INTERVIEW: JACCO GARDNER

 Jacco Gardner is a Dutch musician whose ornate soundscapes are like something out of the 60s. Lush instrumentation and a distinctly analogue warmth cultivate a softness and eery intimacy our 80s-born souls aren’t quite sure what to do with. Still, we’re left intrigued. Read below as Jacco shares his insight on what began his 60s obsession and his journey into the distinctly baroque and neo-psych sound of his new record, Cabinet of Curiosities.

LAC: You just came out with Cabinet of Curiosities. What’s the story was behind the title?

Jacco: Most of the songs I’ve written over a ten year period. I remade a lot of the songs, and the final versions I did about two years before the album. They are scattered all over, like experiences scattered over my life–it’s bizarre. It turned into bizarre stories, all of them combined to me were like a cabinet of curiosities because its also like things that you pick up while on a journey, and which you think are very strange, collected into a cabinet.

LAC: Your sound has been described as baroque and neo-psychedelic, would you agree with these kinds of genre labels? And where did these influences come from?

J: Well, I could definitely understand those labels, especially the Baroque one because there are not that many artists doing harpsichord stuff and using instruments like you hear in baroque pop, so it is kind of an obvious label, in a way. I got into 60s music when I was about thirteen years old. I heard Syd Barrett, his music, and the early PInk Floyd stuff really caught my attention and I couldn’t let it go. It was like when finding the spirit of the ’60s embodied in one person, in one band, the main thing of the ’60s. When I found out [about the 60s], I really had to hear everything that was the ’60s. I was completely lost in time I guess.

LAC: Did your parents influence this at all, or was this something you discovered through other people?

J: Mostly other people. I had a good friend, who is still one of my best friends, and when we grew up we kind of shared everything that we found musically. He saw a documentary on Syd Barrett and he told me about it because we were always on the same page, music-wise. That’s how it all started. His parents actually had the early Pink Floyd albums and Soft Machine albums and things like that. I think his parents were mostly the biggest influence.

LAC: If you had to name 3 records from the ’60s that most influenced you, what would they be?

J: That’s a very difficult question … That’s a hard one. Well, I’d say New World by the Zombies is a big one. The Piper at the Gates of Dawn from Pink Floyd and Present Tense’s Sagittarius. 

LAC: You have a very distinct sound right now, but how do you see your sound evolving in the future?

J: I think that the reference to the ’60s or baroque pop kind of stuff won’t be as obvious as it is on the first record. I won’t be using as much harpsichord or strings–those things to me sound a little bit too obvious now if I would do it again. So, I would like to use more sounds that you are not really sure if it’s a synth or some sampled instrument or something, it has to be a little bit more obscure, sound-wise.

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LAC: Do you have any projects or collaborations coming up? I know that you also do production for other people. is there anyone we should be keeping an eye out for?

J: I just finished working on the record for Earth Mk II (a reference to the second earth in the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy), which is actually the same guy I was talking about that–friend of mine who I grew up with. I was also in a band with him, a duo, which was very ’60s influenced as well, like very garagey, [with] organ and drums. And his band that he has now is more like the garage-y part of that–I took the melodic part and made it sort of in my own solo stuff and he took the garage part to another level. I think his record could be something to look out for. I think he really writes greats songs.

LAC: After the success of your sound and your record, have you seen other projects pop up with a similar sound? Do you think there is a kind of a revival of this ’60s sound?

J: Oh yeah, definitely. I don’t know if it has anything to do with me though. But, there is a lot. I do realize there is a powerful wave of a lot of bands who I think may be influenced by the ’60s because of the internet. The generation where this kind of music is easily accessible and because it is so great. And there is so much underground stuff, [it] was not possible to discover that kind of stuff before 10 years ago. So I think to some people it is really new, really fresh and interesting. That’s really why there is such a revival. [So] I definitely think there is one.

LAC: What has it been like to play in the US? Where do you think you have had the best reception and why do you think that is?

J: I had the best reception, I think, in the biggest cities like New York and Austin. Mostly because I think in those cities there is a lot of musical stuff going on. So the response has been really good there. I think that in Austin it has been really great because of the SXSW festival. [There’s] so much in the air and everyone is so excited about all the music going on there. Everybody is so open-minded. That has been really great. We also played in Cleveland which had like five people there who were watching a basketball team while we played. But it has been good in other places, [which are] also in Cleveland, so I’m not too sure what could be the reason.

LAC: We read online that your studio is quite far from the city, and a little bit isolated. Do you think that gives you a particular sound or quality to your production and creative process?

J: Well, I have always been kind of isolated wherever I was, just kind of being myself, I guess. Part of the record, the biggest part of the record, was actually done in the middle of Utrecht, which is a bigger city and a lot is going on around there. But I mainly work on my own. When I start working on a song I just don’t think about anything else. It doesn’t really matter where I am I guess but maybe the environment in the industrial zone where I live now has something to do with creating another world, I don’t know.

LAC: Do you see yourself staying in the Netherlands? We’ve read that you don’t really identify yourself so much as Dutch.

J: Yeah, that is definitely true. I never felt really Dutch and the culture here is not really my thing. I don’t know where I would go though ’cause I would have to move the entire studio–it’s not really realistic to do at this time in my life. But if I could, I would really like to try some places like London, or the US. I’m really curious about the West Coast in the US as well, so I can’t wait to see LA and San Francisco.

 

INTERVIEW: FREE THE ROBOTS

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Chris Alfaro, a.k.a. Free The Robots, is a producer and musician based out of Santa Ana, Orange County but has long been associated with the “beat scene” community of Los Angeles. With his fusion of jazz, psych, electronic and hip-hop, Alfaro’s productions are a refreshing change of pace for the underground hip-hop scene. We speak to the humble beat-smith about his roots in Orange County, and the story behind his self-released LP, ‘The Balance.’

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LAC: How has living in Orange County (Santa Ana specifically) influenced your work?

FTR: As frustrating as it was growing up around the various ‘burbs of OC, settling in the city of Santa Ana provided a balance for me creatively and productively. Entertaining enough, but generally secluded from distraction, the vibe of this neighborhood keeps me level headed. It’s a very small downtown where everyone knows everyone. Life here is relatively simple. I love it just for what it is, and accept what it’s not. For everything else I go elsewhere.

LAC: You are part owner in a restaurant/bar in Santa Ana called The Crosby. What role has that played in your development and growth as a musician?

FTR: The two different lives I live somehow compliment each other. Aside from being an artist myself, at The Crosby, I step behind the scenes to manage a whole different world of responsibilities, giving others the stage. I stay inspired from the bookings alone, and my growth as a musician has a lot to do with being there night after night. We have some of the greatest talent in the world sharing our stage week after week. That energy at The Crosby makes it impossible for me to stay creatively stagnant.

LAC: Has running a business taught you anything valuable as an artist?

FTR: We’ve been open over 5 years now, and the whole experience taught me the importance of balance, confidence and humility. I find myself constantly in very opposite situations back to back. One night I’ll be somewhere in Europe enjoying my last evening after a mind-blowing world tour, only to come back home to host, and bus tables… clean the toilet, if I have to, and jump behind the bar when needed. It’s a challenge, but I’ve accepted the fact that both endeavors need 100% of my attention, and as a leader, there’s no room for complaint. Staying active while maintaining balance is crucial. It keeps me proud of what I do, and positive when approaching my craft.

LAC: If you weren’t involved in the Crosby, do you think you’d still be living in OC?

FTR: There are tons of places I’ve been around the world that I could see my self living in for awhile; and I probably would. I’ve always been a natural wanderer, and admirer of different culture, but home is home… LA and OC is where my family is. Between the two is where I would be regardless of The Crosby.

LAC: Are there artists in OC that we in LA should be keeping an eye out for?

FTR: Truth be told, no one really just reps OC… unless you’re into the psych, garage, punk world; in which case, Burger Records runs it in OC. When it comes to hip hop, and beats, the LA, OC, IE, SD scene has a very loose border. Family is spread and united no matter where they are these days. Some labels/ collectives worth checking out are Soulection, HW&W, Team Supreme, My Hollow Drum, Tar, Leaving Records, etc. Check the lineups and listen.


LAC: Is there a story behind your LP? What’s the meaning behind the title, ‘The Balance’?

FTR: The Balance’ is the musical diary of all the chaos that made up my life during the recording process. After the release of my debut, ‘Ctrl Alt Delete,’ and the opening of the The Crosby, too many things started happening at the same time. I won’t go into detail, but it was a major struggle. Maintaining my sense of creativity, touring, owning/operating a restaurant, relationships and my overall lifestyle does not lend itself to idle times. With so many moving parts, balance is what I strive for, and this album tells the story. The overall tone of the album pulls back from the chaos because this record was mainly inspired from my times of solitude… on the train, or a plane… walking around foreign cities with my headphones on… at a random bar somewhere with strangers and language barriers… In meditation, or out in the ocean, paddling into the waves.. this is where i shut everything off to create balance in my life.

LAC: How has your sound progressed since your LP ‘Prototype’?

FTR: That was 2004; the beginning of Free the Robots. I felt creatively liberated for the first time in my life, and I wanted to do everything all at once. I was young, much less experienced, with a scatterbrain full of random ideas that never really made sense together. These days, I have a little bit more than a blank canvas. My daily experiences give me with much to work with, and I’m able to channel my energy, creating a more cohesive flow of sounds with every release. Ultimately, I have much more of a story to tell.

LAC: Why did you decide to self-release this LP?

FTR: I wanted to go back to my DIY roots, from when I first started making music. I’ve always respected people like Ian MacKaye, and others, who did their own thing. They inspired the self-release of ‘The Prototype’ and the first ‘FTR EP,’ which was a huge eye opener for me. I put it out there with no expectation or plan, and an audience organically spread worldwide through word of mouth. Something I’m very grateful for; ‘Til now, people are constantly discovering and supporting what I do, and what I did back in the day. The DIY approach just feels right. Being part of every little bit from the creative process, to coming up with creative ways to put it out there is gratifying to me. My music is a very personal thing, and so is connecting with my audience. We live in different times now and I feel like the tools to connect us directly with the people are becoming more and more available; just have to put in work. It’s also gives me the freedom to work with good friends whom I source out to for things i’d need. In the end we help each other. The power of community is strong, the people are always ready, and my music will have a way of reaching my audience, if not now, then later.

LAC: You’re often associated with the “beat scene” but how would you really describe your sound?

FTR: Some of my most important shows were at the Low End Theory, which is pretty much the home where the beat scene exploded in LA. The Low End family has always played a major role in my career as Free the Robots, constantly supporting what I do; that “beat scene” association is inevitable. To me, it’s more of a community than a definitive sound, and I am honored to be a part of it. Some songs I make may be recognizable as ‘beats,’ while others have more of a straightforward approach, using traditional instrumentation and pop progressions (verse, chorus, bridge). Whatever stamp people put on it, is their own version. To me, it’s just my moods expressed and recorded.

LAC: I saw in another interview that one of your biggest influences is DJ Shadow. Did you go to his show a couple weeks back at the Observatory?

FTR: I couldn’t make it to his show at the Observatory, but I was able to play with him at the Low End Theory (San Francisco). It was a huge experience for me to finally meet the man behind the record that inspired my career. He stayed on stage with me for my entire set, and personally gave me props at the end. It was an honor, and a great feeling to see how music goes full circle.

LAC: Why do you think it is that you gravitate toward an analog sound?

I came from an era of digging; aspiring to make hip hop beats. Jazz, psychedelic rock, soul, dub, obscure stuff were always my focus when finding samples. The act of even finding samples got me listening to different music, and that analog sound is what hooked me. New music technology and picking up different keyboards added more electronics to my sound, but I still have to maintain a bit of analog dirt with my music.

LAC: What’s next on the horizon?

FTR: I’m currently working on some new sounds for a tape release on Leaving Records… also some Psych stuff for TAR; a new LA based collective you’ll be hearing of soon… Some vocal/beat collaborations with Nekochan out of France… also more stuff with Jessie Jones. And other things I can’t really talk about right now. Stay tuned though.