Just don’t call it “Alt-country”

“Yacht rock.” “No Wave.” “Late-Baroque contrapunctual Galante.” “Miami Booty Bass.”

People – usually non-musicians – seem to possess a near-militant will to categorize music into genres. And while such labels might provide a touchstone things like “conversation” and/or “common understanding,” they are also – to paraphrase Joseph Conrad – “the great enemy of reality.” Take the band The Wooden Sky, for example. Though widely saddled with the “alt-country” label, the Toronto-based four piece doesn’t actually claim any relationship to that particular genre whatsoever.

“'[Alt-country] is a ridiculous label. Probably every band thinks that their label is ridiculous, though,” singer/guitarist Gavin Gardiner says over the phone from a tour van near Fredericton. “I just don’t even really understand what alt-country is, anyway. It’s hard for me, because I can’t think of anything good that comes along with that label.”

So maybe genres are useful for something: pissing off musicians, or, at the very least, utterly bewildering them.

“I mean, the country stuff I like, is that ‘country’ or is that ‘alt-country’,” Gardiner asks with spiraling desperation. “You know? I see the singer from Hootie and the Blowfish on CMT singing ‘country’ now, and I think, ‘What is this? What am I supposed to do with this?’”

Gardiner’s distress is understandable. Indeed, the only upshot of the genrefication of The Wooden Sly is a vastly underrepresented artistic enterprise.

“I particularly hate that term [alt-country] because of the sound it evokes. To me, it’s a very safe, singer-songwriter avenue. And I don’t hear that in what we do at all,” he asserts. “I mean, you can label anything. I don’t think it’s insulting or meant to be derogatory, it’s just something we try to avoid.”

The Wooden Sky’s latest album, and second to date, If I Don’t Come Home You’ll Know I’m Gone, showcases a scatter shot of style and form, often changing markedly from song to song, yet delivered with the assured confidence of a band maturing into its self. While Gardiner allows that the sound doesn’t necessarily “avoid classification all together,” he does believe it is decidedly “hard to pin-to-down.”

Still, Winnipeggers will have the opportunity to pigeonhole Wooden Sky for themselves next when the band comes to town. For Gardiner, this particular tour stop represents a homecoming of sorts.

“I grew up in Morden, so Manitoba still feels like home because my all family is there,” he says. “At the same time, I’m also kind of removed from it in a strange way. My life is in Toronto now […] It’s a strange thing growing up and moving away and starting a new life, because then you have two [homes]. They’re not completely separate, but it’s difficult to balance.”

Garidiner left for Toronto after high school to attend Ryerson, where The Wooden Sky was born as a solo bedroom recording project.

“The band started out about 6 or 7 years ago there, and slowly evolved, naturally, into a full band where everyone contributes equally,” he says. “I definitely still retain that original spark, though. I still craft a lot of the songs at home, and then we work on them together. So I still have that personal connection to it.”

The Wooden Sky, now a full-fledged touring outfit of burgeoning national acclaim, plans to be in Winnipeg for two days, and to play two very different shows. The first is a stripped-down in-store gig, followed by what Gavin Gardiner promises will be “a full-out ‘rock and roll’ show at the West End.”

Ah, so the band is more comfortable identifying with the “Rock and Roll” genre then, Gavin?

A sigh.

“You know what I mean.”

The Wooden Sky play a free in-store show at Into The Music at 4:30 on Feb. 8th, and open for The Rural Alberta Advantage at the West End Cultural Centre on Feb. 9th.