Before the band Golden Earring released the international trucker’s anthem “Radar Love” in 1973, they were called The Golden Earrings, and they were just another Nederbiet band from Holland. They sounded something like this:
“I’ve Just Lost Somebody” is off The Golden Earrings’ album Miracle Mirror, released on Polydor Records in 1968, and engineered by a man named Jan Audier. This particular story of multi-instrumentalist, singer, and composer Jacco Gardner begins around that time.
“[Audier] was a tape recorder, making cuts, and edits, and doing the boring stuff,” Gardner tells me as we talk over Skype. This was the day after his record release party in Amsterdam for his debut solo LP, Cabinet of Curiosities, which will be out February 12th in the U.S on Trouble in Mind records. He’s a little tired.
“There was a band called Q65, a Nederbiet band, the main sound guy and the producers didn’t want to work with that kind of music and that kind of people — who were more into drugs and rock & roll, and the main people there were more into jazz and classical music. So they kind of let the new guy do it, so they don’t have to work with that bunch of hippies.”
These hippies were the genesis of Nederbiet, beat music that was washing up onto the shores of The Hague from the UK, with overtones of The Beatles and The Kinks. Bands like Q65, Les Baroques, Cubby & The Blizzards, Ro-D-Ys, and Zen all were part of the Nederbiet scene, and Audier engineered almost all of those band’s records. It bears far more influence in Holland than it does here (compare the English Wikipedia page which is barely a footnote to the Dutch Wikipedia page), but for Gardner they were a big stepping stone into the sound he wanted. It was Audier’s sound.
“Audier got the chance to be in the most technologically advanced studio in Holland at a very early age without anyone looking over his shoulder, having any opinion on what he’s doing, so he had total freedom with really great technology at the time. He played a really important part in that because he built his own equipment and gave the Dutch music in the ‘60s a specific sound.”
While working on his masters in music composition and arranging, Gardner had a chance to meet Audier when he was researching his final thesis on the recording industry in Holland circa 1966-67. The two formed an immediate connection. Audier, now in his 60s, had been feeling out of touch with the recording industry, struggling to use the new digital technology in recording studios. Gardner, 24, had been feeling out of touch with the recording industry too, hoping to find a someone to make his solo work have the particular feel he wanted it to have. With a little quid pro quo, Gardner got Audier up to date with some IT lessons, and Audier pre-mastered Cabinet of Curiosities using the same analog equipment he had used back in the ’60s.
Jacco Gardner (pronounced Yah-ko) hails from Horn, Holland, a town just north of Amsterdam. He grew up surrounded by a multitude of instruments — raised in a house where his older brothers and sisters all played music before he did. Though he wrote a paper on Niederbeat, it’s still just one of the many styles in his pocket — a style probably more strongly felt with his other band The Skywalkers, a freakbeat duo with Gardner on Dutch Philacorda organ and Huge van de Poel on drums. For his debut solo album, Gardner casts a wider net into the realm of ’60s psych/chamber/pop, catching The Zombies, Left Banke, and a bit of early Pink Floyd — especially guitarist Syd Barrett. He’s a big fan. Even his Skype username is even a nod to Syd Barrett.
“The first music to inspire me to write any songs was Syd Barrett, but I didn’t hear that at my home. It started with a documentary I saw with my friend when we were about 14 or 15-years-old…But I always had escapism — I wanted to create another reality before I knew Syd Barrett and before I knew anything about the ’60s. Syd Barrett is all about that. I think that’s what attracted to me about that, and I still work that way.”
Gardner’s songs on Cabinet of Curiosities are little worlds that Gardner escapes to — but also lives in. It’s a paradox for him: “Every time I write music it’s an escape from anything I do but, it’s also what I am. So it’s closest to what I am as well.”
On “Chameleon”, one of the more Nederbiet-y songs on the album, he sings, “I’m a chameleon, I’m changing every day / I’m sitting in my dream, not sure where I will stay.” I ask him if that’s his most autobiographical song.
“All my songs are pretty autobiographical. ‘Chameleon’ is in a more direct way, but some are more symbolic and tell a story, but they’re very much about me as well. I wouldn’t say that one’s most about me.”
Unlocking the personality of his songs is a large part of what gives Cabinet of Curiosities such a strong replay value. Each mini-composition is a separate world that lives and dies in the span of its length. He never belabors the point, as any good pop artist knows. Maybe that’s why the songs here don’t sound like a pastiche of chamber psych bands, but start to take on their own life on the other side of the looking-glass. A harpsichord plays underneath a flute, as a bass line hops under Gardner’s Philacorda organ, or an acoustic guitar picks arpeggios while a xylophone counterpoints.
“It’s an image I had when I wrote this song,” he says of the title, Cabinet of Curiosities. “It’s sort of a contrast between darkness and innocence, like an Alice in Wonderland girl who has her own collection of very strange and creepy and scary objects — scary to us not to her. And she has her own cabinet of curiosities that she collected through all her adventures. That’s the image I had.”
But, of course, it’s personal, too.
“On the other hand, these songs all turn into these bizarre stories in my mind, fairy tale stories in my mind, things that I experience and turn into these strange songs. To me they feel like a collection of these experiences and stories. Because they’re all quirky or strange, it feels like my own ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’ as well.”
Little totems and figurines endowed with a memory: that’s Gardner’s album. He tells me of one memory imbued onto the opener and lead single “Clear the Air”.
“The song is about after I broke up with a girl after a pretty long relationship and we wanted to stay friends. What’s the best way to deal with this? Is it best to just see each other the next day again — to process things? Or to take some distance and slowly connect with each other again? That’s an experience I had about five or six years ago, I think. That’s one of the things that sort of happened — a specific moment in your life.”
Cabinet of Curiosities is an album almost five years in the making, with Gardner having written some of these songs in his late teens. The easy labor of the music shows up in colors as vibrant as the album art, but it’s also another stepping stone for him. Gardner plans to move on from this album, delve into new styles. He’s been through all the Nederbiet bands, collected all of the Fading Yellow compilations (highly recommended), and has recorded with the father of one of his most influential genres.
“The music that inspires me is very specific,” he says, “and I feel there’s not much more music in the genre that’s for me to discover. These bands inspire me the most when I just discover them. I hope I find something else that’s really new and inspiring me to me. If not, I have to inspire myself in other ways.”
For now, Gardner will soon set off on a U.S. tour with his band, and bring his curious world to ours. Of the one curiosity he explained, I asked him he if would handle the end of a relationship any differently now, six years later.
He laughs. “Right now I’m trying not to be in a relationship at all.”