Eva Gardner is most widely known for her twenty years of bass playing and extensive touring with acts like Moby, Cher, Gwen Stefani, and most recently, P!NK. She found the time to record and release her first solo EP, Chasing Ghosts, in 2014, and taking such an unusual hiatus from the road during the pandemic afforded her a second opportunity to bring a personal project to light, the EP Darkmatter, which arrived on December 17th. This time around, though, she significantly upped her investment in herself by going back to music school and taking a remote Music Production course, using her developing songs for Darkmatter as her course work.
The results in the new music are stellar and the songs loosely follow a thematic link to the idea of dark matter, the unseen and underlying element in our universe that, like the parallel processes of the subconscious, operate whether we are aware of them or not. With songs like “Is Love Enough” and “Call It A Day”, Gardner explores the need to face unconscious patterns in our lives and we encounter familiar recent experiences in the restlessness of “Anywhere But Here” and the struggle with information overload in “California Bliss”. I spoke with Eva Garnder about her choice to see downtime as an opportunity in her life, her motivation in pursuing a Music Production course, and the balancing elements in life that she’s teasing out through many of the songs on Darkmatter.
Hannah Means-Shannon: It sounds like the creation of the Darkmatter EP has been a really specific journey for you that ties in with this period of your life. Or is it more that you’re always writing songs here and there?
Eva Gardner: I’m kind of always writing songs here and there, but because I had more time at home to focus on finishing ideas, and also because I didn’t have work, I thought, “I’m going to make my own work.” I was also working on the technical side of things, taking a music Production course. I just wanted to keep it moving and that’s part of what kept me going.
HMS: If all of this hadn’t happened, would it have a taken a couple more years for you to put out a collection?
EG: It’s very possible that it would have taken longer. I knew in the back of my head that I wanted to do another EP, since I have one out already, but it was the same with my friend who helped me Produce it, Josh Berwanger, that he was also around to help out and be another ear for me. It just worked out that the time and energy could be spent on it.
HMS: It’s been a definite opportunity for many people to finish up personal projects.
EG: That’s the thing that’s important, seeing it as an opportunity, rather than thinking of the missed opportunities or things that didn’t happen. Shifting the energy around that has been imperative for me in how I’ve approached things, like I went back to school and became a student of music again. We can’t control circumstances, we can only control how we react to them.
HMS: I’m really fascinated by your decision to do a Music Production course. I’ve spoken to a few artists recently who have been delving into Production more in order to feel more empowered in their own music. How far back were you thinking of doing this, or was it a new idea?
EG: I got really excited when technology started shifting to where you could have things on your laptop or in your backpack. I thought about being able to do stuff on the road, and I was in the mindset to create demos on the road, not worrying about the technical stuff. I just wanted to get the ideas to paper, so to speak. I thought I’d then go to a proper studio and do it all again later. Then a Producer friend of mine said, “I never think of them as demos. I think of putting the parts into the computer to make them sound the best that’s possible.”
So I thought, “Might as well get it sounding great right from the get-go.” Also, at the time when you’re recording a demo, that’s often where inspiration strikes, so a lot of the recordings are coming from that inspired place. A lot of times the performances are better on demos than when they try to do them in a big fancy studio. Then people get “demo-itis” and get attached to the demo sound because later the energy and passion aren’t there.
That was part of my decision to do Production, evolving to the point where I thought, “I’ve got the time. Why don’t I get it to the point where I can make my demos sound better?” Then I can use those tracks and performances, as much as possible, even if I do go into a studio to track live drums. 85% of Darkmatter is stuff I did by myself.
HMS: It does make sense to capture that level of detail and the original feeling in t a demo.
EG: The cool thing about technology is that I have a little keyboard controller that I can plug into my rig, and I use Logic, so if I want an accordion solo, I can add it. When you create these parts, you can change them later into other instruments. The information is always there. If you’re working with a Producer later on, you can use technology to mold that vision later. They are stems, movable parts.
HMS: How did you find the course that was best for you?
EG: I saw a free master class that had popped up, which I saw after coming off tour, and I signed up for the full course. The cool thing about the course is that it was hands-on, and you had to send them mixes for feedback. That’s something I really liked. You had to interact with other people and hear their feedback, which I think is so important in something like this.
HMS: It sounds like it creates a daily practice which is like an apprenticeship, almost.
EG: For sure, and with technology, you can watch them do live mixes and sit in on sessions. I think that’s the best case scenario when you can’t physically go to a school. That was also a catalyst for me finishing songs and getting them to a good point. Some of the songs ended up on the EP, so all of these factors ended up getting me to a good point to release the EP.
HMS: So you were able to use your project as your example work for the course? That’s ideal!
EG: I did it at the same time, and it actually got me to finish songs since I had to have something to turn in. One of the biggest things that I learned was, “Finish ideas”, because there are so many half-baked ideas out there in whatever field you’re in. We edit ourselves as we go, and that’s the worst thing you can do for trying to get stuff done. You’ll never finish anything with that voice in your head telling you how crappy everything is.
HMS: Were you still writing some of these songs during the pandemic period? Some of the songs seem more tied into recent events.
EG: Totally, and doing the course got me into the habit of writing and working on stuff every day. There’s a book called How Artists Work that was also really inspiring to me. Some people wait for inspiration to strike, but creating a habit is part of the lives of more prolific artists. People think it’s easy for an artist to be a slacker, but I was surprised to learn how much these artists/musicians/painters/dancers did have a practice.
HMS: It’s creating a structure within which things can happen, I think, rather than assuming that something can break your inertia. When did this concept of dark matter start working its way into this group of songs for you?
EG: I always listen to astronomy stuff, and I’m also fascinated by how our brain works, and the subconscious. I started to draw this parallel between the astronomical term “dark matter”, which all the stuff that we can’t see but accounts for moving the heavenly bodies, and our subconscious. Just because you can’t see these things doesn’t mean they aren’t there. Our subconscious lives underneath our conscious mind, but that’s the thing that creates our behavior. It’s that thing that happened to you when you were four years old, which continues to affect you, but it lives in the dark. Those patterns and behaviors make for things to write about. I thought that was an interesting parallel.
HMS: Do you think that encountering those subconscious things and making them more conscious and visible is helpful?
EG: They say, “To heal is to feel.” For you to become aware of that stuff is to draw it to the surface, and when it comes out of its hole, you can cut its head off. There’s stuff like all the stupid relationships we may have been in, and why we keep doing those things. Bringing that stuff to the surface can be cathartic.
HMS: I imagine that it can also be a real challenge.
EG: It’s terrible! It feels terrible.
HMS: Sometimes it leads to saying terrible truths, I think. In your song, “Is Love Enough”, just that phrase and that question feels startling. Everything in our culture says that romantic love is the be all and end all and can solve any problem.
EG: Right. But can it? We want to believe in the fairytale. We are fed the fairytale. And when it doesn’t happen, we are stomping, and angry, and feel ripped off.
HMS: Another song that reminded me of this subject of struggle is “Call It a Day”, which is placed, I think, at the end of the EP, where there’s this battle going on. I assume it’s an internal battle, but the ending has a little bit of a positive note, with the idea of calling a truce.
EG: Yes, it’s surrender and acceptance. It’s forgiveness. It could be any situation. It could be within yourself, or in your life. It could be those patterns in your life that we’ve been talking about, wondering why you keep falling for the same type of person. Maybe it’s about coming to terms with that, and surrendering to those lessons, because they will keep coming back until you learn them.
HMS: It’s sobering but important. This has definitely been a time when people have been alone with themselves.
EG: It’s hard for us to be alone with ourselves. We’re such a society of distraction, and when those distractions fall away, you don’t know how to be. It’s like the “human doing” versus the “human being” is what we’re used to.
HMS: That’s a great way of putting it. In terms of that desire for distraction, that comes up in “Anywhere But Here”. That’s so relatable right now in a practical sense. It does have a lighter sound, though. It doesn’t exactly make for a critique of humanity.
EG: Musically, it’s a little bubblier, too, though the ideas behind it are a bit darker. It’s the idea of the grass being greener on the other side, but you’re not doing anything to change it. You can complain about stuff, like wanting to be somewhere else, but you still take the path of least resistance.
HMS: There are also some seemingly lighter songs on the album, like “California Bliss”, and “London Nights”. Though that one is super frenetic and fun in many ways, I do really like that it’s not one-sided. It could be a party song, and the video is really fun, but a couple of lines suggest that living that way all the time would not be a good idea.
EG: That’s definitely true. It’s a nostalgic song, but there’s a burnout factor. A lifestyle like that isn’t necessarily sustainable. That includes terrible choices in partners, with people who are a lot of fun but are probably not long-term material.
HMS: As it says, “These nights are brief.” If you had left those couple of lines out that undermine the purely party aspect, it would be a different song. Do you feel a responsibility to present a more realistic view?
EG: It’s like coming down off the cloud. It’s important to know that that’s going to happen. It’s part of the deal. What goes up must come down. Change is the only constant. I think that’s the light/dark aspect and maintaining that balance there. Knowing that balance is necessary.
HMS: The song “California Bliss” got me thinking about the choices we make in terms of how much we want to engage with the outside world. There’s social media, there are screens, there’s information, and yet we’ve been very isolated the past 18 months and sometimes the information is just too much.
EG: Yes, despite the fact that we were so isolated, I felt that there was an information overload. It was also so alarming and terrifying. It’s almost like, “I don’t want to go out there anyway! It’s scary out there in the world! I’ll stay here in my bubble.” But that doesn’t make you feel any better. A lot of it the struggle between a feeling of responsibility for knowing what’s going on out there in the world and wondering what that does to our mental health and our energy. For me, it hurt my soul and made me feel terrible.
But I want to be a light in the world and spread love and happiness. I want to be a positive person. When you’re around doom and gloom, that’s contagious, and I think it’s important to put out what you want to get back. It’s that struggle between how much you want to be in your bubble and wondering if you can even do anything about what’s going on out there. Part of the reason that it feels dark and awful is because it makes you feel hopeless without solutions.
Also, part of it for me was that, growing up in California, I always thought California was sunshiny and happy with people who all wanted the best for everybody. But actually, California has a bunch of assholes in it, too, and that was a tough pill to swallow. We take for granted that we’re around likeminded people all the time, but it’s become apparent that’s not always the case.
HMS: I know so many Californian friends who have been pretty shocked by that revelation, but even for out-of-staters like myself, I had certain views of California, too, so have been equally shocked. That’s pretty common across many states though, the revelation about how divided things are, and it has been a wake-up call.
EG: It’s totally a wake-up call. There’s the story of when P!NK was playing “Dear Mr. President”, which was written about George Bush, who was president at the time. She has played that all over the world, but she has said that the only place she has ever been booed for it was in Anaheim, California. So, you just don’t know.
Photo credit: Ryan Aylsworth