Watching the world shift its disposition in real time. Most experienced this amidst a devolving daily routine, from home… home being the operative word. But Will Carpenter and bandmate Art Andranikyan had just driven through a blizzard in Wyoming when they realized their tour and any feeling of normalcy were out the window.
The LA based duo, Ships Have Sailed returned to California deflated from a canceled nation-wide tour only to find an unfamiliar city. But to their own surprise they found solace in a song they’d written long before the unprecedented global health crisis. Although “Rise” fits within the hopeful thematic nature of this songwriter, the new single is a muscular moment in the band’s catalogue. Perhaps a little extra proverbial juice is what is needed in lieu of digestible bleach?
We caught up with singer Will Carpenter for a detailed play by play of his surreal COVID experience as well as what motivates mental perseverance through music.
You mentioned “Rise” as a song that had been finished for a while but just found its appropriate moment. Do you frequently find songs exhibiting their own prescience? As if they are in fact steering the ship more than the songwriter?
I find that the most powerful songs do have their own energy…they tend to ‘find’ me and in a way, yes I try to ‘listen’ to them in order to find the direction they need. Of course as a songwriter and a producer I make the decisions, but I try to be conscious of where the music itself seems to be wanting to go and let that inform the direction.
You were in the middle of a tour with Quitting Whitney when the quarantine started. Can you walk us through the bizarre moments when you realized you would actually have to cancel the tour and then perhaps the fear that came knowing you still were so far from home?
That is a long story…when we left LA everything was mostly ok. We played our first show in Vegas and found out the next morning that our homecoming show at Troubadour was cancelled, which made sense because of the ‘no gatherings of over 250 people’ mandate in LA…as we were soundchecking for Salt Lake City, we found out the festival north of Denver was considering canceling, but again, they were expecting thousands of people, so we thought the bulk of our tour was safe (although losing the festival was a gut-punch). Waking up the next morning we got an email that Aspen was canceling, and a confirmation (by checking their website) that the festival had pulled the plug as well, but Denver was still a go, so we drove through a blizzard in Wyoming and were about an hour from our hotel in Denver…and got another email from the promoter at our Denver venue Ophelia’s saying they had to pull the plug on the show. That was the moment we realized the whole tour was going sideways, and we made a point to regroup together that night and decide how we wanted to move forward.
It was definitely strange to be so far from home and watching this whole pandemic escalate…especially when you’re literally on the road (Starbucks and truck stops) watching businesses change their policies and people change their behavior literally on a daily basis. Like, one morning we got Starbucks and it was completely normal, and the next day we stopped at one and all their tables and chairs were stacked in a corner, baristas wearing gloves and masks and serving takeout only. Totally surreal.
But I will say (and I apologize for the length of this answer) we tried to make the most of the situation. Sure, we had a couple low moments as the reality of the situation set in, but everyone rallied…we got to know Matt and Ryan (from Quitting Whitney) really well, and they’re just amazing humans. We made awesome dinners at our AirBnB in Albuquerque, shot enough footage for a music video for each of us and a mini-doc about the whole experience, and made sure we were able to get a COVID-19 screening at a drive-through clinic before heading home. And we met some super kind and compassionate people (including the healthcare workers who listened to our story and tested us even though we were asymptomatic) along the way.
You’ve gotten to work with some exciting producers and collaborators for this project. What are the specific advantages you’ve found in these collaborations? Any outlandish ‘producer throwing their shoe at you from across the vocal booth’ studio moments to share??
Hah! I almost wish I had more exciting stories like that to share – but everyone’s been really down to earth and chill. I would say the biggest advantage to collaborations (regardless of how ‘notable’ the individual is) is just the addition of a different perspective to the creation process. It’s like a tennis ball: you can throw it against a wall and ‘play catch’ with yourself, but it’s much more engaging to volley with a partner. But I find the best collaborators are the ones who really know how to put their egos aside before they walk in the room…we can disagree on things, or try to get to the best stuff, but there’s a way to do it gracefully so that everyone stays comfortable in the situation. Ultimately the goal needs to be making the song the best it possibly could be, and so I think it’s important to just get excited about the best ideas when they happen no matter who they come from.
“Rise” carries a message of perseverance that is powerful and the sonics only reinforce this strength. Being that Ships Have Sailed is a two-piece band, how do you go about translating the, shall we say, girth of the music live?
As you can imagine, as a duo, we play with a backing track. I haven’t quite figured out how we’re going to translate ‘Rise’ to the stage, and honestly I’m guessing we won’t see a real stage in quite some time given the current health crisis. Ideally I would love to have more musicians on stage with us, but at the moment it’s so compact and convenient to be a duo out on the road we’re willing to wait for the right partners to materialize and continue as we have been.
Your song “Skin” is an invitingly melodic tune about having thin skin. A trait that can be especially damaging in the music industry. Any tips to other artists on how you’ve navigated through that over the years?
Don’t I know that! Yeah, I mean, I haven’t always been the greatest at letting stuff roll off my back, and I definitely don’t have it all figured out even now…it’s a journey. But what I will say is that ‘Skin’ played an important part in my making new steps towards understanding that a lot of times negativity online (or honestly in person as well) is actually a projection of what that person is feeling more so than it is a reflection of you or your work. That’s not to say you can’t fail at what you’re doing, obviously you can, but if you’re confident in what you do then you have to just know you’ve done your best, keep moving forward and try to empathize with whomever is trying to kill that confidence, because chances are they feel as bad as what they’re trying to project on you.
What is one song or album that has lifted your spirits in this quarantine? If you happened to be stuck at home with that artist, what would you ask them?
So I’ve been on a really big Andrew McMahon kick for a minute now. I’ve been really digging his latest album, but I would say the song that I always come back to for a lift is ‘Cecilia and the Satellite’ …it’s about his daughter and it’s just so sweet and comforting, and the writing is beautiful. If I was stuck in a house with Andrew my first question is: wanna write a song? 🙂
What is the motivation behind positive themes of your songwriting and do you find mental perseverance through music?
“Mental perseverance through music…” I love that! Honestly, that’s kinda the story of my life. For as long as I can remember, music in one way or another has helped me through my struggles. These days I process emotion by creating, and there’s nothing more incredible than turning around and having someone tell you that your art has, in fact, helped them through a struggle…it’s like, positive karma through song…truly powerful!
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photos / Gentle Giant Digital
story / Chris Hess