Brooklyn-based indie folk outfit Common Jack has just released its breezy, retrospective and cinematic travelogue entitled Canyons in the Dark. This stunning four-track EP presents a solid and cohesive musical atmosphere that gracefully weaves itself throughout each of the songs, each one reflecting upon a personal past experience.
Common Jack is the musical project of singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist John Gardner, who creates fresh arrangements that blend elements of Americana, rock and pop, with solid folk song structures, collaborating with a group of supporting musicians on electric guitars, drums, fiddles, and synths/organs. Produced, engineered and mixed by Harper James (Eighty Ninety) and recorded at Brooklyn's Degraw Sound, Canyons in the Dark is a gorgeous, easygoing sonic journey, with songs perfectly sequenced and arranged. It's one of those EP's that so smoothly flows from start to finish.
On the EP's opening track, "Uptown," we find Common Jack reflecting upon experiencing the world through travel, letting go and learning to embrace the future. "Coming Down" is about the human camaraderie we all require to survive. "Viñales" poetically weaves together the imagery and memories from a past Cuban vacation. Closing and title track "Canyons in the Dark" is an optimistic, delicately upbeat song about loving yourself, or at least learning to.
SoundThread Music Blog caught up with Common Jack's John Gardner to talk about the new EP, the inspirations and stories behind the music, and upcoming news and plans.
[STMB]: Congratulations on the Canyons in the Dark EP release! Can you tell us about the overall theme or inspiration behind the EP?
[JG]: Thematically, most of the songs deal with pretty dark subject matter: clinging to and grieving the past, struggles with mental health, mushroom trips gone horribly wrong, etc. So a huge priority for me was creating arrangements that allowed those themes to be easily accessible and, weirdly enough, fun to listen to. I'm a big believer in music's ability to create real discussions around heavy stuff. But I think there's a fine line between presenting your authentic experience vs. preaching.
Not long into the recording process, these songs began to take on an incredibly powerful symbolic meaning to me. It became clear that they were going to be unlike anything we've ever done before and at the same time, I was going through an excruciatingly painful death & rebirth cycle. Common Jack and John Gardner kind of went through a similar experience simultaneously. It seems fitting that the EP's release coincided with my birthday. I feel like I'm standing at the beginning of a new chapter.
[STMB]: One of the things that strikes me most as I listen to the EP (start to finish) is how consistent, clean and balanced it sounds throughout all the songs. Can you tell us about the production and how it helps tell the stories within the songs?
[JG]: When we set out to record these songs, we actually didn't know where we would end up sonically. I made a conscious effort not to choose an end destination for the EP. I only knew that I would feel it when we hit the sweet spot. So I ended up chasing that feeling throughout the entire process. It was a scary thing. There was no ground under our feet.
For a long time, I actively rejected my pop impulses. I was an "Americana" artist, after all. But I woke up one day and finally had the courage to ask myself what was I so afraid of. After that, my co-producer and I just let the songs tell us what they wanted to be. That's how we ended up with so much subtle electronic instrumentation in the arrangements.
[STMB]: The artwork for the EP is stunning and is a great visual complement to the music - can you tell us more about that?
[JG]: I'm so glad you like it! This is actually part of a painting by an artist named Carol Nelson. It's called Grand Canyon I and when I spoke to her about it she told me it was a work she made at night on the side of a cliff in the Grand Canyon. And so it is her perspective of looking down into the black abyss of the canyon.
And I thought that was just perfect. This EP, which I actually named before I saw that painting, is all about courage - courage to keep putting one foot in front of the other even when you can't see 6 inches in front of your face, courage to look in the mirror, say "i love you" and really mean it, courage to come to grips with the inherent lack of control that comes with being a human being. If there's a lyric that sums up the whole EP, it is:
Still I stand by what I said
There's no other place to start
Than hearing each other breathing
& climbing canyons in the dark
[STMB]: Can you tell us about the inspiration for "Viñales"? How did that come to life?
[JG]: This song began as an inside joke with myself. I’d always wanted to write a song about my experience traveling in Cuba with Jess, but every time i tried, it came slogging out of the guitar, feeling so serious. Everyone knows that traveling expands our perspectives but saying that in a song felt boring. So I started listing memories from the trip that remained fresh in my mind: Sitting with the old man behind his tobacco farm and watching him roll cigars, Jess keeping us alive with her broken yet coherent Spanish, our host introducing us to real Cuban rum, our flight getting canceled the day our visas expired and the mad dash to catch the last one to America before we found ourselves answering to the Cuban government, and so on. In the end, I slapped all of those memories together in a long list and played it over four chords. When i showed it to Harper, he said it sounded like if Jack Johnson grew up in the Brooklyn indie scene.
COMMON JACK "VIÑALES" (Official Music Video)
[STMB]: What's next for Common Jack?
[JG]: We'll be working hard on videos! I've always felt that these songs have a cinematic quality to them, so I want to create a visual representation for all of them. Maybe a coherent visual album......Other than that, we've got some shows that we'll be announcing soon. I'm also heading back into the studio soon with Harper to begin working on the follow-up EP.
For more information about Common Jack, visit the band's official website, follow on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube), and find Common Jack's music on Bandcamp, Spotify and Apple Music.