If Toronto’s music scene has slowed down at all as a result of COVID-19, you wouldn’t know it. In the three (excruciatingly long) months since the widespread shutdown first started, we’ve seen major releases from The Weeknd, Jessie Reyez, and Drake—as well as a few more artists from his OVO Sound label: PARTYNEXTDOOR, Dvsn, and Roy Woods, who dropped his highly-anticipated EP Dem Times in May. According to the Brampton, Ontario-born artist, the six-song EP is just a “teaser” for the new studio album he’s got coming later this year; an intriguing glimpse at his ever-evolving sound, now that it’s been three years since 2017’s Say Less.
We sat down with Woods (virtually) to talk about Dem Times, Brampton’s exploding music scene, struggling with depression from a young age, and more. We’ve got a few of the highlights for you below—watch the full video above for more.
On how he’s been handling these past few weeks:
For me, it's all about understanding. Knowledge and understanding. I've just been trying to soak it all up, seeing what I can do behind the scenes, and just learning. Because I'm over in Canada right now, so I'm just watching everything, right? I literally just feel like I've just been watching. I definitely feel like I need to do something, with my role and my job and everything. So it's just been a whole bunch of mixed emotions. Head everywhere. But also, at the same time, this whole thing just feels a bit refreshing because it's like a restart button for the world to me. I feel like a lot of people are taking the time to look at themselves, look at the people around them.
On his new EP Dem Times:
I'm glad I was finally able to release a project after so long. And I love the feedback that I'm getting too, because I dropped such a different project, I feel, compared to all the other projects that I've dropped. I feel like the project's almost like a transition for me, or another step into what I can do, into my versatility, into my life as well and what I've been going through.
I feel like it's just a little glimpse of what else is to come. Not that I'm just gonna be giving this sound forever, but this is definitely something that I'm going to do more of. But it's just a teaser. Because that album I got is right on the way.
On what to expect from his upcoming album:
I'm trying to give you guys a whole bunch of sounds that you're familiar with, but then are also going to be brand new. And I'm playing with different genres now. So it's going to be a lot of fun, I feel, for the listeners. It's fun for me.
On all the talent coming out of Brampton:
We just like to make music. That's all we like to do. I feel like everybody that's been coming out, they just want to showcase their talent and do what they do best. I feel like they're definitely doing that. And I'm so proud of my city because there's so much more coming. There's so many more people from Brampton that’s coming. It's slow, but it's happening.
It’s weird. A city like Brampton, it's not a place where you'd even expect music like that. Like the music that comes out of it. I feel like you'd just think it would come straight from Toronto. But Toronto has its own sound as well. You can even listen to music from Mississauga—every city has their own style. Music from Scarborough’s completely different as well. It all varies. It’s all different. I didn't know Brampton would be like “the R&B hub,” or “pop central.” But I guess it is. And I just want to see what else our city can do.
On being part of the OVO family:
When we link up, it's such an amazing feeling. We don't feel like we're just labelmates. We have conversations. We really get deep with each other. We love our jobs. And we take it so serious. We look at each other as like brothers, you know? And I love that about it. I love it about everybody on the label. You can go out to anybody, just have a conversation, go link up, whatever. It's real cool like that.
On being open about struggling with depression:
I knew I was depressed when I was like 13. A lot of kids around me were also like that as well. And it didn't matter what kind of household you came from, everybody could see it. You could feel it from the kids. Even our parents. I didn't realize that a lot of our parents have a lot of mental issues or mental illnesses that they probably don't even know about. Caribbean people, they don't believe in mental illnesses like that. Only now they're starting to be aware of [it], saying, “Oh my gosh, depression is actually a thing. Anxiety is actually a thing.” So I couldn't even tell my mom, like, “Oh, yeah, Mom, I'm depressed.”
As a kid, I didn't have an avenue to go and talk to anybody. My mom doesn't believe me, so who am I supposed to go to? But it came to a point where it was this one teacher I had, Ms. D, in my school. She was the person that I could confide in when I couldn't go to my mom and tell her certain things, because she probably wouldn't even understand. Having that avenue for me in high school was amazing. Just having somebody to talk to, somebody to cry on. As a human being, you need to show emotions and feelings; you can't hide it. If you're going to hide it, then you're just going to keep it internal and it's going to show up in other forms, other ways. So I feel like [for] anybody going through anything, it's about finding somebody that you can talk to, lean on.
On his relationship with Drake:
He's definitely been a huge mentor to me. He's taught me a lot… It's always just been love. It's always love every time I see him. Wherever we're at, FaceTime, call, text, whatever. It's always just love from that guy.
On touring with Drake and the OVO team:
Touring with Drake, that was the biggest thing for me. I was literally just a sponge. Both times. Just a sponge, like, “This is insane. I can't believe I'm here doing this.”
At first, with the Drake and Future tour, I was scared, man. I'm like, “What the hell am I doing here?” There's so many celebrities passing. Left, right, left, right, left, right. I'm like “Oh my God.” But it was so life changing. Watching [Drake] perform. Watching Future and Migos perform. It had me speechless a lot of times. We still talk about those tours. Me and Dvsn talk about being on tour with Drake all the time. Because you're on the bus together. I never had such a fun bus, man… It's a whole party from the bus to the hotel. It's a whole party. And it never stopped.