Head in the Clouds:
Jacco Gardner’s Dream World
“There will always be a reason to escape reality,” says Jacco Gardner.
That sentiment is the core of the 24-year-old Dutch artist’s attraction to the swirling, paisley-patterned psych-pop of the ‘60s. His fascination with the sound is deep-rooted – and, unsurprisingly, it translates quite literally to his music.
His debut album, Cabinet of Curiosities, is beautifully trippy. It’s lush and layered, but soft and simple. It’s almost as if someone pried open a nailed-shut box of nostalgia and – poof! – out popped Jacco Gardner, dusting off the shoulders of his velvet blazer and adjusting his floppy hat. Almost.
What’s lacking in describing him as such is that Gardner isn’t a copycat. To say that he is a replica of artists whose heyday happened decades before his birth implies he’s some sort of contrived panache. He’s a revivalist to the core, but it sounds genuinely innate. Nothing is forced about Gardner’s style.
“At a very early age I was always sort of a dreamer,” he recalls. “At school I was always sort of looking out the window. My attention span at school was, you know, very short. I was always with my mind somewhere else than reality.”
When he discovered the wonderful treasure trove that is the ‘60s, a fuse was lit.
“It all had to do with the same feeling: liking your dreams more than reality. [The sound] was like a perfect match for what I already was. That’s what really drove me into it – it felt very natural,” Gardner explains.
Much like the icons he routinely rattles off – Brian Wilson and Curt Boettcher, primarily – Gardner played in a group before his solo debut. He gained sure footing with freakbeat band the Skywalkers starting in his teens.
“I’ve always had my solo project, I think, before the Skywalkers,” he explains. “Actually about when I started writing my own songs, when I was 15 or something, I had the idea of the solo project – like the concept of it. The idea of making an album I think came a couple years later when I was about 17 years old, and I knew I wasn’t ready for that yet. So the Skywalkers came along and after a while of playing and making music with them, I felt like I had to get back to the solo project because these songs were still out there.”
It’s odd for an artist to say they weren’t “ready” for a solo project, particularly one that is singularly written, self-recorded (in his own Shadow Shoppe studio) and bears a singular name, despite requiring a backing band for live sets. Solo work is innately narcissistic, which rarely suggests patience. But it appears Gardner’s baroque style was honed with exactly that. He had the skills to stand alone at an impressively young age – he began taking lessons at about eight years old, and has pretty much mastered the harpsichord, mellotron and squeezebox, even. But Gardner opted to wait instead.
“I’m the youngest of three children of my parents. I have two brothers and a sister, and they were all into music before I was,” he says. “My parents kind of stimulated that instead of trying to get the children into sports. They introduced them to music and they really liked that, my brothers and sister. So it was kind of normal that I started with that as well.”
Last year, he released a video for “Clear the Air,” a tempered pop tune that jumps from twinkling delicacy to a booming chorus. It didn’t float around the Internet for long before Chicago-based Trouble in Mind Records took notice. Gardner began compiling his first LP, revisiting songs he’d written years ago and crafting new ones to complete the package.
“It’s funny how when I started the album, it felt like these old songs kind of, like… I’d made the right versions [back then],” he explains. “And it all fell into place – like a puzzle that was finally finished, in a way.”
Gardner’s a lot gentler than most of his modern psych counterparts, though. A lot of press pigeonholes his work as missing Nuggets tracks. That’s not altogether unfair, but it doesn’t pigeonhole enough. His vocals are generally restrained to a lovely, soothing tone, and never elevate to a shout. Gardner is never harsh, never too experimental. It’s psych-pop in the most suave of states, but not in a sun-soaked manner. Cabinet of Curiosities sounds like an open field at dusk, right when the stars start to become visible. You just want to lie flat on your back and get lost trying to count them.
The title track and “Watching the Moon” feature some of the album’s most audible guitar, but Gardner employs subtle strums, not the electrified type heard on the kind of psych-rock that seeks to carve out a third eye with red-hot riffs. There is no wholly upbeat number on the record. Like “Puppets Dangling” and “Chameleon,” a faster chorus is typically assuaged by a slower verse, and the pace never truly picks up to a shoulder-shaking tempo anyway.
“I’m very narrow-minded,” Gardner says of his influences. “I like a lot of music, but some music does something more, a sort of magical thing with me. It kind of feels more connected to me than other music I like but it’s not the same as this really specific thing somehow.”
That confession rings absolutely true in Gardner’s output. There’s a definite link between why psych came about and why Gardner feels similarly. And it’s got nothing to do with the political climate of either era.
Somehow, his ignorance to the culture preceding and surrounding psych makes Gardner seem all the more genuine. But what’s a dreamer to do when what he’s been dreaming about – making and playing his music around the world, all the time – becomes reality?
“It’s still different than I had it in my mind. It’s more about the music than all the things… Actually right now I don’t even listen to that much music anymore because I don’t have time for it, because I have to perform and think about all these things that don’t have anything to do with escaping reality. All the media things and interviews, it’s very much not the reason why I started making music. Those were still ambitions when I started making music, but that’s not why I started.”
It’s not an unlikely scenario, one’s dreams catching up to reality only to fall short of the ideal.
“Reality will always be reality. It will always be different than the world you have in your mind, the world that’s in your dreams,” he notes. “Until reality is the same as the world that’s in your dreams, it will be relevant to dream. That will never happen.”