Interview with Ships Have Sailed

Will Carpenter is a lucky man. Carpenter, who spearheads the Los Angeles-based Ships Have Sailed, found his love for music at a very young age. But his journey has not always been easy. At the age when most fifteen year olds are concerned about the zits on their pizza-munching faces, Carpenter made a life-changing decision to leave home. With a focused mind and sheer determination, Carpenter pulled himself out of a position where many would succumb to the challenge. Now, the thirty-one-year-old Vermont native is riding the current wave that is his recently released single “Midnight” while simultaneously gearing up to take the stage for the first time with his band.

Please tell me a little about yourself?

A lot of you probably already know from my bio, but here’s some more: I can be introverted at times, like many artists, but I also love people. I think a lot can be learned about the world from watching and trying to understand the people around us, and I try to increase my awareness every day! I have both a creative and an analytical mind…and I personally believe that those two aspects of my mentality really play off each other when it comes to my musical process and the style of music I’ve chosen to create for myself. On a fluffier note, I’m more of a dog person than a cat person (although my mom does love cats, and I can get along with them when I need to), and I like moderate walks on the beach–too long of a walk and I might get bored… 😉

So how would you say the creative and analytical part of your brain play a role in your musical process and style of playing music?

I would say they sort of compete with each other. The analytical side likes patterns and neat, tidy, symmetrical forms; whereas the creative side is, well, more creative. The net result is that the two balance each other out and provide a healthy competition between symmetry (which can be boring honestly) and more inventive forms, chord voicings, riffs, etc. My composition style certainly wouldn’t be the same without both sides of my brain/personality.

I’ve read that you’re originally from a small town in Vermont, where you were raised by “an array of talented women.” How would you say your mother and your four sisters inspired you as a musician?

My mother definitely was responsible for encouraging all of us to pursue music from an early age. That said, she tended to like classical and folk music–Jazz she heard as chaotic, and the most she leaned towards Rock music was The Beatles. I have either myself or my eldest sister Jena (who introduced me to everyone from Jimi Hendrix, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Metallica and Nirvana) to thank for all of my exposure to the more modern genres of music. Being one of five siblings growing up adds a healthy amount of competition to the mix, which I personally think is really important as a motivator to practice and make sure you’re growing better at what you do every day.

What was it about The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and The Doors that made you want to make music to change the world?

Listing those artists, it’s hard not to notice that each one of them created significant change through their music, all in rather different ways.  Some had political messages to share (some more subtle than others) and all of them brought something extremely unique from a musical perspective into the world that has helped shape the way music has developed into what we hear today. Also, I would say that all the artists in this particular list are timeless and have music that still translates to a listener today even though they didn’t have the benefits of modern, flawless, digital production. I find as an artist it is always important to find the things that inspire you and to find ways to incorporate that inspiration into what it is that you specifically do.

Tell me a little bit about playing the violin. Was this instrument hidden away in an attic? Was it a gift? How did this instrument fall into your hands?

Well, we definitely were a thrift-store type of family and didn’t really have too much in the way of finances growing up, so purchases like violins and such were definitely a stretch for my mom. However, as an early childhood educator, she placed huge importance on music and the arts as elements that help a young child’s brain develop. So finding a way to get or borrow instruments, such as the violin, and finding ways for us to learn how to play was something she prioritized. Once you have a 1/2, 3/4 and full size violin with 5 kids, the instruments get handed down, shared and recycled. So that was basically how it worked.

Interesting. Actually, it seems like you’ve picked up on several instruments at a very young age—something that is not typical in children—did your passion have much effect on your childhood?

Again, I think it was my mother’s emphasis on music that is responsible for this, definitely tailored towards a more classical musical education in my early years.  She tells a couple stories of me as a two-year-old humming Vivaldi or Mozart almost flawlessly to myself as I was playing, or as a four-year-old sitting down at the piano and playing a Beethoven piece decently by ear after hearing one of my sisters practice it. So I think she recognized an aptitude for music in me early on and decided it would be a good thing to cultivate.

That’s amazing! Not only to be moved and influenced by great artists, but for your mom to recognize your talent and to guide you towards your passion. Say that weren’t the case, what do you think you’d be doing if you weren’t a musician?

Well, I’ve already had a few different careers in addition to music. I’ve done everything from working in all aspects of food service (from waiting tables to being a line cook), doing stage production, security positions, software development, and architecture.  It’s hard to say what I would have found a distinct passion for if music hadn’t filled that space, but if I were to pick a career at this moment following or during my musical pursuits, I don’t know, maybe something in the education field…college professor?

Some kids get the boot from living in the luxury of their parent’s home at the age of eighteen, but you decided on leaving at fifteen. How did you make this decision? And was your family ok with this decision? Why or why not?

Well, without getting too deep into the weeds on this one, let me just say that at 14 and 15 years old my mother and I were having a somewhat contentious time in our relationship. She made an ultimatum that she certainly must have thought I would cave in to, and instead of caving I moved out of the house. She was not happy about it, but I guess she felt that she also couldn’t go back on her stance. To be honest, it has taken us a long time to get past that point in our relationship, but I’m happy to say that we have. I should also add that living on your own (often homeless) at such a young age is really difficult, lonely, and not something I would recommend…but with that said, the experience made me stronger as a person, and so I have no personal regrets.  I learned a lot about taking responsibility for the trajectory of my own life, and I think all those lessons (no matter how hard they were at the time) have helped me become the person I am today.

Wow. It must’ve been a difficult transitional period in your life. How did you bounce back from being homeless?

Well, I think we all go through difficult transitions from time to time, this particular one for me just ended up happening fairly early on.  I try to bounce back from all my various struggles the same way over the years: I make a list of goals and accomplishments that will project me away from the situation and elevate me out of it, which usually result in a bunch of things I need to do in order to accomplish those goals. Then it’s pretty easy to work your way through the list one item at a time and one day at a time…again, I guess my analytical side at work. This is how I try to approach almost any problem in life because it separates the reality of the issue from any emotion you might be feeling around it, and it gives you a clear direction on how to move past it.

How did you wind up playing lead guitar for 7lions? How is that coming along at the moment?

When I moved out to LA, I decided that I was going to take a break from creating and fronting my own bands and take a lead guitar role in an existing project.  I answered an ad on Craigslist and wound up auditioning with a group that included Forrest Fulmer as the lead singer.  After a bunch of line-up turnovers, which left only Forrest and I as original members of that group, we were still creating music and playing shows. We met Prophet through an artist in residency program at a clothing line store where Forrest worked at the time, did a quick collaborative track with him and had him jump on stage a couple shows in a row. The reaction from the crowd was just undeniable. Forrest and I decided to change the format of our project at the time and create something new with Prophet as a full member. That project eventually became 7Lions.  Everything is great with 7L currently. We are working on new music and are always exploring different ways to impact and grow our fan base. I love all those guys like family and certainly my love for Ships Have Sailed will not impact my dedication to 7L. I’m a great multi-tasker! 🙂

Please tell me about how Ships have Sailed came together?

Well, basically 7Lions has a very specific sound, and I tend to write all types of music. I found myself with a few songs that I couldn’t find a home for in 7L, but that I really didn’t want to let go either. They were very personal to me, so I started doing production for them. A couple of these songs felt like they needed more than I could give them at the time, and so I called up a good friend of mine, Morgan Taylor Reid, who is an incredible producer, songwriter and musician (and also a 7L member) and asked if he was interested in co-writing and co-producing a couple tracks. Those turned into “Midnight” and “Someday,” and all of a sudden I had an EP. That’s pretty much how it happened; it was like “Oh hey, here’s a new project that needs to be named and released!”

Speaking of “Midnight,” how has your audience reacted to it so far?

The reaction to “Midnight” has been nothing short of amazing. I launched this project extremely quietly, and to have a single song contribute so massively towards building a following and generating some good online feedback in such a short period of time has been surprising in the best possible way. Almost everyone seems to love that track as well as the video, and I’m extremely grateful that it has gotten so much love.  As an artist, really the best possible reward is to touch people with your work, and I think “Midnight” has accomplished exactly that.

That’s Amazing! I definitely think many other artists would agree that affecting people with their work is the utmost greatest feeling. Switching gears, how does your creative process work? In other words, how do you go from having ideas in your head to putting them down on paper?

[My creative process] tends to be different each time. It’s really easy when I have an instrument around or when I’m near my home studio—there I can just play ideas out and record them rough for later development, but more often than not, I will be in my car, on a plane, or somewhere where it’s impossible to do any of that when a good idea pops into my head. I’ve gotten really savvy at singing into my phone very quietly in public if that’s what I need to do, and I also have a pretty decent short-hand for chord progressions and forms that I can just take down in a “notes” program. With smartphones, it’s really pretty easy these days to sock something away for later. I don’t know how I survived without them!

Technology could definitely be a lifesaver when it comes to making music on the go. Any last words you’d like to say to anyone reading this?

Just that I’ve gotten a lot of questions about live performances. Yes, Ships Have Sailed will be playing live starting very soon!  The project took off rather unexpectedly, and I wanted to take the time to line up the right musicians to make the live experience translate on stage.  We have a very solid lineup at this point, and hope to be playing shows within the next month around the LA area, then branching out and hitting the road later this year!

Fantastic! Thank you for your time, Will!

You can purchase Ship Have Sailed’s EP ‘Someday’ on Itunes here.

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