The Wooden Sky seize control of an epic folk-rock destiny

by James Brotheridge


musicThe Wooden Sky
Artesian on 13th
Tuesday 23

The cover of the Wooden Sky’s Let’s Be Ready has the whole band in front of Tina Coffee, a Toronto spot that, according to frontman Gavin Gardiner, does everything. He says they even do people’s taxes, though his lack of knowledge as to who’s actually crunching the numbers in there doesn’t make it sound like they’re doing his.

“I assume Tina’s in there doing the taxes,” says Gardiner over the phone. “I don’t know. They sell real estate out of there. They’ve got hamburgers and coffee. And they do taxes.”

The members of the Wooden Sky felt like doing a different kind of album cover this time around. Let’s Be Ready, the fourth record from the ambitious alt-folk rock group, comes after an amicable split with bassist Andrew Wyatt that left a hole in the band for a while. In the same time period, the group decided to start their own label, Chelsea Records, to release their albums and the records of others in the future.

So they decided they should be front and centre, getting “modest limelight”, Gardiner says. And Tina Coffee was a fitting setting.

“We tried about 1,500 other covers first. It was a long process. I think everything with our band is a long process. And then we went out and –– actually, Sarah, my girlfriend, shot that cover, and she did a bunch of test shots before. It’s in the neighbourhood we live in and where we recorded the record. It’s kind of a landmark. We thought it’d be perfect.”

Like many, Gardiner moved to Toronto, coming from Manitoba “for school, thinking I’d be there for four or five years. Now I’ve been here for 12 or 13 years now.” The Wooden Sky’s grown while he’s embraced a sense of community in the city. The act started out low-key, small-scale enough that Gardiner crossing the country for house shows back in the day didn’t seem unreasonable. (If you dig through Prairie Dog archives, you’ll even find Gregory “G-Beat” Beatty talking to Gardiner about house shows somewhere in there.)

It’s harder to imagine now. The Wooden Sky of Let’s Be Ready is lean, the kind of tight folk rock that doesn’t waste a minute while still being as good a vehicle for Gardiner’s realistic but hopeful outlook as the easygoing songs that came before.

Having their own studio and space was helpful in getting the band to this point. Gardiner bought his house back in 2011 and starting setting up the garage as a studio for the band, which no doubt helped when, leading up to the making of Let’s Be Ready, the band was spending eight-hour days getting ready.

“This is the first time the band has had its own place to call its own, too, in terms of having a studio setup,” says Gardiner. “Somewhere where it’s comfortable to play music in all the time, you know? Creating an environment to create in was an important step with us in making this record.”

Doesn’t having that space in your backyard come with work-life balance drawbacks?

“But it’s outside of my house, so I have to put my pants on to get out there,” says Gardiner. “That’s good.”