Mysterious forces beyond our understanding swathe and accelerate the universe – the hypothetical “dark matter”, which cosmologists believe makes up 85 per cent of the whole caboodle.
Darkmatter is also the title of the newest EP by the galactically talented bassist Eva Gardner who, as a youngster, would hang out at the Griffith Observatory in Hollywood, marveling at both the constellations above and over all the possibilities that life had to offer.
The six-song EP has been orbiting Gardner’s muse for five years in sketches and riffs, and like many projects, it took the pandemic to free up the time and creative space to actually complete the follow-up to her 2019 solo debut, Chasing Ghosts.
“I always had it in my mind to do another one,” she tells us. “The timing just worked out; there wasn’t any work during the lockdown, so I made work for myself.”
Gardner was also taking a music production course at the time, and set up a simple-but-effective home studio accordingly.
“That helped with the habit of having to write and finish songs, because I needed to have material to turn in to school. I have a pretty basic setup; a keyboard controller, my laptop, studio speakers and Logic [Pro], with an Apogee Duet interface.”
For Darkmatter, Gardner performed all the instruments – bass, guitar, keys and vocals, with programmed drums as a placeholder. But no matter how carefully you mush it up and subtly de-quantize the electronically generated kit, there’s no substitute for a live drummer. Step forward Nathan Price, sticksman with indie pop-punk outfit, Broncho.
“I wanted an actual real-life person playing for the feel, and he’s out of Oklahoma, where the studio was. We did the drums and redid some of the vocals. They’ve got nice mics and a great collection of analog gear. We used some of the analog keyboards and stuff like that.”
Also performing on the EP is guitarist Josh Berwanger, who had an important part in the shaping of the release. “I had him come on and help me produce this, just to get another ear – you know, when you’re by yourself all the time it’s hard to have perspective. Some of the stuff started out as very skeletal ideas a few years ago, so I sent him 12 or 13 songs, from which we picked a few to work on.”
Dark matters, of course, are all around us; not just worldly concerns, but family issues and the general experience of existing as a human in these strange times. All such matters are reflected in the EP's typically thoughtful lyrical content, which mirrors the careful sonic consideration of the release’s low-end.
“I’m pretty much using my Fenders across the board,” says the musician. “There is also some keyboard bass underneath, filling stuff out. Sometimes it’s just straight-out doubling to give a sub kind of vibe, or using those analog synths to fill out the frequencies. It adds more dynamics, I think.”
Though Gardner has been known to play keys bass, she’s sticking with the electric bass guitar and adding another player in the planned live gigs. “There’s a lot of little keyboard lines, so if I have a keyboardist we can see what happens and what sounds good,” she explains.
Gardner has always been in demand as a sessionist and for tours, but the pandemic stopped all that in its tracks. Previously, she had been on tour with Pink for two years, having been part of the Pennsylvanian singer’s band since 2007.
She's also had high-profile gigs with Cher during the 2014 Dressed To Kill tour, worked with Veruca Salt on their 2005 Australian gigs and toured with Tim Burgess in the UK. Elsewhere on her resume, Gardner worked with Moby’s band for his performance on Conan O’Brien's show, and for three subsequent Los Angeles gigs.
In 2001, she was an early member of the progressive metal/experimental rock band, The Mars Volta, and the songs they recorded that year became the first demo the band released. Following the songs' success, the Volta went on to lay down the tracks that would eventually be released as 2002’s Tremulant EP. Eva’s world was to be shattered, however, by the illness of her father.
“I said, ‘Dad, I’ll stay here and be with you and the family’. He was literally on his deathbed, and he said to me, ‘No. You go out there and do this thing.’ When I look back now, that was the very moment that he passed on the torch to me. He was aware of it being my first tour, and the thing that I always wanted to do.” Sadly, Kim died three days into that Mars Volta tour.
And, yes, that’s the Kim Gardner who was a key member of several British Invasion bands in the 1960s, including The Birds, The Creation and Ashton, Gardner & Dyke. You might think it was a done deal that Eva would pick up the bass, given that she grew up in a household where the likes of John Entwistle would often visit, but Kim wasn’t too keen on the idea to begin with.
As Gardner recalls, “First of all, he was like: ‘Don’t touch my basses’. Secondly, I look back now and it was a lot of different things [he was worried about]. Knowing that the music industry is hard, and knowing about that sex and drugs and rock ’n’ roll world, he didn’t want that for his little girl. It wasn’t until his best friend, Andy Johns, came over and gave me my first bass lesson that Dad said, ‘Okay, I guess she’s serious’.”
Even so, Kim’s basses were still off-limits. “I borrowed Andy’s bass and really took to it, but it wasn’t until I was about 14 that Dad let me borrow an old Carvin that he didn’t care about. He wouldn’t let me touch any of the Fenders. Eventually, he took me under his wing, and we had some great father-daughter nights where he showed me how to change the strings and do all that stuff.”
Kim, who had been in The Birds with family friend and future Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood, became his daughter’s first de facto roadie in the '90s. At the time, Eva was at an all-girl Catholic school, where she formed a band called Entropy with her peers.
“I had a gig at the Whisky A-Go-Go, and my dad’s friend worked at SIR Rental, so he got us some amps to use. We did a lot of covers, and that’s when I started writing songs for the band. We did songs by Nirvana and The Monkees, and our singer sounded exactly like Belinda Carlisle, so we did some Go-Gos stuff.”
One of their contemporaries, and good friends, was a band called Kara’s Flowers, better known these days as Maroon 5. Those early experiences, says Gardner, were crucial in helping her find her confidence and style – and Kim was fully on board, too.
“I was coming up with fun stuff, and my dad and other musicians hanging out were influences,” she says. “They were very encouraging toward me, which always helps when you’re a kid starting out. I look back and realize how grateful I am that I had those people in my life that were supportive, because not everybody was.
“I remember learning some basslines – The Monkees song, Words – a walking kind of thing. My fingers were bleeding and blistered, but I was so determined to turn all those ‘no’s into ‘yes’s, that I put the work in – and if you do that you get better. You can reach your goals.”
After graduating from UCLA with a degree in Ethnomusicology, which she credits as inspiring her to consider music as a worldwide vehicle for expression and tradition, a huge opportunity came her way via her friend, Ikey Owens, a keyboard player.
“At The Drive-In had just broken up, and Ikey called me up and said, ‘Hey, I’m in a band with these two guys, Omar and Cedric, who are looking to start something new. You want to come in and do some playing?’ And that was it. We met, we hung out, and next thing you know I’m at the rehearsal space in Long Beach and we’re writing songs. I remember coming up with band names on the living room floor.”
That dub band offshoot was The Mars Volta, and was soon set for major success. Eva was to part ways with the band a year after the death of her father in 2001. In due course, her basslines for The Mars Volta’s debut album, De-Loused In The Crematorium, were played by Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea. He changed virtually none of the lines – a high compliment indeed.
Gardner’s career over the past two decades has seen many auspicious moments, including working with some musicians that were firmly part of her formative years as a fan.
“I was the kid in the front row at the Hollywood Palladium in 1994 singing all the songs to Veruca Salt,” Gardner recalls. “Fast forward to 2005, and I’m their bass player, singing the songs as well. You know you’re on the right path when you’re meeting all these wonderful people who lead you into these beautiful scenarios. It was my first tour of Australia, and I got to do it with them.”
There’s a tale that tops that, too. “The first arenas I ever played were the Manchester Evening News Arena, and Wembley Arena – opening for the Rolling Stones. Oh my God, it was an amazing, full-circle moment.
“Dad opened up for them in 1967 when he was in The Creation – it was Brian Jones’ last tour. So here’s Dad in ’67 and then here’s his little girl opening for them. Seeing Dad’s best friend Ron Wood at soundcheck was a very powerful moment for me.”
Indeed, over the mic Ronnie Wood did enquire as to whether Eva was Kim’s daughter. “He’s like, ‘All right, nice one!’ and we said, 'Hi.' It was just really cool; we got a picture with all the guys.”
There was also a moment where she might have gotten some special powers from a particular discarded smoke. “Keith Richards had a cigarette behind his ear at soundcheck the whole time, but he never smoked it,” says Gardner. “He left it on my amp and it had this sweat stain on it, his DNA. I was like, ‘Cool, so do I smoke this?’” Sensibly, she eschewed the opportunity.
Gardner is full of fire for her future; if she has her way, it’ll be spent largely on the road. “I love touring. This has been the longest I’ve been at home for 20 years. It isn’t bad or good, it’s just what it is. I move forward with grace and acceptance and surrender. Touring is my favorite thing. It’s what I love to do.”
We may not know what comprises the majority of the universe we live in, but by the beard of Zeus, its soundtrack is in safe hands. And ultimately, that is the one thing that truly does matter.
- Dark Matter is out now via Winter Rabbit Music.