Line-up: Jacco Gardner (drums, bass, guitar, keys)
Sounds like: Mike Oldfield and Air tripping on a space station with vintage synthesisers and ancient novels for company
Current release: Somnium (Full-time Hobby LP)
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If a picture can paint a thousand words, sometimes it feels like a passage of music can do much more again. Dutch singer-songwriter Jacco Gardner increasingly felt that way when he decided to leave his new album vocal-free.
"I noticed the instrumental records I was hearing to seemed to be giving me more intimate experiences than hearing someone singing something," the 30-year-old tells Prog over a Skype call from Lisbon, where he’s now based after many years of touring. "You don't immediately think of the person singing when you hear the music or visualise their face, so your imagination is free to roam."
On that basis, he created Somnium, a set of cinematic, highly atmospheric pieces that evoke some of prog’s most distinctive soundscape designers, from Mike Oldfield to Tangerine Dream to Goblin and even French electronic mavericks Air.
And absence of lyrics hasn't stopped the multi-instrumentalist from telling a tale and following a vividly illustrated narrative.
He based Somnium on a pioneering, stargazing 17th century novel of the same name.
"It's by Johannes Kepler,” he explains, “an Austrian astronomer and alchemist. He wrote the book Somnium in 1608 [although it wasn't published until 1634] and it's about a dream in which he visualises what it's like to travel to another world
"I liked the combination of science fiction – the book is regarded as one of the first ever written in the genre – and the mysterious, powerful aspect of the human imagination and dreams."
Growing up in the small Friesland town of Zwaag in the north of Holland, young Jacco always had his head in the clouds, he says, and those dreams went from black and white to technicolour with the help of one particular prog icon.
"The turning point for me as a teenager was discovering Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd,” he says. “and through that I discovered more psychedelic and progressive music."
In due course, Gardner would gig and make an album with drummer Hugo van de Poel as “freakbeat psych duo” The Skywalkers, but his reputation was truly cemented with two solo albums of what he calls ‘baroque pop’, 2013 debut Cabinet Of Curiosities and 2015’s Hypnophobia. They are records strikingly influenced by the late Mr Barrett, but they also showcase a talent for evocative melodies and potent atmospherics.
Somnium is another big leap forward, and although he’s always produced his own records, the record was mastered by someone who knows a fair bit about ambitious studio undertakings – Tubular Bells co-producer Simon Heyworth.
“Simon mastered or remastered a lot of albums that I love – folk, synth and progressive. A lot of them have an unique sound because of the different studios they were made in. As a mastering engineer you have to work with sounds like that and I imagined my own sound was even more weird, so I needed someone to bring everything the right balance together, so Simon was perfect.”
The album has been two years in gestation, partly due to Gardner intending the album to be performed live. And although dates over here are TBC, he has lofty ambitions: “I’d love to play it in London Planetarium. I don’t know how easy that will be to set up, but if it happens, I hope to see you and lots of Prog readers there!”