When asked about his hobbies outside of music, 24-year-old Jacco Gardner didn’t list a bunch of extracurricular activities — because really, he doesn’t have any. His full-time job for the past two years has been working on his album Cabinet of Curiosities. In his free time, he hangs out with his musician friends, goes to their concerts, and works on their albums. “It’s all about music all the time,” he said. And his dedication to his craft paid off with Cabinet: The album is filled with lush arrangements that jump out of the fantastical worlds of yesteryear— from the jaunty whimsy of Lewis Carroll to Brian Wilson’s “Heroes and Villains” keyboards.
The result makes sense, given that Gardner has cited 1960s psych-pop studio geniuses like Wilson, Syd Barrett and Curt Boettcher as influences on his process. Gardner’s studio sanctuary is also his home; the Shadow Shoppe Studio in the town of Zwaag is nestled in a North Holland industrial area, surrounded by places where you can essentially buy entire rooms for your house — entire kitchens, bathrooms, whatever you need. Aside from the occasional friend stopping by, the studio is mainly just Gardner’s playground. “So I’m not sure when you would call it a studio or just the place where I live,” he says. “It’s actually illegal to live here, but I don’t care.”
In that illegal abode, he composed his debut, playing every instrument on the album except for the drums. “I had these songs in my head and worked them up with sample drums first, and then the parts that I thought up were too difficult for me to play on drums,” he said. “I really needed a good drummer for that.” Evan Minsker talked with Gardner via Skype while he was hanging out in his home/studio. One room over, his bandmates were audibly working to condense the album’s lead single “Clear the Air” into a one-minute rendition to play on Dutch national TV.
On being raised in a musical family:
My parents were not necessarily very musical, but I’m the youngest of four children, and my two brothers and one sister were all into music before I was. So it seemed logical that I should do it, too. I think my oldest brother wanted to learn an instrument and kind of pushed my parents to get him some lessons, and that worked out really nice. My parents were like, “Oh, we should do that for all the children.” Instead of teaching us sports or whatever, they were like, “Maybe music is the best thing.”
My sister actually studied music therapy and she teaches basic music school. One of my brothers does a lot with radio and the computer nerd side of music — like programming and making APIs and stuff with musical purposes. My oldest brother is actually an architect, so for him [music is] more of a hobby.
His history as a multi-instrumentalist:
When I was eight, when you had to choose an instrument [in school], I learned the recorder just to be able to play songs and learn sheet music. After that, I switched to clarinet for four years and I played in an orchestra for a while. Then I was done with that, because I had to play along with a CD or to sheet music and that wasn’t really my thing at all.
So I started singing in a band, and they needed a bass player, so I learned to play bass. And then I learned the guitar to be able to write songs better, because it’s pretty hard to do that on bass. And then they needed a keyboard player as well, and yeah. From there on, any instrument with keys or strings wasn’t too hard to learn.
On his studio:
I always had a home studio. The first time I started recording, I set up a computer and a mixer and a microphone, and that was the first time I had a miniature studio. I discovered the possibilities of recording. Then I went on to study composition and music production for four years, and then the studio grew bigger and bigger. I’m an instrument collector, as well, so after a while, it didn’t fit in my room anymore, so I really needed to make it a studio.
After I finished graduating, I moved into this office building that my parents already had. My dad likes to build things, and he actually got it as well for the children, so when they graduated, they had a space to start a company or anything. Nobody really used it, so I was like, “That’s perfect for using it as a studio.”
On his father, the innovator:
When people ask me what he does, it’s always very hard to say, because he does so many things. He’s the owner of a lot of companies. He’s like an inventor, but more in a conceptual way. He does inventions which he turns into companies. He’s really busy with the world and the energy problems and everything. He’s been at that for as long as I’ve known — for 20 years or something. Before people were talking about things like durable energy at all, he was into that. He started as an electrician, basically, but he sort of grew and got some more degrees. He’s always busy creating concepts and ideas for durable energy. Like an inventor, but more than that.
He’s very independent. When we wanted to study music, he wasn’t like, “Can you earn money with it?” He’s like, “If that’s your thing and that’s where your heart is, you should just do it and be really good at it.”
On his inspirations as a lyricist:
I do get inspired by lyrics that are very symbolic. Like Nick Drake lyrics, for example — he sings about very symbolic things, but they create an image which is very inspiring. It creates another world, but the essence of these images is much more realistic. I’m not sure where I got that from, but Nick Drake does that. I think Syd Barrett does that, as well.
On transferring his songs to a live setting:
I’m still working on that. It’s very difficult. The basics are easy — the drums, bass, guitar, get the right sounds, get the right harmonies. But it’s so much layering that has to be simplified. I have to get the right sounds, and I want to do it all [with live instruments] but that’s impossible, because I’m using too many different sounds, so I have to do it digitally. I don’t want to work with computers, but I have to. Things like that. It’s very difficult, but I think I’ll get there eventually.
Right now, I still prefer the studio. Performing live is new to me. I’m better at [the studio]. But making a moment [with the audience] is really special. I really want to keep doing that. I don’t want to be in the studio all the time.