DG: I live full-time in the Hudson Valley now. Every day I witness the continual change that swirls around me in nature, and it’s very positive and inspiring. That awareness of change, the experience of living in change, has been a big influence on my new music. I grew up in Massachusetts (Lexington), but then lived in New York City for about 40 years. There, nature is hidden–disguised by the non-natural environment. There were a few transition years of living in both the city and the Hudson Valley, but I rather suddenly feel free of the city. I have met some wonderful musicians here. Just this morning I played with some old and new friends at Hilo in Catskill. We do this Monday morning improv called Mellotron Monday, and we begin at 8 a.m.! I did gigs in the city that began at around 1 or 2 a.m.. Monday at 8 a.m. wouldn’t work there at all, but I think it’s beautifully comfortable timing upstate.
DWP: I see the word “composing” coming up often in your album info section, which seems fitting. How would you explain the difference between composing and songwriting to someone who’s not intimately aware of these concepts?
DG: That’s interesting; there is a distinction, but what is it? The two words are almost interchangeable, but I guess the idea of “composing” is a little more open to wider possibilities than just the words-and-music implied by “songwriter.” And maybe “composer” also implies a curiosity about and involvement in how all the elements and aspects of music fit together. I’ve written a lot of songs, but especially on Verdancy I kept my mind very open to exploring instrumental pieces and passages that might not be song-like. Also I deliberately played with musical shape and proportion. For example I explored the idea of creating an introduction that’s longer than the song. And throughout I was very involved in the colors and textures of the music. I guess those could be considered compositional concerns.
DWP: You say “A lot of music these days seems retro-this or retro-that, imitating very specific attributes of clear antecedents.” Are there any musicians doing things right now who you find are working with entirely (or somewhat) new concepts?
DG: Well, we all have to start somewhere, and it’s very natural to emulate music we love when we start making music. But the more time you spend making music, and the deeper you get into it, the more likely you are to find and express your own personal music. You can take off the training wheels of imitation when you find your unique balance. I have some amazing and inspiring friends who’ve recorded with me and who have created unique musical worlds, such as John Zorn, Meredith Monk, and Sufjan Stevens. Another friend your question makes me think of is Cécile Schott, who records as Colleen. These are people who’ve built their musical worlds through investigation and discovery rather than imitation.
DWP: Will you tell me more about the modified guitar? Do you do a lot of instrument mods? What makes this one particularly special? I watched the video and it sounds great. Very sunset-sunrise-like.
DG: It’s interesting that you describe the sound as “sunset-sunrise-like.” I like that because I think that consciously or subliminally you may be responding to natural, acoustic aspects of the sound. My son Kenji Garland invented the modification, and in a unique way it uses electronics to provoke an acoustic experience. It doesn’t plug into an amp. A lot of the sound is vibrating wire and wood–the strings and body of the guitar. And it’s a 12-string guitar, so there are lots of vibrations interacting! It’s a very tactile, physical, real-world sound, which I record with a pair of stereo microphones. I’ve always been interested in using unusual tools (instruments) when making my music, since it’s a great way to get to new territory, and this guitar has helped me find a new sound-world.
DWP: I think some people will find the idea of a long album challenging–does that excite or bother you or anything?
DG: I’m aware that some people won’t feel they have time for a four-hour album. And I’m like everyone else, with my attention splintered and shortened by the Internet. But I appreciate art that lets me experience time and the world and myself from a different perspective. Sometimes we need to be carried to a new place, we need doors opened for us, we need to be shown new vistas. Verdancy is a journey, and that’s very deliberate. I put a lot into the album, feeling that if someone listens for four hours, I better be providing a worthwhile experience. Today I heard that a couple friends, who intended to just briefly check out the album, ended up listening from start to finish in one sitting. I’m really pleased to hear that, but of course it’s okay to take it bit by bit, too!
DWP: I’m asking this one because I have a lot of younger readers: As someone who has spent their life in music, what’s the best advice you can give a young musician or performer?
DG: Music is a wonderful way to connect. Use music to connect with your own priorities, your own identity. Find out what you need to say by finding out how to say things with music. Use music to connect with other people. It’s a wonderful way to interact. Listen and play. Share that experience.