The story of 'Somnium' – an album that invited fans to rediscover an artist they thought they already knew
“I’ve always been into psychedelic music and I think this is the most psychedelic record I’ve ever made,” says Jacco Gardner of his latest album, ‘Somnium’, as we sit down for afternoon coffee in Amsterdam. Gardner looks like he could be in a 1960s psych band too with his check trousers, heeled boots, big brown coat and turtleneck jumper. Just across the road from where we sit is the suitably kaleidoscopic setting where Gardner will perform his latest psychedelic exploration: the city’s planetarium. “It’s been very stressful,” he says as he tells me about the two days he’s spent setting up in there and how a new quadraphonic PA has had to be brought in for the show. He bows down his head and parts open his hair: “I have a few more grey hairs then usual.” Sure enough, nestled amongst the long strands of brown are strips of tired greys that number above the average for a man of 30.
‘Somnium’ was never intended to be just an album you see. Gardner created it to be a multi-sensory and multimedia experience from the off – a new voyage for a new era. His first two albums blended fuzzy guitars, baroque pop and woozy melodies – not too far away from early Tame Impala at times – but on his third Gardner has ditched a great deal of the sound he’s grown to be known for. Instead he retreated to Lisbon, fell in love, had his mind ripped open by the dreamscape sci-fi of Johannes Kepler (the album is named after his 1608 book of the same name) and recorded an immersive and synth-heavy record that sounds like an unearthed gem from 1970s Germany akin to Cluster or Tangerine Dream. Oh, and he doesn’t sing a single word on it either. It’s entirely instrumental. “A lot of people are sad that I’m not singing on it,” he says of the U-turn move. “I understand though. People connect an identity to a voice and then when it’s not there, you feel in conflict with what you thought that identity was and you have to rediscover an artist that you thought you knew.”
Although, reconnecting with any altered sense of artist identity is not hard on this record. It’s Gardner’s most stirring work to date. “My other albums had an otherworldly aspect to them,” he says, “but I really wanted to take this concept to another level, to really create another world that you could inhabit. Almost like a structure or a building.” Besides, Gardner’s career trajectory as baroque psych pop singer was never planned. “It was accidental that my first record had a lot of pop aspects to it,” he offers. “But because it did that meant a lot of doors opened to that world like touring, radio, TV and record labels – the whole mechanism of pop music. Because of that the second album followed suit.”