New Kids On The Block member Danny Wood talks with Pollstar about his new album, “Look At Me,” his days in the biggest boy band on earth and the foundation that rose from his mother’s battle against breast cancer.
Wood’s solo career and the Remember Betty foundation makes up a large portion of his life these days when he’s not regrouping with his NKOTB friends. The non-profit’s goal is to reduce the expenses associated with breast cancer so that patients and survivors can concentrate on recovery and quality of life.
Wood’s new album has already resulted in three singles. The latest is “Hold On,” in which he honors his Boston hometown and expresses his feelings about his mother’s passing.
“This record is definitely a big reflection of the past 10 years, The good and the bad,” Wood said while doing promo for the album. “My mother’s foundation is a big inspiration in my writing. All the breast cancer patients that have passed away, survived, and the ones that are living with the disease. They all have inspired this record.”
Wood has lined up a brief tour to support Look At Me that includes stops in Philadelphia, New York and, of course, his Beantown home stomping grounds. Check out the itinerary following the interview.
What can you tell us about the Remember Betty foundation?
That’s my mother’s name. She passed away from breast cancer in 1999. Since 2008 I’ve been raising money for breast cancer patients and I’m now doing it directly for patients going through chemotherapy and radiation, and trying to make their lives better on a daily basis.
Are you spending a large portion of your time with the foundation?
Yeah. It’s grown a lot. Planning … stuff we’re going to do surrounding some of [my] shows definitely takes up a lot of [time]. I do a cruise raffle every year where we raffle off a couple of cabins. It definitely takes up a lot of time but family is always first for me. That’s why I’m home. I’ll be rehearsing here at home and take it on the road on weekends starting in February.
Your2009 album is titled Stronger: Remember Betty and you have a song about your mother on Look At Me. It sounds as your mother and the foundation lives through your music.
It’s nice to be in a group like the New Kids and have the success we’ve had in the past eight years and then I can just go off and be creative and make a record like this with no pressure. It’s not about how much it sells or anything. It’s just about raising money for the foundation. I don’t have to worry about sales or whatever. Anything is a bonus. I produced and wrote it myself so it feels really good.
When New Kids were at the peak of success, how involved were you and the rest of the guys in the business of the act?
The first time around? I would say as things grew we started learning things. But we were really young. It’s kind of hard to know a business completely that involves so many different things. From record sales to live shows to merchandise – there’s a lot to learn. I think, by the end, we started learning a lot and started realizing certain things weren’t right and we wanted to get more involved. By the time that happened the group ended up breaking up and we took … 15 years apart from each other.
(click on image for complete album cover art)
During that first time around when New Kids were all over radio and selling out arenas, was anyone even thinking of a future solo career?
I still don’t really view this as a solo career. I view this as … I’m a singer/songwriter. It’s just kind of like a bonus for me being in the group and it’s also a way I can continue to raise money for the foundation.
I think a couple of the guys, during New Kids, were thinking of going solo. The record company guys actually approached the group before we did our last record, Face The Music. They wanted a couple of the guys to go solo, to branch off. But the guys still wanted to do one more New Kids record so we ended up doing that one and then the group broke up.
Having spent your teenage years together at the top of the music biz, does it seem kind of surreal when, after an extended period of time apart, the members of New Kids gather in one place, begin to talk, perhaps show photos of the families?
I think in 2008, yes, it was a bit shocking getting back together and it was a bit awkward. But that was eight years ago. I was just in New York and saw Donnie and did his wife’s radio show. We’re like brothers. Nothing’s changed. He asked me how my kids were doing, and I asked him how his kids were doing.
We’re all still the same in a lot of ways. The same personalities … when we get up on stage, in a lot of ways, nothing’s changed.
What is your songwriting process like? Do you come up with a lyric, a melody, riff or chord structure first?
It happens a bunch of different ways. Each song can [start with] some lyrics that I came up with. I write down a bunch of lyrics and then go home and see if I can come up with a melody and a chord structure to it. Or it could be the other way [and] I have some chords, then I start humming something and then I write some lyrics down.
For me, the key is if I’m writing something and it becomes frustrating and difficult, you scrap it. Because then it takes all the creativity out of it; it becomes like work. “Nope. Trash that. That’s gone.” I leave it alone. There are points on a few songs on the record where I got a little frustrated and I just let it be for a minute. Maybe I had a portion of the song done and then I just let it rest. I came back to it and I was like, “This is all right. I’m gonna keep going with this,” and it ends up working out.
Before New Kids formed, did you have a rep among your friends and family for being musical?
No. I mean, I sang in the choir at elementary school, and I would breakdance. That’s about as creative as I was coming into the group.
Was being in New Kids an education in itself?
I learned from day one. I started learning how to engineer. I asked every question you could possibly ask about the mixing board. I ended up engineering a lot of the stuff on our early records. I ended up recording vocals for a lot of the guys, just from … being in the studio. Definitely, the New Kids was a big education. Me and Jordan ended up writing for an artist named Tommy Page and he had a No. 1 record for one of the songs we wrote [“I’ll Be Your Everything”]. Songwriting started early for me but then I taught myself to play guitar. I moved down to Miami and started doing my own thing, writing my own songs.
After years in New Kids, what did it feel like when you first walked out on stage as a solo performer?
I think, on my own it’s easier for me to sing my own songs. There’s a different kind of satisfaction when you get out there and you’re singing songs you created, and created them for a reason. It’s satisfying that way, but sharing a stage with four other guys you have so much history with is another kind of satisfaction. So it’s all just positive and it all feels good either way I’m doing it.
Do you believe in destiny?
I never really thought of that but I guess there were certain points in our career as a group that were [destined]. Like this second time around it was just a phone call from Donnie … saying, “I want you to hear this song. I think we maybe should get back into the studio and start recording.” It was a song called “Click Click Click” that came from a young writer named Nasri Atweh, that came from our lawyer who has been the group’s lawyer for years. To me, that’s probably destiny.
Is this how things may play out in the coming years in that one phone call may result in a tour, another album, or even joining forces with another act like New Kids did with Backstreet Boys?
Those things all come from conversations we have together. … It’s also a business. We kind of have moved this forward to a point where, when we’re ready to walk away, we can walk away. It’s not going to be because a record didn’t sell or anything like that. It’s going to be because … we’ve done it enough. We’ve also taken enough time off because other guys have TV shows and other things, that when it’s time to tour or do something with the New Kids, that it’s kind of refreshing for everybody.
I don’t know if it’s now destiny. I think it’s more that we carefully plan things and do things that will create more longevity for the group.
And that door is always open for what may come? A new project, TV appearances or a movie?
Have you and the rest of the New Kids ever discussed what a movie about the group might be like?
We’ve been approached about that. It’s kind of like when we got back together, we got back together under the right conditions. Everybody was ready. We had some music we wanted to record and we had a great manager in Jared Paul, who at the time was Irving Azoff’s right-hand man. Everything fell into place. Doing a movie, or having a movie done about our story would have to have the right director, the right script, the right everything.
Our story isn’t the typical boy band story you get now where maybe guys were on a TV show and then Simon Cowell puts them together. Or when Lou Pearlman was in Orlando throwing all these boy bands together. Our story’s different.
New Kids pretty much wrote the book on boy bands. Almost every boy band leads back to New Kids On The Block.
I agree with that. It’s also that their stories are more of a PG13 and ours is more of a rated R. Coming from Boston, the first few years of being together mostly performing in all urban areas and then going to New York and performing at the Apollo and doing stuff like that, it was all training for us for the future.
What can fans expect from your upcoming solo shows?
They can expect to see singer/songwriter-based shows. I wanted to make sure I did smaller, more intimate places because I wanted to be able to talk to people and have people feel the record live, just me and the guitar. I think that’s what people will be expecting. … People will be able to ask questions.
“Our story isn’t the typical boy band story you get now where maybe guys were on a TV show and then Simon Cowell puts them together.”
How involved are you with the fans? Will you have meet-&-greets and/or VIP packages?
I will be doing all of that. It’s not often they get … to spend some time with one of us. When [New Kids] plays big arenas everything is kind of set. The way we do our meet & greets … they know what to expect with that. I think this is going to be a little more intimate. They get a little more time with me and I’m not going to be in a rush to go off and do the next meet & greet.
After years of meeting fans, do they still surprise you at times?
Putting this record out, yeah, I’ve been very surprised with a lot of things. We get a lot of emails through my mother’s foundation. Emails are forwarded to me. There’s a girl right now going through chemotherapy and she’s like, “Your record came out at the perfect time. It’s my listening music when I’m getting treatment.”
There’s another girl, [she’s] getting a divorce and she said, “Your record is definitely inspiring me to be strong, to see you’re a single dad doing what you do.” I always get surprised on the road by girls. The connection with my mother’s foundation … there’s always a surprise with something they say.
How do you balance a career with being a single parent?
Always family first, no matter what. As much as I can share with my family – touring, these shows coming up, whatever I can do makes it feel more complete. On the last tour we did, “The Main Event” with TLC and Nelly, my daughters and my dad traveled with me, basically the whole tour. And my son popped in and out, so it’s a family event. Then we had the cruise in the fall and they were all on it. My son and his girlfriend came on the cruise. My daughters were there. My dad has been on every cruise. … I’m lucky that way, that I get to do that. I just keep family first and try to navigate and share as much as I can because who knows how long this will last.
Throughout the years as a New Kid as well as regarding your own career, what was the best bit of advice anyone has given you?
Probably my mother gave me the best piece of advice. She always said, “Stay close to home.” For me, Boston is home. I live in Miami but I think what she meant was, especially when I had children, keep your children close to you, keep family close. Every week I’m calling my dad, calling my brother and my sisters and keeping family close.
“It’s easier for me to sing my own songs. There’s a different kind of satisfaction when you get out there and you’re singing songs you created…”
Danny Wood’s upcoming shows:
Feb. 17 – Philadelphia, Pa., World Cafe Live
Feb. 18 – Vienna, Va., Jammin’ Java
Feb. 19 – New York, N.Y., The Mercury Lounge
Feb. 20 – Boston, Mass., The Red Room @ Cafe 939
Wood is producing a series of behind-the-scenes videos where he takes fans into his home as well as on the tour bus and backstage with this family at a New Kids On The Block show in Miami. Click here for part 1 of “An Itimate Look” and here for part 2.
For more information about Danny Wood and Remember Betty, please visit Wood’s Twitter feed as well as the foundation’s Twitter home, website, Facebook page, Instagram page, YouTube channel.