On Wednesday, March 5th, the Wooden Sky made an appearance at Kingston’s own Grad Club. The Vault had the pleasure of talking with Gavin Gardiner (the band’s lead singer/guitarist) about the Canadian music scene, the group’s evolution and their upcoming album projected to be released in August. The Wooden Sky is a group from Toronto with three albums to date and is proving to be a strong force in the city’s emerging folk scene.
The Vault: You new album – what can you tell us about it?
Gavin: The new album is done. Pretty much done. It’s been about a year in the making…a year and a half maybe? I was kind of thinking about it and we did a small tour in March last year to kind of road test some new songs. And now the record’s done and it’s March again. And here we are again. I can’t believe another fucking year’s gone by. It’s crazy. Yeah, how’s that for stuff about the new album? That doesn’t tell you much about the album, but…
The Vault: What is the projected release date?
Gavin: I believe it’s August 12th. Yeah, I’m excited about it. A lot of stuff has changed in our career path. For the better, you know? We’re kind of taking more control of our own destiny.
The Vault: And is that as in like a new sound, or…? Responsibility?
Gavin: Yes. Kind of the whole picture. We fired our managers, also. And yeah, I don’t know, we just wanted to do something different. We kind of wanted to make a record that sounded a bit more like the way we sound as a live band. And so, that was partly part of the reason why we did that tour I was talking about in March. Because we figured, you know, what’s the best way for us to capture what we sound like live. Well, play the songs live. You know, it seems obvious. In the past, we’ve made the records and then gone out and played the songs, and it just takes on a new life when you get in front of an audience. I think it’s kind of inevitable. I mean, even just playing that song for you guys, I was like, uh, I’m kind of nervous and so I change the way I sing certain notes, you know. I don’t just mumble it to myself. It’s harder to play for like 5 people then it is to play for a thousand.
The Vault: So where did this tour in March that you guys were doing happen?
Gavin: Oh, it was kind of the same sort of thing that we’re doing this time. We call it the “401 tour” more or less. It’s sort of like the lazy man’s tour, which is nice. You know, you can go home every couple of days. Go back to Toronto.
The Vault: Well you’ve toured all over Europe, as well. You were saying you were touring in Germany and such. How does that compare to touring close to home?
Gavin: Mmmm…it’s good. You know, it’s like a whole other beast. Touring in Europe…Well you know, first of all there’s the excitement factor. We’ve been over there 3 or 4 times. The first time was kind of awful. But that was our own fault because we didn’t do it right. We went in November/December when it was cold and now I’m just whining about shit…it’s great! Well we toured with like five people in a tiny van. It was dumb. And we’d just come off of two months of touring Canada thinking like, oh, it will just feel new because we’re somewhere else. It’s like, well, it’s great and new, but it’s still touring. The difference is that there’s a different level of…I don’t know if it’s respect? Or, I don’t know…there’s the hospitality. There’s just a sense of people who really appreciate what you’re doing even though we don’t have a huge audience in Germany or in the UK or in Austria or in Switzerland. And you know people come because they see the name or they know that we’re from Canada and so they check out the band. And people will come and it’s great. But, you get there and there’s food waiting, for you to sleep upstairs. You don’t have to slug it out. Whereas, touring in the states where we kind of have toured a few times. And you think it’d be easier just because it’s across some imaginary line, you know, a heavily guarded imaginary line. It’s fucking impossibly hard. It’s like, we’ll have a good show in New York, and then we’ll drive somewhere else and it’ll be awful. And no matter even if the show’s good, it’s that we still get treated like shit. I’m too old to get treated like shit. Or at least put up with it, anyway. The drives are shorter and, uh, the history is a lot deeper and I don’t if it’s richer, there’s just more of it. So I mean like a day off…it’s harder to find an excuse to sit around in a hotel during a day off, when you’re away. We had a really good time in Paris, actually. But we do the same thing in every city, which is finding somewhere weird to sit and hang out with friends. You know it’s kind of the best part of travelling. It’s like travelling with a gang. And sometimes, you know, you want to fucking punch somebody, or somebody wants to punch you. But that’s like any family.
The Vault: And you said Germany, in particular, was a big spot for you guys.
Gavin: Yeah, we’ve just been there the most I think. And I don’t know exactly why that is.
The Vault: And you’ve developed some kind of following there?
Gavin: Yeah. We haven’t been back in a strategic way, so much as though we’ve kind of gone like once a year for the past 3 years. And you know, probably it’d be smart to go, you know, like every four months and sort of capitalize on that. But, it’s always exciting to see people in the audience that know your songs when you are so far from home.
The Vault: Well you’ve been kicking around for a lot longer than that. We heard that you got started at Ryerson.
Gavin: Well I got started in elementary school on guitar, but sure, yeah I went to Ryerson, yeah.
The Vault: What was it like becoming an artist in Toronto? I mean, the music scene in Toronto is layered, has a lot of different areas and scenes. What was it like for you?
Gavin: Well I lived in Manitoba before I moved to Toronto. And I had this idea that I was going to come to Toronto. I don’t know why, but you know the beginning of that movie Coyote Ugly? It’s a terrible movie, but she moves to the big city and she’s like I’m going to make it, and you end up pushing a broom around or something. So, I had this grandiose idea that I was going to sweep the floors of the Horseshoe or something like that. That didn’t happen. Also, I did some interning and I hated it so much. It’s like, I wanted to get paid if I’m going to be cleaning the toilet, you know. It sucks. Eventually, I started meeting people that played music and that were looking for like-minded people that wanted to hang out. It’s not so much what do you do? What do you do? It just kind of happened a little bit more organically than that. Not that there wasn’t an effort involved. It’s like any friendship you make. You have to make an effort to make it work, you know. Time is valuable and scarce in everyone’s lives. I can remember when I was at Ryerson, my friends were playing in this band Ohbijou. And I just like, loved what they were doing, and I just really wanted to support that and be a part of it.
The Vault: Is that how you got associated with Friends in Bellwoods?
Gavin: Yeah, kind of. I went to school with Casey and Heather from that band. I played drums in Ohbijou for a little bit, but that was short lived. I’m not a drummer. No, actually don’t print that because I want to be a drummer.
The Vault: Were there any particular venues you guys got into in Toronto? Or any particular areas that you got rooted into?
Gavin: When we first started playing we would literally play anywhere. We kind of still will. Oh, there was the El Mocambo. They would have anybody, so we got to play there lots. Yeah, we played there like every Wednesday for what felt like a lot time. Casey and Ohbijou had shows in their basement a lot of the time, which were pretty cool. We never played one, but we’d go to lots of them. But, we literally would play any where for a while. We literally walked around with demos and CDs and those things and took them to bars. We just wanted to play. We didn’t really care.
The Vault: Do you think that affected the nature of the Wooden Sky? Having to earn your success yourself?
Gavin: Yeah, no one gives you anything in this life. It’s hard. No, it’s not that hard. It’s fun, still. Yeah, it’s the whole make your own luck kind of feeling. And I’ve never felt that much work. It’s kind of like, oh well I guess I’ve got to do this now. And every time someone tells you that they’re going to do something for you, you get your hopes up, and then it doesn’t happen and it’s like oh fuck, what was I thinking anyway? As if someone’s going to do that… so then you just go out, and get back on the horses as they say. For some reason I have these memories of, do you remember the Big Bop building?
The Vault: The Big Bop, yeah. Also, like the El Macombo, gone.
Gavin: Yeah. And we kind of played in every single one of those rooms. I remember once going to see this band play and it was like an emo band. It’s funny to think about, but that seems to be making a resurgence, for, God know’s why…but I was going to see this band with this girl that I was seeing. And we were going to go with her ex boyfriend and his new girlfriend. And, well, I went to her place to pick her up. And then we waited for them to come on the train. She literally broke up with me. And then we had to go, all four of us, to this fucking emo show. And it was like I’m sitting there with them, just like why am I even here? And I paid for all these tickets. This is stupid.
The Vault: Very appropriately an emo concert.
Gavin: Yeah, that really hit home. Yeah, exactly. Going to that concert probably saved me from writing a bunch of shitty songs about it, so, I should thank those guys. It was awkward.
The Vault: What was it like touring with Yukon Blonde and Rural Alberta Advantage, and now Dusted?
Gavin: Well, they’re all a fun times. The Yukon Blonde tour, that was I think a watermark tour for everybody involved. We really created some lifelong friendships there, which was awesome. And I’m still in touch with those guys all the time. I don’t know if I’m supposed to say this, but I’m mastering Jeff’s new solo record. I don’t know when it’s coming out, but he said to me that it’s supposed to be awesome. And I heard a little bit of Brendan’s solo record, too, which sounds cool. RAA, we used to share a practice space with them so it was like pretty natural to do. Oh, and Dusted! Well, that just started tonight, but I love Brian and Will. They’re awesome.
The Vault: How did you meet them?
Gavin: I think Virg actually that books here, suggested it. But, I don’t know, I’ve known – we’ve known – Brian for a long time. Anna’s also amazing, and she plays with them, too. That’s the other thing about asking what it’s like to be an artist in Toronto. If you have been in it longer, I think maybe the group gets smaller and you get to know more people. It’s been an interesting couple of years in that sense. Most people that I met when I was just moving there are the head of some big record label now, or the programmer at the new radio station, or something.
The Vault: You recorded your second album with Howard Bilerman. He’s a pretty big name in indie music. He recorded Funeral with Arcade Fire. What was it like working with him?
Gavin: Awesome. We did actually the second and third albums with him. And he’s kind of become a good friend in the process, too. He’s got an interesting approach to creating music. It’s really cool and kind of refreshing. And very different. Like I do producing for bands too, and I find myself trying to remember some of the things Howard says. You know, I have a very different style than he does, but he describes his style as a “musical midwife”. Which I love. I’ve talked about it lots because he says its your baby, I’m just helping you deliver it. I actually went to Spain with Howard in November to help produce a record for a girl named Joanna there. It was interesting because we were kind of co-producing the record and I was playing bass. He was teasing me that I wanted to turn everything into a Beatle’s song. Just in the sense that I always want to overdub the tambourine, here, and this, here. Not everything has to be layers and layers. He’s wrong sometimes though, so…but we had fun. It was a good experience there. It was cool. I flew to Barcelona and rehearsed with the band and then literally drove across the entire country with the band because the studio was just on the coast of Spain, just north of Africa. It was pretty cool. Howard was smart enough to fly from Barcelona. But, I drove…
The Vault: Your new sound is getting pretty big and layered now, isn’t it? So he’s wrong in that sense, I guess.
Gavin: Well no, that’s the way our band sounds, and his whole thing is helping a band sound like the way they sound. And that’s how we sound, so he helped us. When we were struggling with ideas, he was a good voice of reasons in the sense of just like, I remember him telling us we were all insane in our own way, which you know, you get wrapped up in anything and you lose perspective. So what you want from a third party person is like someone that can help maintain perspective of any kind. Which I mean, even then is pretty hard if you’re producing because you’re still really involved in it. But he would come out from behind the glass and just offer a little bit of insight if we were struggling. If we weren’t struggling, he’d just say, well that sounds great. And you know, that’s an important thing to here. Especially from someone you respect. We did the last two records in Montreal, which was great. Montreal’s great. This record we did in Toronto with our friend, who’s amazing also. And that was a very different style of working. We already, not that we don’t have anything to learn from Howard, but I mean, we’ve done that and I loved working with Howard, and I’ll definitely work with him again. But it was cool to take the things that Howard taught us and then, try it a new way. It was also really cool to bike to the studio and then go home afterwards. Although there was an aspect – a different aspect – of like adventure being in Montreal and living in an apartment together. We still biked, to the studio actually. We took our bikes. But, you know, you bike home and stay up all night playing quarters or something stupid like that. It was fun. The thing that always strikes me about Montreal is how small it is. It’s such a small city.
The Vault: Who have you been listening to? Any up and coming people that you would suggest for the Vault.
Gavin: I was listening to the new War on Drugs record on the way here. It sounded good. I didn’t get to finish it. But I’m not the best at finding new music. I like to let the other guys force me to listen. I get stuck on an artist and just listen to it over and over again. I’m also kind of lazy when it comes to flipping the record on the turntable. I will literally listen to the same side for like the entire day.
The Vault: What’s on there right now?
Gavin: Bill Callahan’s “Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle”.
– Maddy and Tim