How an Island Retreat Shifted Josh Garrels' Music

Josh Garrels in "The Sea In Between"
Sasha Arutyunova

Indie songwriter stars in Mason Jar Music's new film "The Sea In Between"

If a musician you admired posted his number on his website, would you call him?

This was how one fan, Blayne Johnson, came to contact indie singer Josh Garrels and decided he wanted to take part in his music. What began as an artist retreat at Mayne Island in Vancouver, BC, soon snowballed into "The Sea In Between," a feature-length documentary from Mason Jar Music giving an inside look into Garrels' life and music alongside the stunning backdrop of the island.

"I hope with this people see the fun and energy that is in the music," Garrels says in the film's trailer. "When someone can present it in a way that is inviting people into their joy that is when the most beautiful things are formed."

The film follows Garells' recording process from his life as a stay-at-home dad in Portland, Oregon, and showcases his day-to-day demands. The Sea In Between brings this all to life in the opening scene of Garells changing his son's diaper.

While Garrels was trying to make sense of having the cameras around, the retreat wasn't something he took lightly.

"It's a scary thing, it's very intimate, the creative process. It was very life-giving for me and definitely will change the way as a solitary artist I look at creating work. It's much more about communal effort now," Garrels said. "If it was some exposé paparazzi who had some crazy idea to film a reality TV show I wouldn't have been in to it at all."

Mason Jar Music and Garrels hope "The Sea In Between," available now, provides a captivating tale behind the art of music and inspires people to take part in the conversation.

"In my mind, the future of music is that people want to know there is integrity in the process, whether it's a small indie guy like me or a bigger name," Garrels said. "You'll always have your big pop stars and your number one hits and your one hit wonders but I think more and more people want to know the music they're listening to. They want the back story."

This is a point that Mason Jar Music co-founders Jon Seale and Dan Knobler both agree on.

"One of the most beautiful things we've gotten to experience is speaking to people after we show the film and one of my favorite answers is people say this film inspired them to create: ‘I want to get back into painting or singing or whatever I used to be passionate about before I was too scared or too busy to continue working on it,'" Seale said.

While both feel this is the future of music, the process did provide some obstacles.

"We knew that we wanted to film in the ocean somehow and we had all these tide charts we were studying to figure out the right time when we could film without being submerged in water," Seale recalled. "One time we made a big mistake thinking the tide was going out when it was actually coming in. A lot of our equipment ended up being underwater."

Knobler said this fueled the performance of "Sailor's Waltz" shown in the film.

"Literally the place we were recording would be gone in 10 minutes," Knobler recalled. "I think it added a lot to that particular song."

Garrels said the film "punctuated the lesson that I actually need others and the best work that I could ever create would probably be work where others are invited in and taking part."

Photographer Sasha Arutyunova, who accompanied Mason Jar Music to Mayne Island, showed the film to her family and the opening diaper scene struck a chord.

"Her own grandma said, ‘That is not sexy,' in disapproval. In her mindset to be a famous musician you're supposed to be a sexy idol. Personally, I'm really thankful they portrayed my life through that lens of reality so that someone who was tempted to view me or my music in this idolatress manner, it diffuses that which I think is genius," Garrels reflected. "It shows the reality of I'm a man, a father as well as a guy that makes music."