Interview with Hard Garden (Son Jack Jr, Michael Wilde & Garrett Williams) - Further from the Blues

"The blues is very personal and direct. Deep, true, unvarnished emotion is at the core of the blues. It cuts to the core and when I open myself to it, the blues teaches me that we are all the same, but our pain and joy is specific to each of us."

Hard Garden: The Gumbo Of Eden

Hard Garden is Son Jack Jr, Michael Wilde and Garrett Williams and their debut album is entitled Blue Yonder and it is raising eyebrows throughout the Blues World. Their music is deep blues moved into the 21st Century and it grabs you from the first note. Hard Garden play a ground breaking style best described as a blend of Americana, Electronica and Blues. The concept, behind the Hard Garden project is to bring forward all that’s appealing and meaningful about deep blues and give it a more contemporary feel. The blues is not unlike an old plot of land that was once fertile but has suffered from neglect over the years, and become a hard garden. A Hard Garden is a place that once was vibrant and popular, but over time became an urban wilderness on the wrong side of the money. It silently dreams of renewal and regeneration as life soars and spreads around it. It’s time will come again.

"The blues is not unlike an old plot of land that was once fertile but has suffered from neglect over the years, and become a hard garden."

Son Jack Jr. is an award winning guitarist, singer, songwriter and producer who has achieved widespread acclaim since hitting the Seattle blues scene in 2006. In this time he has released two solo albums and a third album in collaboration with Michael Wilde. Garrett Williams is a Cornish College of Arts trained musician and has been playing Jazz, Funk and Blues all over the globe since the age of 14. He is a multi-award winning engineer, musician and producer, and released his first album in 2010. Michael Wilde is a native of New York, and has spent over 30 years performing and teaching blues harmonica. He is a multi-award winning musician, singer and songwriter with numerous recording credits to his name.

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the blues and what does the blues mean to you?

Son: For me the blues is all about deep and efficient expression – being able to say as much as possible with the fewest amount of words or notes. I was drawn into the blues by the music of the early blues men (Robert Johnson; Son House; Tommy Johnson; Charley Patton) exactly for this reason. 

Michael: I learn about my deepest humanity, if I’m doing my job right. I see the roots of the human experience in me when I write. The blues is very personal and direct. Deep, true, unvarnished emotion is at the core of the blues. It cuts to the core and when I open myself to it, the blues teaches me that we are all the same, but our pain and joy is specific to each of us.

How started the thought of Hard Garden project? Can the concept of Hard Garden crush the music puritanism?

Garrett: Michael Wilde, and Son Jack Jr. hatched the Hard Garden concept, I was brought in later to help realize the vision. Crush puritanism? I don't know about that! My early memories of blues, was that it was more of a social music in the past. People used to go out and dance to the blues; we're trying to bring that element back.

"I sometimes fear that the blues will become a museum music. Fortunately, there are a lot of talented people out there the love and respect the blues." (Photo: Son Jack Jr & Michael Wilde)

How do you describe Hard Garden sound and progress, what characterize project philosophy?

Son: The concept behind the Hard Garden project is to bring forward all that’s appealing and meaningful about deep blues and give it a more contemporary feel. The blues is not unlike an old plot of land that was once fertile but has suffered from neglect over the years, and become a hard garden.

Why did you think that the Blues music continues to generate such a devoted following?

Son: I think despite it being an older art form it has remained entertaining and maybe more importantly, it deals with themes that touch almost everybody even today. Rap and Hip Hop have a direct line to the blues – they’re simply a different interpretation so the ‘root ball’ itself still remains exciting. With Hard Garden, it’s this ‘essence’ that we maintain while trying to keep the sound fresh and new.

Garrett: Blues music deals with raw emotions, it's direct and most people can relate to the experience.

Michael: The Blues is the mother of all modern American music. It is the source, the beginning of the river. The blues is at the root of so much music it is a part of its DNA. The feel of the blues is also undeniable, it is life, it is sex, it is death.

Are there any memories from recording time which you’d like to share with us? Which memory makes you smile?

Garrett: First of all it was nearly a three year process, with long periods of time between sessions. There are a lot of elements are not exactly what they appear to be on first listen. Like processing an acoustic guitar, to sound more like an electric solid body. We also used some Samba, and Mariachi elements that are not really obvious.

"My biggest fear is we’re breeding a generation where Autotune is the norm. Seriously I think music is actually in pretty good shape once you step outside of the popular/hit factory stuff. There’s a lot of creativity going on and live performance is still a big deal."       (Photo by Daniel Sheehan)

Which memory from Charlie Musselwhite, Magic Slim, Sonny Landreth and Chuck Berry makes you smile?

Son: So many to choose from! But here’s a couple. Charlie is incredibly gracious – I covered his song “Stingaree” on my first album (2007) and gave him a copy as a courtesy. He wrote back with some very kind words and said I could quote him. There is no doubt that his support opened a lot of doors for me.

The Chuck Berry show was a lifetime highlight. While we were performing I noticed at one point that people were looking behind us.  The dressing room at the Blueberry Hill club is at the back of the stage, and apparently the dressing room door was open and Chuck was in full view grooving away in there. Wish I could have seen that myself.

Michael: All of our expriences sharing the stage with these fine artists are memorable. Just having the opportunity to perform and celebrate music with these fine folks is a huge gift. Charlie Musselwhite was one of my harmonica heroes coming up. When we opened for him I was so jazzed and nervous that I couldn’t think of anything to say. He was such a gentleman and the consummate pro. I learned a lot just watching him.

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of post? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

Son: My biggest fear is we’re breeding a generation where Autotune is the norm. Seriously I think music is actually in pretty good shape once you step outside of the popular/hit factory stuff. There’s a lot of creativity going on and live performance is still a big deal. 

Garrett: The groove of the music and the emotions the music evoked. To keep growing, and exploring through music.

Michael: Technology is great, but in some cases it overpowers the performance. If you rely on things like auto-tune and endless takes, you aren’t relying on your craft. You aren’t reaching inside for something deeper. Popular music today has to serve too many masters. I sometimes fear that the blues will become a museum music. Fortunately, there are a lot of talented people out there the love and respect the blues.

"Blues music deals with raw emotions, it's direct and most people can relate to the experience." - (Photo: Garrett Williams)

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues with Americana, Electronica and continue to Jazz and beyond?

Son: As best as I know, recorded history suggests it all started with the blues.  I guess we’ll never know for sure as only a very small percentage of people were actually recorded so I have no doubt that much great music was lost forever. But if Blues was the first popular form of ‘real’ expression then you can still see it musically, lyrically and emotionally in a lot of today’s music – sometimes you really have to dig deep, but it’s in there.

Garrett: Blues is one of roots of American Music, we attempt to make a tasty gumbo by mixing in different elements.

Do you know why the sound of harmonica is connected to the blues? What are the secrets of?

Michael: The Harmonica is a very expressive instrument conducive and reflective of the human voice. It can bend and stretch, murmur and moan, cry, laugh, sigh and bellow. The sound can be deep and mean, or sweet and light. It also fits very nicely with guitar, piano and other instruments traditionally used in the blues.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?

Son: August 12 or 13th, 1938 near Greenwood, Mississippi to hang with Robert Johnson and Sonny Boy Williamson. Johnson was poisoned that night and died on August 16th.

Garrett: New York early 40's, to check out the legendary clubs on 52nd st.

Michael: I’d want to go to the south side of Chicago in the late forties. I’d want to see Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf’s bands perform. And if by some chance I actually got to sit in with those cats, well that would be heaven.

"The blues is all about deep and efficient expression – being able to say as much as possible with the fewest amount of words or notes." (Photo by Laddy Kite, Son Jack Jr & Michael Wilde)

Make an account of the case of the blues in Seattle. What were the reasons that made the city to be the center of music searching from grunge to blues last years?

Garrett: Seattle is geographically isolated from the rest of the country; music can develop without outside influences.

Michael: Seattle is located way out in the corner of the united Sates and up until recently has been somewhat isolated. It attracted people who were searching for independence and the freedom to express the way they chose. Just look at some of the folks to come out of Seattle – Jimi Hendrix, Quincy Jones, Bing Crosby, Nirvana, Pear Jam, Judy Collins, Macklemore, Paul Revere and the Raiders, The Melvins, The Posies and yes, despite the shame Kenny G. You can’t get much more diverse than that. It demonstrates how the individual creative spirit can thrive in any format if given the freedom to do so. That being said, the only time folks hear about what is going on in Seattle is when somebody breaks out and becomes mainstream. But seems to be the way the world works. The independence and pioneering spirit does not necessarily extend to the listening and purchasing audience.

 As far as the Blues Scene in Seattle, well that’s an on again, off again love affair. Everybody says they love the blues, but how many clubs really support it? Less than half a dozen if that. When you do find a gig the pay sucks. The average wage for a blues musician is the same now as it was in the 1970’s. The blues scene in Seattle exists because of the love of the fans and the musicians for the form. Their persistent support is what keeps it alive. But, there is no real support from higher up the food chain (can we say hey Paul Allen how’s about a Blues Festival?!?). In my humble opinion Portland OR does a much better job of supporting its blues scene than Seattle. It would be much easier to put together a 70’s cover band and make money, but I love the blues too much and have too much dignity to go that route. Our Hard Garden project is our sneaky way of attempting to garner some well deserves attention for the blues from the larger market. By marrying the blues to electronica and other modern musical techniques we hope to turn a new generation on to the blues.

Hard Garden - official website

(Photo by Laddy Kite, Son Jack Jr & Michael Wilde)

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