Sean Gardner is using his downtime to the fullest

Joel Oliphint
Sean Gardner

When stay-at-home orders went out in March, Sean Gardner had never felt so grateful to have a studio in his basement. “You're helping society by staying at home, but it felt kind of selfish, because that's what I've been wanting to do anyways,” Gardner said. “It seems like everybody else has been bored, and I've just been really enjoying the downtime.”

It also doesn’t hurt that right before quarantine hit, Gardner began dating fellow Columbus musician Sam Corlett. “Being stuck with Sam in a studio is pretty great. She's one of the best vocalists in town,” said Gardner, who has helmed tons of local acts, including Bookmobile, Winter Makes Sailors, Denovo, Kopaz and more. “We've been hanging out and playing music and working on some of her songs. We recorded a version of ‘Hold on Hope’ by Guided By Voices, and we've been playing some shows together.”

Still, in between writing and recording and teaching guitar lessons and working carpentry jobs, Gardner missed playing music with his friends, so he found ways to do it remotely, including launching a new band, Minnows. Featuring members of Black Antler, Six Gallery and the Pinkertones — Phil Cogley, Ben Schreiber, Alex Weinhardt and Adam Lowe — the bandmates collaborated online to write six new songs. “Ben is writing a bunch of riffs, and then I'm adding my sparkly, shimmery, ambient stuff on top of it. It’s really fun and really heavy,” Gardner said.

In addition to writing a bunch of material that could end up on a future Winter Makes Sailors record, Gardner is also working remotely with Casey Cooper and Nate Rothacker to finish the debut album from their harmony-driven trio, the West Ghost (“Those guys are both amazing lead singers on their own. I love that band, and I think that record is sounding really beautiful,” he said ), while also teaming with Mike Postalakis and Dan Bandman on a project called Rented Lips.

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But Gardner has also taken time to creatively engage with society at large, penning a politically charged song when racial justice protests erupted earlier this summer. “I'm reflecting a lot on my family and the differences that I think a lot of us are feeling between our family members — feeling torn apart,” he said. “The song I wrote, it's called ‘I Stand with Americans,’ and it's kind of a patriotic song from my perspective, in response to things I'm seeing from family that are just really hard to deal with. I'm really thankful to have music to be able to express myself.”

After writing the song, Gardner had certain musicians in mind for different parts, recruiting David Murphy (Ghost Shirt, Two Cow Garage) to play drums and Chris Bolognese (the Whiles, Beatles Marathon) to play bass. While Murph masked up on the other side of the studio to play his parts, Gardner drove his truck to Bolognese in an attempt to record the musician outdoors from a distance.

“I would have loved to be somebody driving by and seeing this truck full of construction equipment and saws and wood, and then Chris is standing there, and I've got my laptop at the back of the truck, and he's standing in his yard playing bass,” Gardner said.

Recently, Gardner and Corlett performed a set outdoors in Rockmill Brewery’s idyllic setting, and they’re looking forward to playing sold-out sets tonight, along with Kyle Sowash, on the patio of Ace of Cups — the venue’s first show in six months. “I think it's going to be intimate and special,” he said. “And it's perfect jean jacket weather. It's always fun to go on a date and get to wear your jean jacket for the first time.”

Check out Gardner and Sam Corlett's cover of "Hold on Hope" below, along with the West Ghost track "What's My Direction."