasn’t out the front at all and I wasn’t involved in any of the controversies, so, for me, that’s what’s cool—people aren’t expecting much and they’ll hopefully be surprised.
I’m just aiming to be able to make another record. I don’t exactly know what that means; it’s basically just hoping I can make a living off this. I wasted too many years doing favors for people and trying to produce other groups and it didn’t work out for me. This is the first time I have focused on myself and things are really starting to happen for me.
PM: Do you feel as though you have something to prove, to both past and future audiences?
DW: Definitely. Just coming from the New Kids. I’m not going to say [we were] manufactured, but we did have a producer who wrote most of the songs and there was a big marketing campaign behind us. New Kids was shoved down people’s throats for so many years, so I knew that if I wanted to be taken seriously as an artist I had to make a record that proves I can be an artist.
PM: Do you think your past experience in the industry—successes and failures—gives you a head start this time around, in that you are prepared for whatever happens with this record?
DW: Sometimes is does and sometimes it doesn’t. Anywhere else in the world, it’s not like New Kids were this pop novelty thing, but here in America that’s what we were considered. Around the world, I don’t think [being an ex-New Kid] is that much of an issue—we were kind of seen [outside America] as being more true to our image, that of five street kids fom Boston basically coming from nothing. In America, though, we were supposedly these clean-cut “say no to drugs” guys, which was played up so much. So, there’s a lot of negativity—but once people hear the record all the negatives turn into positives. It’s a matter of getting people to listen to the record.
PM: What did you, as somewhat of a boy band pioneer, think of the boy band resurgence in 1997 when the likes of the Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC began having major hits?
DW: Everything goes in cycles in the music industry. In five or six years, there’ll probably be a bunch of new boy bands. I’m happy now that the industry is getting back to embracing singer/songwriters—that’s better for me and that’s what I do.
PM: Do you feel like your career is beginning all over again?
DW: Not really, because I’m older now and back then I went in blind. We had no idea what to expect and we didn’t know anything about the business. Now, I’m checking contracts, making sure no-one’s trying to jerk me around—people can’t mess with me this time. I’ve definitely made sure to surround myself with friends who are going to protect me. And, it’s my own music this time, so it’s very different.
A lot of what’s on the record reflects what I have been through in my life before and since the New Kids. I know anyone who used to buy New Kids records is not listening to that kind of music anymore—I had that in my mind as well. Basically, I just started sitting down with the guitar and writing songs. That’s where the record went.
PM: Do you view Second Face as a comeback record?
DW: I kind of equate it with Robbie Williams [formerly of British boy band, Take That]—what he’s doing. I look at him and I hope I can have one tenth of the success he’s had. It’s the same deal; you have to alter people’s perceptions.
PM: What are the major differences between British and American pop groups?
DW: The quality of what pop bands produce over there compared to *NSYNC and the like—it’s a little different. Over there you can be a little more straightforward and clean-cut, but here in America you need to have some kind of coolness, or edge. Over there the boy bands are still having hits all over the place, and that’s the good thing about the rest of the world—they’re less judgmental than we are here in America. They take the music for what it is.
PM: Do you think the rest of the world sees through the clean-cut facade?
DW: I think everybody sees through it. I think with the world the way it is right now, people just want to hear something real. Music changes constantly and I think it’s leaning more towards that, especially in the pop/rock genre—people want something real.
PM: How did you guys all manage to land on your feet—Jordan and Joe with their respective music careers, Donnie with his acting career—when you so easily could have disappeared into oblivion?
DW: I think it has a lot to do with family, and the fact that we are all very determined guys. Joe, Donnie and I were always determined and felt as though we were going to do our own things regardless of what happened with the New Kids. Donnie has been acting for a lot of years now, and people are starting to recognize him [primarily] as an actor.
PM: You get a kick out of seeing each other succeed?
DW: Oh yeah. I watch Donnie’s show every week and check out Joe’s music.
PM: Do you ever get nostalgic? Ever throw on the old videos?
DW: No. Donnie and I sometimes get together and talk about it, but we were famous at a time when the fashion was the worst, and the music and the style of production was not that great. To watch it—I cringe. Not at everything, but at a lot of it. I only watch it if I have to.
PM: What was it like producing other acts? You’re quoted back in 1992 as saying you’re dream was to see other acts achieve what you had achieved—did that happen?
DW: It was very disappointing for me. It wasn’t anyone’s fault, but after the group, I got a couple of other groups signed to major label deals and stuff never came out. It was very disappointing. I worked for Lou Pearlman’s company (Trans Continental Records, responsible for the Backstreet Boys, O-Town and *NSYNC), which didn’t really work out. I produced a lot of the demos for the bands and when they got deals, I would get cut out of doing songs on the album. It got very frustrating and finally I decided I couldn’t do it anymore. I didn’t want to put myself in that position, so I began writing for myself.
The hardest thing was getting myself a deal. Getting someone to believe in me and put it out was the hardest part. I recorded about 30 songs and I wrote “Second Face” after I had written about ten other songs, and after that I knew exactly what I wanted to with the record. That was the hardest part, just getting someone to say, “We’re gonna put some money behind this, we’re gonna do this.” Everyone would hear the record and like it, but nobody wanted to step to the plate and do anything.
PM: Which had a lot to do with being Danny Wood, former New Kid, right?
DW: Yeah. I think the perception was that it was going to take a lot of money to break [the album]. I’ve found myself in the best position—on a small label with wide distribution.
PM: Has this been a long process for you?
DW: About three years. It’s not that I took my time, I just wrote a lot of songs. There were points where people were interested and we’d start negotiating a deal, and then someone got fired, and you know, it was really frustrating. I finally got with Paul Kline [president of BMG Records] and from the second he heard [the opening song] “Home”, he said, “I’ll put it out. This is great.” He got the whole thing. He got that I was the underdog. And, that this was a real record, and as long as we got people to hear it, we would be successful.
PM: Is there one particular album that inspires you above all else?
DW: Beatles One. The Beatles were perfect. There’s just no other way to say it. They were the perfect band. I just read a book about them, their whole story—I relate to that. Not that I want to even compare myself to any of them at all, but they came from nothing. The book definitely inspired me.
PM: Surely you can compare the success of The Beatles to the success of New Kids on the Block?
DW: Well, I think you can compare the hysteria. But, musically, there’s absolutely no comparison, I don’t care what anyone says.
PM: Aww, I think the Kids had some quality songs. Maybe not Beatles-like—
DW: No, no, I’m saying that we definitely had some quality music, but there’s a lot that was questionable. And, a lot of these new boy bands are no different. They’re gonna look back and some of their songs are gonna be garbage and some of their songs are gonna be pretty good.
PM: You say in “Home”, “what do I deserve and what have I learned”. At this point, with the album all but ready to go, can you answer that?
DW: I don’t know what I deserve, you know? I think I have almost everything I could ever want. I have my family, and I have a lot of love in my life. And, with making this record, I already feel that I’ve done something. Whatever else happens is icing on the cake. I’m not going to sit here and lie and say it doesn’t matter if it sells, because it matters if it sells, but the way my deal is structured, I don’t have to sell a million copies. So, I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot. I feel like making this record proves that I’ve learned a lot with the way the record sounds and everything I had to say on the record.
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Danny Wood’s Second Face will be released on BMG/Empire/Damage Records in the United States on 22 July 2003. It is available in the UK as an import.