“Why, then the world’s mine oyster, which I with sword will open,” Ancient Pistol boasts to Sir John Falstaff, making a promise to seize his fortune violently, rather than earning it through moral means. The Merry Wives of Windsor, a comedy often regarded as one of Shakespeare’s lesser-appreciated works, examines deception, seduction and greed, set during the reign of Henry IV. While the phrase’s original intent was to illustrate the play of luxury over integrity, the meaning has been inherited to symbolize a “carpe diem” idealism, which reemerges every generation to reflect social trends and behaviors, including today with the often-derided YOLO acronym.
“I love to stay up, make up, conversations with the stars, see the glow on the horizon as we kiss away the dark,” pop-rock duo Ships Have Sailed paint with their new single “Let’s Just Dance,” a glistening, dance-floor bop which serves to ponder life’s most bewildering truths and the very notion of living in the moment. In the opening scene of the accompanying visual, a group of teens just out of high school grapple with an uncertain future. “I can’t believe it’s finally over,” one says. “I’m so ready for college,” adds another. “Anyone can go to college for four years and party their ass off. What do you do? You’re done, and you go work in an office the rest of your life?” scoffs a third.
A fourth responds with an answer that both epitomizes their anxiety and teases the future’s fortuitous roadmap. “I don’t know what I’m doing tomorrow, much less the rest of my life,” he says, lips quivering and the unease seeping behind his eyes. The Malibu landscape sprawls down around them, an apt juxtaposition of shimmering resolve and stormy unpredictability. “[The song] does dive into the fact that we as humans are always looking for the next step up the ladder. We always want more. It’s a really interesting thing, because your goal posts always keep changing,” muses Ships Have Sailed singer Will Carpenter over a recent phone call. “When you’re younger, you have these ideas about what it is to be happy and successful. Throughout life, as you start to achieve your goals, those goals then just change and get harder.”
Carpenter has a way of speaking frankly about life and his own journey, one which has been transformative, at best, and cathartic, at worst. “I was super awkward in high school. I was a little bit younger than everybody else. I was the shy, musical type. I graduated early, and I didn’t go right off to college,” he tells B-Sides & Badlands. In the follow-up years, he spent time living and working in the restaurant business, as well as “exploring my musical and altered states,” he says, point blank, chuckling a bit. “I was trying to figure out what was coming next. That speaks to this. There’s an aspect of wanting to move on to the next big thing and just wanting to hang on to the moment you are in, even if it is already gone. There is a really big paradox in there.”
Along with band mate Art Andranikyan, the pair have carved out quite a niche for themselves, establishing enough of a fan base to tour the country nonstop the past few years. And their streaming numbers don’t bely that success either. While “Let’s Just Dance” is still in the early stages (less than one thousand streams as of this writing), other tracks like “If Only” and “Up” have collected several hundred thousand streams. An audience is there; it’s just about hitting at the right peak moments. But they have no qualms, as they set their sights on a new project.
“Let’s Just Dance” may or may not lead to a new record, Carpenter teases. “There is no plan for this. I know people hate to hear that. We’ve been out on the road playing live shows a lot over the past two years. So, this year, I want our primary focus to be on creating more music. There will be more music coming, but I don’t know if it’s going to be an EP or an album or if we are going to release a series of singles.”
On a more personal level, Carpenter seeks “better balance” this year. “I’m already making steps with that and trying to be a little more mindful everyday. We’ve been a band for about four years now,” he says. “I was starting to work on what became the first EP four and a half years ago. Over the past few years, each year, we make a little bit of progress. I’m going to give myself a really easy goal, professionally, and say I just want to make a little more progress and surprise myself with what I create.”
Below, Carpenter discusses how the song was born, telling people how he feels, the American Dream and the YouTube creator crisis.
How did “Let’s Just Dance” start?
Initially, I was just trying to sleep at 2 am or something, and the chorus would not leave me alone. It was repeating itself over and over and over again. So, I had to go and sketch it out really quickly in the studio with just an acoustic guitar and vocal. I won’t be able to sleep until I get it out. I was working on trying to get verses, and nothing was really resonating. I called up a new acquaintance who’s a really great songwriter. His name is Robert Gilles. I asked him if he wanted to come over for an afternoon and see what we could come up with. We just started talking about this, in the context of “hey, what have you been thinking about?” The deeper concept materialized out of that. It was a really cool process and diversion from something that could have just been a poppy love song.
Production-wise, what did you want the song to feel like?
I’ve been listening to a lot of The 1975 and Walk the Moon the past couple years. I was channeling a little bit of that. I wanted it to be a little bit more classic, as well. Think edge-like guitars. Of course, you have to have modern vocal production. I was doing pre-production by myself, and it was sounding really good. I was very happy with the direction, but I had this feeling that it wasn’t quite where it could be. I had been chatting with this guy who is a really great producer named Wally Gagel [Miley Cyrus, Best Coast] about collaborating. I sent him the demo, and we set up a meeting. I played it in the studio and asked if he wanted to come on board and do co-production. He was stoked about the song. The collaborative aspect of both the writing and production really took the song from being really good to something I’m floored over.
Later in the music video, there is a vignette of a couple sitting on swings. The girl asks “did you tell her how you felt?” How does that add another layer to the song’s message?
It’s one of the most important things in the world that you learn as a human being. While feelings can be dangerous and telling people how you really feel can make you really vulnerable, there’s a risk to that for sure, but it is one of the single most important things you learn how to do in order to make your relationships meaningful. With every reward, there is a risk. Especially as a songwriter and artist, of any kind, we all have to learn to embrace those vulnerabilities. If we saw a wider population of people doing that, it would maybe not solve all the world’s problems, but the world would start to be a better place. A lot of the issues we see come from this simple thing.
When did you learn those lessons?
You know, our parents try to do the best they can to teach us. Some of those lessons fall flat or short. Some of them, we just aren’t willing to hear from that source. I don’t know everything now. I’ll continue to learn as each day passes. That’s another thing: keep an open mind. You’ll learn something everyday, literally.
Do you think our desire to “want more” comes from the instillation of the American Dream at such an early age?
I suppose it could correlate to that. More than that, though, it’s the human condition. It’s the reason why we build these tall buildings and discovered electricity and split the atom and went up into space. These are things that before they happened no one could even dream about, right? Yet, they are now realities. This tormented condition where nothing is enough is responsible for that. It’s a pretty beautiful thing, but sometimes, it’s not. It can have some really incredible side effects, though.
You wax pretty philosophical on Twitter. Recently, you wished Betty White a happy birthday while also hoping you are even half the person she is at that age.
I have a lot of respect for folks who can reach that level of success and still be humble. She’s always been a pretty political person, but she’s never taken herself too seriously, which is an incredible balance to strike. Man, she grew up in an era were it was not really acceptable for women to be pursuing comedy. She’s like overcoming a whole bunch of adversity and does it with a smile and a joke. There’s a lot to be said about that. Frankly, she seems super down to earth. I’d love to sit down and grab a cocktail with her. [laughs]
It remains to be seen. It’s not just YouTube, who is the latest in a string of social networks that have been admittedly trying to use these types of tactics in order to force business and artists to advertise. I will advertise, like a single release or album. But realistically speaking, I don’t have a five figure ad budget per year like a corporation does. I can’t spend the kind of money that’s going to give us the type of reach of a major label artist. There’s just no way. The fact that they are putting policies in place that are specifically detrimental to the up and comers and the independents is really discouraging. I get that they need to make their margins, as well. I’m sympathetic to that.
They need to find new ways of making revenue and be accountable to their shareholders. But at a certain point, if it’s going to cost so much money to be an independent artist, you’re going to have people who will either stop creating their art or stop promoting their art. You’re going to see a downturn in non-packaged music. Once a label signs you these days, you already have a fan base. They’re just basically packaging you up and marketing the hell out of you. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just good business. There is wealth of great independent music out there that got its platform from these mostly-free social networks that are now shuttering down the amount of eye balls you can get organically. It’s unfortunate.
If you’re responding to a snafu where a dude with millions and millions of subscribers puts his foot in his mouth in the worst possible way by imposing a punishment that’s not going to touch that person, it’s pretty transparent that you’re just using it as an opportunity to pad your bottom line.