Ships Have Sailed set themselves apart when they write a ballad. While diving deep into the center of the trauma they also create an atmosphere around the song; one that gives the listener the feeling of impending fission. But where Ships Have Sailed have shown growth since their last release in early 2020 is their ability to harness that anticipation and practice restraint. Executed brilliantly in “Breathe”, a remedial exploration through inner trauma driven initially by blanketed piano tones and Will Carpenter’s patient croon, only to open up to affected drums, trap beats and dramatic synth swells.
“The beginning really felt like it needed that intimacy, so it’s very bare, but as soon as the second verse hits it needed a little drama.”
The often adrenaline fueled rock duo of Will Carpenter and Art Andranikyan have an unexpected penchant for crafting songs that can explore the depths of inner turmoil while simultaneously inspiring steps in a new direction. In this way Ships Have Sailed is a much needed respite from the never ending negativity loop that echoed throughout 2020.
“I think the work itself is continual, the experiences add to themselves over time, and if you’re lucky you build up some more self-awareness as you’re experiencing trauma so that you can process some as you go and the rest doesn’t sit around and fester so long.”
You will find talking to an artist like Will is in fact a breath of fresh air (I won’t make a big deal about that pun if you won’t) and it becomes clear that the affirming nature of his music is a natural manifestation of his daily inner work.
“Twice a day I put pen to paper to articulate my gratitude and honestly there is a lot to be grateful for.”
We caught up with Will in what became an unexpected and very welcomed exploration through internal balance…
Last we spoke, you had just gotten home from a tour that had been cut short by COVID. Can you tell us how that affected your headspace, musically and otherwise now that you’ve had time to reflect?
I remember vividly, and thank you for taking the time to catch up with me again! I’ve been doing a lot of reflection about the past year – I think honestly it’s been a study in learning how to adjust my expectations and make the most of the unexpected. 2020 was supposed to be mostly a live year for us, so musically we had to shift to a more release-driven plan (beginning with our single ‘Rise’ and followed by ‘Low’ later in the year) and focus more on creation. I was really thankful to find a wealth of inspiration and musical ideas as we settled back into LA and hunkered down in quarantine, and I’m infinitely grateful to have a home studio where I can create without leaving the house!
From a non-musical perspective, I think most of us will probably agree that the world has changed significantly from what we’re used to. Hopefully that’s temporary, but there’s a low grade type of trauma and even grief that comes from that type of sudden, drastic, unexpected change that we’ve experienced en masse. That doesn’t take into account those of us who have lost family and friends, either to the pandemic or otherwise during this time, and I think it’s been transformative and very raw for most of us…only in very different ways sometimes. I continue to be grateful that music gives me a way to process my emotions and also put something out into the world that can lend others some comfort as well.
“Breathe” is about what traumas and inner demons can do to us over time. Since we all had time to internally focus in 2020, how did you approach these traumas and/or demons?
If I’m being honest, I’ve been working actively on resolving a lot of inner turmoil for some time now. For me, this is probably the thing that changed the least for me in 2020…I continued my work, but it didn’t increase in its intensity. With that said, I’ve definitely had some very difficult experiences over the past year, so those ultimately will be added to the ‘queue’ to be processed if that makes sense? I think the work itself is continual, the experiences add to themselves over time, and if you’re lucky you build up some more self-awareness as you’re experiencing trauma so that you can process some as you go and the rest doesn’t sit around and fester so long.
Do you find music is enough therapy or are you searching for other methods of reconciliation with the self?
Music is always a help in this area, but of course it’s important to have other tools and methods. I do speak to a therapist on a regular basis and definitely recommend this as something that can benefit almost every single human out there…just having an objective ear with no fear of judgement can be really incredible, but the past year I’ve also focused on practicing gratitude and mindfulness, getting back into my yoga practice and exercising regularly. Believe it or not I also find the kitchen quite therapeutic at times, so it’s been really nice to have an excuse to dig back into my skills there – I didn’t always make time to cook, but the past year it’s really been a necessity during lockdowns.
For the sake of all things holistic, I’m curious of how literal or perhaps how deep the title of the song “Breathe” goes in concerns to coping. Examples of methods like Wim Hoff, holotropic breath work sessions, etc. Did any of these inspire the chorus of this song?
That is a really great question! Honestly, when the song was written I hadn’t heard of Wim Hoff – the chorus was more of a ‘mantra-like’ idea and I wanted it to be a simultaneous sense of calm with an undercurrent of desperation if that makes sense? Almost as if the protagonist is drowning right in the air, desperately reminding themself to breathe. At the time, I was dealing with a lot of pressure seemingly from all angles – my inner work felt really heavy, I was struggling dealing with a terminal family member and several other family-related issues that had piled up, along with all the pressures of a creative career and other professional pursuits and it often felt like I was drowning…this was my expression of that. Since then, I’ve learned a bit about Wim Hoff, and his methods really do fascinate me – in fact, when my mind races at night to the point where I can’t get to sleep, there’s a breath pattern that I often use to calm myself down…it works quite well, and I’m thankful to have discovered it!
The production is wonderfully executed and nuanced. When approaching a song like this that could be treated almost like a ballad, played simply on the piano, how do you prepare for what kind of treatment you will give it? How do you decide how big you want to make it (sonically speaking)?
First of all, thank you! This song was a big step outside the box for me with regards to production, and it presented quite a challenge both with the balance between intimacy and ‘size’ you’re talking about as well as accommodating that in the mix, so I’m really glad you’re enjoying it! I honestly like to let the song guide me, if that makes sense? The beginning really felt like it needed that intimacy, so it’s very bare, but as soon as the second verse hits it needed a little drama. To my ear this one felt like it needed some eerie elements to it, so I steered electronic and tried to find ways to have the layers shift in subtle ways to widen and narrow the stereo image as a way to adjust the ‘intimacy factor’ (if you will) even within the different sections…without also being distracting. The bridge definitely felt like it needed to explode and so Art and I decided that live drums should come in there along with a bunch of choral vocals – the balance between the bridge and the rest of the song was probably the biggest challenge of this mix.
To your point though, this could be a very intimate song all the way through…given the tendency for live streaming and acoustic shows during COVID, I’m trying to wrap my head around how a stripped down arrangement should feel…I haven’t quite gotten there yet!
There is a cinematic quality to the song. This makes one curious if you are inspired directly from watching movies or dramatic television shows? Do you ever find yourself writing with a specific scene in mind?
I do love TV and Film! I wouldn’t say I take inspiration for specific songs from it or anything like that, but I think as a creator when you consume anything, that information goes into your ‘memory banks’ and it pops up as reference material when you’re creating. When I’m writing for Ships Have Sailed, I really just let the songs come to me – this one I got a little stuck on and so I brought in a co-writing partner (my friend Kelsey Mira) to help finish it up – but the process for creating a SHS song is really more of an exploration of what the song needs to say and what it wants to sound and feel like more than anything else.
With that said, I have always loved the idea of writing to picture, and I would welcome the opportunity to score for Film or TV, or even create custom songs for those types of opportunities. I’m not sure I would tie something so directly to a specific scene unless I was working directly with the production on a project though, I think those expectations can cloud a process that otherwise is purely creative.
To end on a positive note, what are you most grateful for so far in 2021?
To be alive, to continue to create, for opportunities like this one (thank you!) to have our music heard and understood at a different level, I’m grateful for it all! Twice a day I put pen to paper to articulate my gratitude and honestly there is a lot to be grateful for. I kept telling myself that January 1 was not a reset button, just kind of setting my own expectations that we’re not out of this tunnel yet, but I’m grateful for this perception that we have at humans that it’s a new year and a blank slate…an opportunity for change. I’m hoping we can find balance and return to some sense of normalcy this year, and that we can all move on remembering how important the little things are that perhaps we took for granted pre-pandemic.
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photos / courtesy of artist
story / Chris Hess