Interview: The Wooden Sky’s Gavin Gardiner talks about their Holiday Revue

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The Wooden Sky have consistently shown why they’re a staple in Canadian music, having come a long way since their debut in 2007. They’ve tirelessly demonstrated their dynamic songwriting abilities and formidable live performance here in Ottawa on a number of occasions, the first of which for me was at the First Baptist Church in 2012 as they toured their powerful, resonant album Every Child a Daughter, Every Moon a Sun. I’ll never forget that intimate and ethereal experience.

Tonight The Wooden Sky are doing something a bit different. They’re bringing an annual Holiday Revue to Ottawa in support of local refugee organizations, and the performance will take place in none other than the beautiful St. Alban’s Church. For seven years, the band has been putting on a DIY Holiday Revue in Toronto in support of the Romero House, an organization that provides transitional housing and settlement services for refugee claimants through a model of accompaniment. They’ve expanded this series to Ottawa for the second year in a row, supporting a similar organization in the capital called Carty House. Carty House is a communal residence that provides transitional housing for female refugees as they move through the refugee system and integrate into our society.

I caught up with songwriter and lead vocalist Gavin Gardiner last week to talk about the Revue, have a read below.

The Wooden Sky play St. Alban’s Church tonight (Monday, December 12th) and tickets can be purchased for $25. They can be purchased at Vertigo Records, both Compact Music Inc. stores and online. Check out the Facebook Event here

The Holiday Revue has become a bit of a tradition for the band. How did the idea start?

G.G.:We had been touring a bunch years back, and it was our first time breaking outside of Ontario and into other provinces, the States, and Europe. Somewhere along the way we thought “Hey, we should have some bands come to Toronto and do something special.” It’s such a great musical community that exists at the genesis of any band getting started, and we were finding that to be true in Toronto. We thought we could do it in a special place, and we had some music that we really wanted to get out there.

Some people we knew were a part of the Friends of Bellwoods compilation in support of the Daily Bread Food Bank. We thought it would be a good idea to partner up with them, and do a show that wasn’t just about us. We didn’t even realize it was going to be an annual thing at the get-go. It’s pretty cool, and it really makes you understand the value of promoters and venues, and what it really takes to put on a show.


Support for refugees is more crucial now than ever, given the crisis in Syria. What do you think the average Canadian can do to help out?

G.G.: My girlfriend and I have been getting more involved, and it can be small-scale things. People need help getting around sometimes, and I’d give some Syrian kids in the community a ride to school. Simple things like that. It’s interesting, when you meet people that have been involved in this conflict, they aren’t helpless by any means. They aren’t coming here looking for handouts, they are resilient people that are full of hope and life and love. The do need some help to get back up on their feet.

Sometimes they need things like clothes, and some help with the bureaucratic process. I was talking with someone recently about a Roma refugee who had been living in sanctuary for two years with his wife and daughter, and whose claim had been denied by the government when Harper was still in power. His claim had been denied because his lawyer hadn’t translated the documents correctly, and they couldn’t go home because of the fear of persecution. They gave up after two years and ended up in Germany for a while until the Trudeau administration came into power and someone went there to get them and process their refugee claim. It’s a lot of work.

Just meeting refugees in the community, getting involved, that is an important thing. Sometimes they need things like bedding, or maybe supervision during trick or treating. When you get involved, people will open up to you about what they need.

For example, I lent a sound system to a group that needed one a while back. That was easy for me, but they might not have known how to get the system another way. Small things like that make a difference, and it can be a lot of fun to create that bond. It changes your relationship with the community, and brings you closer to it.


How are the Holiday Revue shows any different from your regular live performances? Any tricks up your sleeve?

G.G.: Yeah, we mix it up for sure. We play a lot of stuff that we normally wouldn’t get to play at one of our shows. There are tons of older songs that we kind of forget about that we can play, plus it’s a chance to break down that barrier between us and the audience. Over the last couple years we’ve really tried to do this with our live shows, and I think it leaves people in a better place afterwards.


What is your favourite Christmas song?

G.G.: Oh, that’s a good question. The Boney M Christmas album is a big one for me. It’s funny because growing up I didn’t realize it, but it’s just so good. Every year I think about making my own Christmas Carols album that I could stand to listen to and that I could share with family, but I have yet to do that and this year is no exception. I’ve embarked on another quest though, to record Aerosmith Lullabies for my young niece. They aren’t really Christmas songs, but still easy listening with guitar and vocals. They’re great songs! Well, some of them are.


2016 sucked. Is there anything that The Wooden Sky is doing in 2017 for fans to look forward to?

G.G.: We have a new record coming out in 2017, so I hope that will help. I mean, I don’t know if it will solve all the world’s problems, but we’re going to put it out and hope that people enjoy it. It will be called Swimming in Strange Waters and is about the endurance of the human spirit, which can be exhausting but it is always there. That’s life.

It’s a paraphrase from a Frank Herbert novel called “Dune” – “Survival is the ability to swim in strange water”. And I think that sums up where I’m at right now. Life’s not supposed to be easy, and sometimes it sucks. But if it were easy then we wouldn’t take any joy from it.