Guided By His Voice: An Interview with Sean Gardner of Winter Makes Sailors

Winter Makes Sailors (photo by Alison Rose Nocera)

Sean Gardner, the multi-instumentalist and vocalist behind Winter Makes Sailors has long been a staple in the robust and diverse Columbus music scene. Racking up an impressive rock resume including stints with Denovo, Kopaz, Melty Melty, The Kyle Sowashes, Bookmobile and The Receiver, Winter Makes Sailors is Gardner’s most individualistic endeavor – sometimes so individualistic that Gardner is the only player on stage. Simple songs, simple chords, and simple changes can be expected from a band that starts in the bedroom and ends up on the stage as a big, thick, formidable indie-rock machine.
In anticipation of their latest record,  Moving On (out on Anyway Records and We Want Action on April 26), Ghettoblaster caught up with vocalist Sean Gardner to discuss what he appreciates most about being a musician.  This is what he said.
What do you enjoy most about being a musician?
There is so much to love about being a musician. I love the process of writing a song, recording a song, and then sharing that song. It’s exciting to hear an idea turn into a recording. I love the friends that I’ve made through playing music. If you think about it, it’s like a bunch of like-minded people taking turns sharing ideas with each other and really putting themselves out there to do just that. People sacrifice so much to be a part of the music scene. Whether it’s lending their floor for a touring band or quitting a job to tour. The whole community is about making stories, friends, and as many good songs as you can. The best part is that you can contribute as much or as often as you want for as long as you want. Anybody doing it for any other reason isn’t doing it right.
What is your favorite instrument to play and why?
My favorite instrument is the guitar. My songs sound better with guitar. I know it well enough now that I’m comfortable on it, so my ideas don’t get caught up in trying to find the right chords like they used to. The guitar is warm and it’s mood can change with mine. Every guitar has its own voice because of it’s age and feel and style. They can be cheap or collectible but they all bring something to the table.
Do you prefer performing or recording music?
I prefer performing music. I’ve always thought of myself more as a performer. I love engaging an audience, the romance of being in a bar, playing songs even when nobody is listening. Recording is great and I love it dearly. But, sometimes I get so caught up in the little things that I forget the point of what I was trying to accomplish. The performance forces you to simplify and I truly believe that the best songs are the easiest.
What is the best compliment someone has given you about your music?
That’s a tough question. I don’t know that one compliment supersedes another. This kid Calvin started coming to shows with his Dad because he saw me open for Damien Jurado. His dad is awesome and loves good music. Calvin is nine or ten. I think when he comes to a show at 11pm and can keep his eyes open long enough to watch, that’s pretty awesome.
What is a milestone that you were able to accomplish with your most recent album that you’d never achieved before?
Some of the songs on this record are almost ten years old. I feel like the fact that I finally finished it and pressed it is the accomplishment. While this collection of songs sat in the background, I helped write, record and support seven other records with 5 other bands. I’ve stayed busy with numerous projects since I started playing music. But, I feel like now I’ve found my happy place…at least for awhile.
What is your favorite song on that record?
The songs on this record are road worn and have been played with dozens of different musicians. Winter Makes Sailors has always been me with a rotating, supporting cast until this last year. Now I have an incredible unstoppable band. I have so many memories of these songs from the different recorded versions to the different venues and cities they’ve been played in. I think the title track is my favorite.
It sums up what I was trying to accomplish with my music back when I wrote it. It can be played solo or with the full band and it’s always fun and seems to leave a mark on people. The version on the record is fairly well orchestrated and sounds ambient, powerful and swooning. It’s dynamic, melodic, yet super simple. It’s exactly what I was going for.
Where is your favorite place to perform?
Well, I’ve favored a few places in my hometown of Columbus. I’ve been really supported by a few venues especially. I love Kobo and the Tree Bar (Andyman’s Treehouse). They are each charming in their own way and the owners are the best, most supportive bar owners I’ve had the privilege to work with. The owners are musicians and understand what both performers and audience members want and need to enjoy a show. Ace of Cups is a great new place to play too. I play those the most. I think my favorite venue is Comfest. It doesn’t always sound great, and loading is a bitch. But, it’s a yearly outdoor LOCAL music festival in downtown Columbus. It lasts for 3 days, there are several stages, tons of musicians and artists, kids and dogs everywhere. It’s in the middle of the summer and everyone is hanging out in the grass, drinking, smiling, catching-up since the previous year’s Comfest. I always run into really old friends. People come home for Comfest.
Who is the best/most fun artist/band you’ve ever performed on the same bill with?
At this point, I’ve shared the stage with a lot of old heroes. But one of the most memorable shows was with Les Savy Fav. My old band, Denovo, opened for them at this short-lived venue called The Music Factory. The place was packed, the energy was high and we played a hell of a show. Then, Les Savy Fav took the stage. Not only the catchiest record of 2003, with witty, hilarious lines, but the performance of the band is on another level. I’ve seen them several times, but this show was incredible. I used the fact that I opened for them to stand backstage to watch the show so that I could see better. I watched Tim (the singer) take the glasses off of a kid up front and put them on a random girl, hang the mic cable from the ceiling and swing from it. At one point he disappeared in the crowd to pop up on top of the bar in the back (50 ft from stage). Then he dismantled a light in the ceiling, put it on the floor behind me and had me do the egyptian dance with my arms in front of a curtain so that I looked like an egyptian shadow puppet. Yeah…and they nailed every song.