Every Child a Daughter, Every Moon a Sun. The title of the Wooden Sky's latest album, their third full-length, is as much a tongue twister as it is confusing and cryptic. Only until lead singer and songwriter Gavin Gardiner opens his mouth does it stop ringing through as some sort of abstract astrological worldview. No, the 29-year-old isn't looking to the sun and the moon for guidance ― quite the opposite, actually. "The phrase just popped into my head and I couldn't stop thinking about it," he says. "It fit where I was at in my headspace and where a lot of the record is at."
While touring through the States this past October, Gardiner began to think what it would be like to trade places with someone else. Not a comedic Eddie Murphy/Dan Aykroyd type of trading places (which brings its own level of awesomeness) but truly experiencing what others experience.
"You have your own life, I have my own life, they have their own life," says Gardiner, looking around the crowded coffee shop. "I was just overwhelmed with all of these satellites existing so close together in these completely different worlds. I've been thinking a lot about that, and what's important in life. That's where the title came from."
Questions override the album ― ones void of answers, something Gardiner says he's not qualified to give. Perhaps that's why the haunting "Your Fight Will Not Be Long," or "In The Dirt, In The Sand" almost became album titles. Despite how those titles sound, he's not depressed, nor was he when penning these 13 songs. Much like the stripped down, sparse music Gardiner was praising earlier in our conversation ― specifically folk-rock artist Sam Amidon, whose music many would call sad and depressing ― he hears sunshine and hope where others hear gloom.
"I rarely feel defeated," he says. "Those titles are more like thinking that mortality isn't such a depressing thing. Maybe it's a beautiful thing where you lay down your sorrows and move forward. Into what? I don't know, I'm still working that one out."
This thought process follows Gardiner's personal journey. He's thrown away his alter ego, the one who came into interviews with polished, professional quotes ready to dish the perfect sound bite. And he's moving past the traditional mindset of many songwriters.
"Being a songwriter is pretty vain, thinking people give a shit about what you say," he explains. "I'm trying to look beyond that. Three-quarters of the Wooden Sky were the backing band for the new Evening Hymns record that's about Jonas's relationship with his dad who passed away. [This] record will impact people's lives and that's a great way to think [about music]. It goes beyond thinking about the pressure, what others will think when they hear it…"
Gardiner sits back, almost taking in what he's saying. It's not that this is the first time he's rummaged through these thoughts (he quit his other job at Ryerson University before touring the Wooden Sky's last album, meaning he's often home with time to ponder), but it's the fact that he says many peers he comes across are having the same thoughts. What do we do with life? What's happiness?
"I'm trying to figure out what makes me happy," he says. "If you asked me that two years ago I probably would have made up some shit. It makes me happy to know my girlfriend is happy. Sure. But what it is that makes me happy is different every day. And the title [of the album] plays into that ― everything is different to someone else. I wish I knew exactly what it was [that makes me happy]…and when you figure that out, then I guess you can die."
He isn't quite sure what role, if any, religion plays into his internal quest for answers. But after spending the last few years denying it, he admits he's spiritual. He says he grew up in the bible belt of Manitoba, a religious town that didn't feel spiritual.
"It was very strict, more about rules than guidelines to be a better person," he says. "Maybe that was the intention but it never felt like that. Or maybe it's because I was a teenager then and I didn't understand what people were doing. Those teenagers I saw on the subway today have no clue what they're talking about, but that's fine ― be naïve and innocent as long as you can. Once you cross that line there's no going back; you see people try to avoid that by slipping into addiction."
That sentence jolts him back to his present life, with a year of touring in front of him. There's an energy in his voice when he talks about going on the road. He's part of a band that appears to enjoy touring more than most, equally ready and excited to play rock clubs and living rooms. He says touring is like travelling with a gang on a mission, getting to play music every night in front of people who are excited to hear you play. But there's also a sobering aspect of it that he rarely opens up about.
"I'm in a dangerous place because we play in bars and people want to party with us all the time," he explains. "That's fun, but it can very easily become problematic and it can be an escape to not think about life. It's a scary part of being on the road, and it's something I've never really talked about before, but I think a lot of touring musicians struggle with this ― it's numbing so it makes being away a lot easier."
Heavy? Sure, but not disabling. There's always optimism in voice, even while psychoanalyzing his life and livelihood. He sees the potential pitfalls of the future, but also sees his band's new album, and the string of new music on the way ― including a five-song video EP for Every Moon a Sun and a covers EP of Ernie Graham's music. "It's an exciting time for me and for the Wooden Sky."