Interview: Gavin Gardiner of The Wooden Sky


One of Canada’s prized possessions The Wooden Sky have just released a new record called Let’s Be Ready, the follow-up to their critically acclaimed 2012 album Every Child a Daughter, Every Moon a Sun. Let’s Be Ready (which can be streamed on Exclaim! here) is full of energy and excitement, while maintaining the soul and spirit that makes us all fall in love with The Wooden Sky. As the Juno-nominated band embarked on their cross-Canada tour supporting the new album (with the help of Ottawa musician Jon Hynes filling in on bass), one of their first stops was at Ottawa Folkfest on September 14. I caught up with lead vocalist/guitarist Gavin Gardiner, a musician of many talents whom I admire very much, just after their Folkfest set and had a great chat that you can read below.

2014, ottawa, folk festival, folkfest, wooden sky, gavin gardiner, jon hynes, showbox,

Earlier this year, you finished working with Ottawa’s Kalle Mattson on his new record Someday, The Moon Will Be Gold. Did your experiences working with other artists in-studio affect or influence the way you approached writing your new album Let’s Be Ready?

Oh yeah. Every one of those experiences has been a learning experience. Everyone has a bag of tricks and tools, and whenever someone else has a good idea I put it in my bag of tricks. Having my own studio has really allowed me to just have more time. In the past it’s always been more of a process to get setup in a remote space and pack up the whole fucking rig. Having your own space to record means you can just come in and work. It’s been fun, plus I get to acquire new gear and stockpile actual tools (like amps, instruments, mics, all that).

I also get to learn from others, like Kalle, and how he approaches things. Perspective is a key thing – hearing things from other people is eye-opening. In those cases, when I’m so involved in the recording process, I hear every little change in the music, whereas when I’m not as involved it’s a lot harder to get to that level.


Is doing the studio side of things and working with other artists something you’ve always wanted to do?

Yeah, and every time I do it I’m like “why the fuck do I do this?” No, but I really love it, I mean I’ve been recording bands in my parents’ basement since I was 14. I had a four-track recorder that I got when I was a kid and I used that. I’ve been slowly getting back into four-tracks because my studio has four of them, two that work and two that don’t. The less I can use a computer the better, I like really getting to the source. The chain’s only as strong as the weakest link. If the drums sound good, then don’t fuck it up with a computer.

I spent some time in Spain last November making a record with Howard Bilerman, who produced our last two records (along with Arcade Fire, Thee Silver Mt. Zion & Basia Bulat). We were working together to produce a record with this Spanish artist which was really fun. I mean, what a treat to get to go somewhere so remote and work with musicians of that calibre. That idea swap was crazy, it was so cross-cultural. I started playing drums (which I don’t normally ever play), and they were like “no, no… it’s a little too Reggaeton” and I had never even heard of that before! It was so cool to be there and see that, and I learned so much from Howard as well.


Your last LP Every Child a Daughter, Every Moon a Sun had a very distinct sound to it. How important is the overall aesthetic of an album to you?

Yeah, I’m obsessed with how they sound. It really comes with the territory. Sometimes it’s a hinderance! With our new record Let’s Get Ready we really wanted it to sound a certain way going into it. How do we make a record feel alive? I think that affects the way you make a record. Sure, the gear is important, but the feeling of the environment and the space are what really shapes it. It really comes back to perspective, I think.

When we were making our last record, in my mind it sounded very different than it ended up turning out. And I am very happy with how it sounds, but that’s not how I remember envisioning it. You go down that road and you just get so involved. That’s part of the reason it took a year to record Kalle’s new record, things can get in the way and things get put on hold. It’s not that great of a process for the artists, but to come back to it after say four months of touring with fresh ears is so nice. One process isn’t better than the other, some of my favourite records are mixed in a day – I guess what I mean is that the experience really does shape it in the end.

We tried to narrow the focus of Let’s Be Ready right out of the gate. We put more effort and time into the songs – every other record I’ve made with the band I come in with 18 songs and we end up recording 15 of them. For this one we went in with 10 songs and ended up only recording eight of them. We worked and reworked it all from the ground up, and really wanted it to have that live feel to it. The songs come to me in a way, and then I have to learn how to sing them. It was a process of recording demos, playing live, going back and re-listening, and then doing that three times. We had never done that before. At a live show you can actually feel the energy in the room, and feel the crowd in front of you. You can’t recreate that in the studio. We tried to capture some of the energy that comes out when we play live the best we could on Let’s Be Ready – the difference between the live and studio versions aren’t as stark as in previous albums.


Where is somewhere that you think everyone should go once in their lives?

Do you want a negative experience? Do you want to go to Lansing, Michigan? That was the craziest night. We were opening for a US band and we were crashing at the promoter’s house. There were a bunch of people there, but he was out of town or something. I was sleeping on the floor and this couple comes in… they end up getting into a full-on domestic dispute. It sounded like a joke! Like, “don’t smash my bass guitar,” it was honestly like Austin Powers or something. That was fucked up. Wyatt our old bass player was trying to find the bathroom and accidentally broke their door down – anyway, yeah…

I didn’t really answer your question, sorry. It’s a good question, sometimes you get lost in the number of places you’ve played. Berlin was amazing. I was sitting writing songs at an abandoned Nazi airport, called the Templehof. I was there this summer at my flat, and all the runways are completely intact. People were windsurfing and boarding on these runways and it was amazing! It was a park right beside some concrete runways, and people just hanging out. Pretty neat.

The craziest thing about Europe is that you cover so much historical ground, to go from London to Paris is like going from Ottawa to Toronto. By the same token, there are some pretty amazing places in Canada as well. Wakefield, for example. We’re staying out there, and you really have to appreciate places like that. There’s so many unique experiences to be had. Even Thunder Bay – people rag on Thunder Bay but man, that drive is incredible. Everyone deserves to have that experience, to go through their own country. I think there’s a bit of an inferiority complex in Canada, where sometimes we try to be what we think we should be, instead of being who we are. I feel like that’s a theme of the record for us too, and that’s why we’re on the cover this time whereas before we never were. I want to be myself and express myself, as myself. I’m not trying to be cool, I know I’m not cool. I never have been, why pretend? It’s been such a relieving feeling.


Do you associate yourself with country music? Or is this a label that just gets pinned on you by the media?

I don’t know, it’s funny that people say that. I mean, I like country music. I was a DJ on a country music station when I was a kid, like 18. If people want to lump me in with Willie Nelson or Townes Van Zandt, then by all means please do. I would love that. I don’t know why it’s a dirty word… what makes one thing better than the other? It’s all just labels, and I used to get frustrated when anyone would label us as anything (especially alt country). But now I no longer see it as an insult, you can call me whatever you want. I’m not going to be preoccupied by that stuff. But I love Willie Nelson, Tom Petty, I mean, I’m just a music fan.


Be sure to catch The Wooden Sky on their 2014 tour:

09/02 Toronto, ON – Sonic Boom
09/12 Peterborough, ON – Red Dog Tavern
09/13-14 Ottawa, ON – Ottawa Folk Festival
09/16 Burnstown, ON – Neat Cafe
09/17 Montreal, QC – Pop Montreal @ Sala Rossa
09/18 Sudbury, ON – Townehouse
09/20 Thunder Bay, ON – Crocks
09/22 Swift Current, SK – Lyric Theatre
09/23 Regina, SK – Artesian On 13th
09/24 Edmonton, AB – Starlite
09/25 Banff, AB – The Club (banff Centre)
09/26 Nelson, BC – Spirit Bar (hume Hotel)
09/27 Vancouver, BC – Biltmore
09/29 Victoria, BC – 9one9
10/01 Calgary, AB – The Republik
10/2 Saskatoon, SK – Amigo’s
10/4 Winnipeg, MB – Wecc
10/9 Kingston, ON – The Isabel At Queen’s University
10/11 Dundas, ON – Dundas Valley Montessori School
10/16 Guelph, ON – Vinyl
10/17 Toronto, ON – Lee’s Palace
10/18 Toronto, ON – Lee’s Palace
10/21 Moncton, NB – Tide & Boar
10/22 Fredericton, NB – The Capital
10/23 Halifax, NS – Halifax Pop Explosion
10/24 Charlottetown, PE – Trailside Inn
10/25 Quebec City, QC – Le Cercle