A refreshing bath of Baroque: Dutch Multi-instrumentalist Jacco Gardner plots North American debut


text: Nick Laugher

Dwelling in the hazy, reverb-soaked purgatory between analog and digital, Dutch multi-instrumentalist Jacco Gardner meticulously crafts glittery, billowing baroque melodies and spins yarns of the melodramatic truths of times passed.

Gardner is a prime example of our generation’s unrequited love affair with nostalgia. However, unlike many of his dry-witted hipster cohorts, his 1960’s tinged production and sweet, harpsichord-heavy arrangements are devoid of any irony or kitsch. Not one to keep others at arm’s length, Gardner’s approach is honest and impulsive.

“I don’t think about concepts that much,” he says, decrying the process of fretting and obsessing over a particular sound. “It’s just personal songs that are written in a more natural way, I guess.”

His echo-washed sound recalls the psychedelic and lushly orchestral vibe of the Beatles’ Revolver or Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd, interspersed with the peppy, sardonic jabs of more modern fare like The Shins.

Gardner got his start in Holland fronting the acid-tinged, neo-garage group The Skywalkers, playing everywhere from empty, dingy clubs in Paris to packed European festivals. His decision to pursue a solo career wasn’t an abrupt shift, but more of a long and subtle transition.

“Well, for The Skywalkers we had a pretty clear concept. We wanted to perform songs like the freakbeat/pop-psych bands of 1966-1967 with a garage twist, so with this in mind I just wrote songs that would fit into this idea,” he says.

“I’ve always had a solo project from the moment I started writing songs. I only decided to take it to a more ‘professional’ level about a year ago.”

Though Gardner is often quickly lumped into the trending ‘psychedelic revival’ category with contemporaries like Tame Impala or Unknown Mortal Orchestra, he – like the aforementioned artists – believes that it’s much more a byproduct of his influences than an attempt at pastiche or fitting a mold.

“This is something that’s just a big part of me, so I don’t have to write towards it. It just happens automatically,” he says, noting that it’s a much different and more natual process than his work with The Skywalkers.

Gardner’s music is far more baroque and orchestral than it is psychedelic, but it seems these days that anything with a hazy, warm production and stellar reverb is automatically pigeonholed that way.

Since focusing on his solo career, he’s released two 7″ singles under his own name and is set to release his debut LP, Cabinet of Curiosities, in February of 2013 through Trouble in Mind records. With his fiendishly catchy melodies and elegant production, Gardner has already begun to catch the eye of indie tastemakers like Pitchfork, who recently streamed one of his tracks as a feature.

Gardner attributes a large portion of his success and support to the ease of online distribution and offering free streaming and downloads.

“I think everything should be discoverable on the internet,” he says. “Websites like YouTube, Bandcamp and SoundCloud make this possible.”

Though he admits he is far from naive, and realizes that in the modern age of music consumption, rampant illegal downloading is a double-edged sword for up and coming artists.

“On the other hand I also believe that it’s not always so good to give away downloads. In this day and age, artists need all the financial support they can get. You want to feel like you have something that’s worth more than an illegal download.”

That might explain why Gardner’s first two singles were released tangibly on vinyl, as well as streamed for free digitally. With a physical product, he believes people will be much more apt to support what he does.

“Well my music is mainly inspired by artists who really fit the vinyl medium and are collected by vinyl collectors, so I think my fans expect the music to be released on vinyl,” he says, noting the recent resurgence of vinyl as a bit of a pick-me-up for the music industry.

“Analog techniques and processing fit with the medium as well,” he says, touching on his recording approach. “I try to get everything to sound as warm and analog as possible.”

Gardner’s recording setup, however, is a intermingling of analog and digital. His sound is a coalescence of whirling tape reels, blankets of airy reverb and twinkling plink/plonk all united under a digital umbrella.

“I use a lot of tape machines, tape echoes, spring reverbs, that sort of thing,” he says, admitting he’s got an obsession with analog gear and cloudy, swirling effects. “But I work in a digital audio workstation.”

Gardner, who is a talented multi-instrumentalist, tracked the entirety of the instruments on his debut album himself. Everything from guitar to glockenspiel, with the lone exception of drums.

“The album was partly recorded in my home studio in Utrecht [in the Netherlands], where I lived for two and a half years. The drums and mixing were done in the studio where I live now, in Hoorn. I played all instruments at first and then had the drum samples I used replaced by great drummer and good friend Jos van Tol, who also plays in my live band,” says Gardner.

His live band includes Keez Groenteman on guitars and vocals, Jasper Verhulst on bass and vocals and Gardner himself on various keyboards, harpsichord and lead vocals.

Following the worldwise release of Cabinet of Curiosities, Gardner and his band are embarking on a European tour, playing festivals like Eurosonic as well as their very first dates in North America.

Like an ancient, creaking Victrola, Gardner’s sound is a narcotized lullaby of twinkling stars and swirling clouds. You’re compelled to grasp onto his songs tightly, for they’re so weightless and wistful that it feels like they could float away at any minute.

“Where will you go when the sun comes out?” Gardner pondered recently, on his vapour-like REM-state opus ‘Where Will You Go?’  It’s that kind of sincere, reverie-like naivety that makes Gardner a rare breed. Nothing is harsh, overwrought or laced with bullshit irony. He’s a breath of fresh air in our  society of oversaturated irony and anxiety.

Truthful and toe-tapping, he’s like musical Prozac for the cynical, existential-crisis crowd.

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