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The Wooden Sky. Photo from their Facebook page.

Let’s be ready

By Chrissy Steinbock on May 7, 2015

Ontario Scene has been delivering a whirlwind of fantastic shows and there’s still plenty of goodness in store as we head into its final weekend. One show I feel I must highlight lest it be lost in all the noise is Friday night’s roots-rock triple bill featuring The Wooden Sky, the Sadies and Ottawa’s own Kalle Mattson.

I got in touch with the Wooden Sky’s Gavin Gardiner over the phone from his Toronto studio to talk about the energy of playing live, what drives him to make music and what we can expect at Friday’s show.

The Wooden Sky is one of those bands you want to discover in a live situation because as good as their records are there’s no recreating the electric energy the band members conjure amongst themselves on stage. When I ask Gavin what goes into making this happen he tells me “I do feel like there’s something to be said about being present and that’s what exciting about playing music. No one’s worried about checking their e-mail or what’s going on with social media. We’re focussed together to create something that you can’t google. When you’re creating something out of nothing you have to be very in the moment.”

He also mentions the effect of the energy that’s built into a performance situation. “In the studio you always have the opportunity to go back and redo it. Live you don’t have that so you’re really flying by the seat of your pants and feeding off the energy of everybody on stage and the audience. It’s sort of an intangible thing, this energy that you create together and that chemistry is really what I think keeps me excited doing the live show too.”

Another thing that stands out about the Wooden Sky’s music is the familiarity of their sound even on first listen. When I ask Gavin if he’s a nostalgic person we get into debate about nostalgia’s connotations before agreeing that maybe classic-ness is a better way to describe their songs. “Yeah, I definitely feel like that’s something we’ve always strived for. I don’t intend to be reinventing the wheel when we make records. What I want to do is contribute to the greater canon of music and do it really well and if that feels classic then I’m all for it.”

Their last record Let’s Be Ready came in at number one on Exclaim’s top ten list of “country, folk and blues” albums last year. And sure the earthy sound from their earlier work still comes through so the folk/country labelling isn’t too far off. A the same time Let’s Be Ready marked a sonic shift for the band with a louder, rawer and grittier feel that’s closer than ever to the band’s live sound.

Below is an excerpt from our talk.

Apt613: I’d like to start by asking about your musical background – how did get into playing music?

Gardener: I got interested in playing music when I was a young boy probably about five or six. I got kind of obsessed with the Richie Valens movie La Bamba and I think I just started bugging my parents until they got the picture. My Dad was out on business on the west coast of Canada with some people and they were grounded in Vancouver. One of the people they were travelling with was a pilot so they decided they would charter their own small plane and fly back so they did that, ended up in a small plane and the door flew open and my dad was sitting by the door kind of freaking out. He had sat and watched La Bamba with me as a little kid where the end is Richie Valens, Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper all dying in this plane crash. So he’s up in this airplane and I guess he’s sort of freaking out and praying and hoping he’s gonna make it out alive with his young family at home. I was five, my sister was three and my Mom was probably twenty-one or twenty-two. Anyway he landed and he’s so thankful he came home with this electric guitar for me. I started messing around with it around that time.

Some musicians come up with these mission statements to explain why they make music and how they want it to affect listeners. What drives you to make music??

When I first started I just loved playing music. It just gave me this high that I couldn’t get any other way. I still feel lucky enough that either by myself or with the guys, I’ll pick up the guitar or sit down a the piano or put on a pair of headphones and I can be lost for three or four hours and I don’t have anything else in my life that does that to me, that allows me to reach those places. At the end of the day I’m lucky enough to love what I do 90% of the time.

How do you feel about the Ottawa show coming up?

We love playing in Ottawa, we play there often and I sort of have a strong connection to it now that we spent a lot of time in the Gatineaus writing and we did all that pre-production there. Also any chance to play with the Sadies or see the Sadies is exciting because they’re such a fantastic live band. I’m excited too because I noticed that Kalle said something on the internet about playing a bunch of new songs so it will be cool to hear that and we’re doing the same so there will be new songs and old songs for everybody.

If you’ve heard one or all the bands playing Friday you already know it’s going to be a great night. One thing these three bands share is a belief in a powerful live show that can reach cathartic heights when the conditions are right. So if you haven’t heard them yet, Friday’s show is as good a time as ever to get better acquainted.

Ontario Scene presents The Wooden Sky with The Sadies and Kalle Mattson on Friday May 8, 2015 at the Bronson Centre (211 Bronson Ave). ?Showtime is 8pm. ?Tickets start at $25 and can be purchased here. This performance is part of the 5/$99 pass.