[guest post] 2009 In Review, Vol. 4 - The Wooden Sky

As I’ve done for the past two years on PHW, I’ve asked a handful of the artists I’ve blogged about over the last 12 months to reminisce, musically, on 2009. I asked a mix of my favorite local artists, as well as several more nationally recognizable acts, with the hope of having a diverse assortment of reflections on the music that mattered to the artists that mattered to me. In the coming 2 or 3 weeks there will be a series of “guest” posts from some names you may recognize, if you were paying attention this year…

It’s no secret that great indie-rock bands are in no short supply in Canada, but it’s rare to hear one with such an anchor in a style we generally term “Americana” as The Wooden Sky. It seems like an inappropriate descriptor for a band from Toronto, but the 13 songs that make up their 2009 effort, If I Don’t Come Home You’ll Know I’m Gone, are rooted in the kind of dusty folk-rock and acoustic balladry you generally associate with the American South. The album’s centerpiece, and it’s eerie heart of darkness, is a brooding, slow-building folk song called “Something Hiding For Us In The Night” that crescendos with lead-singer Gavin Gardiner’s passionate wailing. It’s an earnest, striking work of art, and is easily one of my 15 or 20 favorite songs of the year, sounding like it could be a cover of a Nebraska-era Springsteen outtake. The whole record is beautiful though - there’s a spacious and pristine sound permeating nearly every song. Even the rockers have a distinct sense of elegance about them. Other highlights are the soulful sing-alongs “The Late King Henry” and “Oh My God (It Still Means A Lot To Me)”, the effervescent “While We Were Young”, and the beautiful country harmonies of “Oslo”.

The Wooden Sky helped their own cause this year by touring relentlessly, but chose to do so in an unconventional manner. Their “Bedrooms and Backstreets Tour” found them avoiding the usual bars and rock clubs most young bands head for, instead playing house parties, rooftops, outside of motel rooms, and in a variety of other locales not usually designated for concerts. The point was to get out there and play for people in intimate settings, make friends and acquaintances along the way, and build a fan base from the ground up. The tour was documented in a series of video clips called, appropriately, “A Documentary in Pieces”, available for viewing on their myspace page. The band is hitting the road again this week, stopping off for a pair of New York shows - Thursday, 12/10 (tonight!) at Pianos and Saturday, 12/12 at Union Hall. They’ll be touring across Canada with The Rural Alberta Advantage in the coming weeks. If I Don’t Come Home You’ll Know I’m Gone is available through Black Box.

Gardiner sent along the following detailed account of the year in the life of The Wooden Sky. Enjoy, and listen up:

Strange to think this year is over. Stranger still is the fact that today is the day of the first snow fall this winter. By this time last year we were waste deep and cursing the streetcar, who for all it's flaws still gets us from A to B.

After coming back to Toronto from a few days with my parents in Winnipeg over Christmas, we loaded our van with every instrument we owned and drove straight to Montreal. Actually that's not entirely true, we only got about half way before deciding it was too dangerous to continue, pulled off the highway into Kingston and spent the night at a shitty motel. In the morning we were excited to leave town but our van wouldn't turn over, not a sound. It was a rough start to making the record, but when we finally arrived at the studio in Montreal and were greeted by friendly people, dogs, pianos and espresso machines it seemed all the pieces were falling into place. The bitter cold and blowing snow of a January in Montreal kept us inside but it didn't seem to matter, the studio was warm and the ideas seemed to be there in abundance. It's exciting to see what you're capable of when you are forced to focus and create and perform consistently for 12 hours in a row. We recorded 16 songs, 13 of which made up our new record, If I don't come home you'll know I'm gone.

I have fond memories of 2009 and the making of the record was one of the best experiences I've had (despite the fact that there were at times 9 of us living in a one bedroom apartment). That really set the tone for the bulk of my year, the idea keeping friends and family close. It has been nice to bring friends and family on the road with us, it's so important to me that we are able to share in each others lives and I know that can be difficult when the majority of my life (at least this past year) has been spent on the road.

Some highlights:

1) Dan Auerbach: I love this record, I never really was into the Black Keys but this record really connected with me.

2) SXSW: We had a convoy of bands and friends come down from Canada and descend upon Austin. We were coming pretty much straight from mixing the record in Montreal, with a pit stop in Toronto to pick up some clean clothes and a few good friends. The road trip was great, the festival was great and the ride home was long oh and I got to see Phosphorescent play 3 times.

3) Friends in Bellwoods 2: This, the second installation of the Friends in Bellwoods series, is a compilation curated by some close friends designed to raise money for the Daily Bread Food Bank. I think to date it has raised around $18,000 which is pretty fantastic.

4) Tom Petty.

5) Bedrooms and Backstreets Tour: We did a tour this summer (that we called the bedrooms and backstreets tour) which was designed to get us out of bars and clubs and into peoples homes and other unique locations. It was a great way to meet people and to rethink and reinvent the songs that we had just finished spending months toiling away on. It also allowed us to really bring our music to a much more intimate setting and it was just as exciting for us as it was for the audience. We brought along a friend of ours who's a really talented film maker (Scott Cudmore) to document some of it, and ended up filming in some crazy places (ie. canoes, gondolas, old school houses, sunflower fields...)

Wooden Sky @ Sonic Boom from NOW Magazine on Vimeo.

MP3 :: (Bit Part)
(from If I Don’t Come Home You’ll Know I’m Gone. Buy here)

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