Julian Morena’s “Garden” is a meditation on life, loss, and yearning. “Garden” is an innovative mix of Ben Gibbard’s vocals with a primo lounge record from the early 80s, and a little something else that makes it extra special. Is it the counterpoint of a synthesizer? Is it the wispy guitars? Perhaps the saxophone solo the song culminates in? Whatever is at work here, you can be certain it is 100% Julian Morena’s bottled magic.
You can get a copy of Kind of Nice here (out 5/13/17)
SC: “Garden” has a dramatic difference in the musical dynamics between chorus/verse. How do you see that reflected in the song’s lyrics?
JM: The lyrics during the verses are full of words that paint a grayscale mental picture: 'shadows' 'disguise' 'pavement'. The lyrics go with the subdued, mysterious palate of the music of the verses. Then during the pop of the choruses, the language becomes more colorful and animated: 'garden' 'live' 'feel'. These are freeing words when compared to the constraints of disguises and pavement, so they follow the more open, groovier, and louder feel of the chorus. They also provide a release from the odd tension of the verses' words and chords.
SC: Tell me about the choice of instrumentation in “Garden”. The pairing of synthesizer of acoustic guitar in addition to the closing saxophone coda. How do you see these working in the song?
JM: I think these elements work as nice surprises in the song. I don't like feeling constrained by a palate of instruments that are 'supposed' to be used in a genre of music. When the listener hears the intro 'oohs' with the acoustic guitar, I don't think that they're expecting the synthesizer to jump in at the chorus, but I think that after the surprise, the synth works well for the groove of the song. It also adds a thematic layer to the music as an antithesis to the lyrics. I'm singing 'I would love to start a garden, could easily live off of the land' all the while this electronic droning is going on. The bridge is another surprise moment, as the song goes from the spacey chorus to a type of funk breakdown, and that's where the sax appears for the first time. Again, it's unexpected, but I think that sax solo is perfect for the song; it's funky and freeing and drives home the lyrical message. Plus, who doesn't love horns? The surprise factor of the instrumentation in the song is nice, but all of the elements had to serve the message of the song, and I think we were able to do that on this track.
SC: What was your writing process like for “Garden”?
JM: This is one of those songs that happened by accident. I was messing around on my guitar one night, and I accidentally played an E major chord a fret higher than it's supposed to be. Upon fixing the mistake and playing the E major in its rightful spot, I liked the way the two chords sounded together. Those two chords, along with an added A minor, became the chords for the verses. The subdued, spooky feel of those chords just lent themselves to the gloomy lyrics of insignificance or boredom. I think I was in a phase of my songwriting where I was trying to write happier sounding songs, so that's where the feel of the chorus came from. This is one of the oldest songs on 'Kind of Nice', and it's unique in that it doesn't have a clear narrative. Storytelling songs are much more common for me. Keeping the lyrics a little vague was something I started enjoying around this time, and I ended up using that device of subtlety and intimation a lot on the rest of the album as well.
SC: What is your writing process like? Do you keep a schedule? Or do you wait for inspiration?
JM: I don't keep a strict writing schedule, but I know that the more I sit down with my guitar, the more songs I write, so I try to do that as much as possible. Usually a line of lyrics or a melody will pop into my head at an inopportune time of day or night. I'll write or record the line on my phone and then flesh it out later when I have time to sit with a guitar. I usually have to strum and sing simultaneously to get anything done. I wrote most of the songs on 'Kind of Nice' while I was on an overnight stint at work. My sleep schedule was opposite of the rest of the world's, so on my nights off I'd stay up until 7am playing guitar and writing songs. That shift was hell on my personal life, but great for my songwriting. I wouldn't recommend it though.
SC: How does your community of songwriters influence you?
JM: They inspire me to write more, that's for sure. I go to as many open mics as possible, so I'm surrounded by people who are constantly churning out songs week by week. I'm far from a prolific writer, so I'm always impressed by that ability. They've also influenced me by challenging me to be unique. So many of them are such incredible musicians and/or singers, I quickly learned that I'd never stand out in those regards. Instead, they showed me how important it is for a songwriter to inject some personal, unique aspect of themselves in their work. That realization is where my lines like 'Capoeira Cara pisses in her shower where the disco light's installed...' and 'Down near her ribs, there's a younger version of Anastasia who doesn't purse her lips or hate us for having fun...' came from. I know those lines couldn't have been written by anyone else because they are based on very specific people, relationships, and experiences in my life. Yet they're still accessible and attention grabbing (I hope).
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