By Ashaine White
Joseph Lawrence & The Garden come together to create music bursting with individuality with the first part of their EP ‘Goodbye, Hello’. With three songs that truly move the soul, the London based collective, comprising of vocalist Joseph Lawrence and instrumentalist Gibbi Bettini - have a sound that takes a unique, authentic and hauntingly beautiful take on Jazz. With three sold-out shows under their belt, a string of refreshingly unique singles released during the year and features on Spotify’s Jazz UK playlist, there are no signs of slowing down for the boys. I wanted to know... What brought us the Joseph Lawrence and The Garden we see before us today?
Joseph: ‘Years of working together! There’s still a relationship to build if you’re going to spend that much time with one person....I think that reflects in the music now, because we kind of have our own sound I would say, but, it’s because we have both learned and continue to learn how to work with each to the best possible degree.’
JL&TG combine the Jazz elements of artists like Mary Lou Williams and melancholy acoustic guitar melodies of Jeff Buckley, with roar, powerful and emotive vocals and intricately written lyrics. In conversation with the boys, I got to understand where they place themselves within the Jazz genre, what influences them and if they feel there is a space for them to fill.
Gibbi: ‘We definitely have a Jazz influence, and I think the way that we write is characteristic of Jazz. The philosophy behind how we make a song and decisions we make will have a lot more Jazz in it than a lot of other genres. We like the obscurity in things, so we like chords to move, and not just be lineal. Jazz creates a bigger world, because there are all the extensions, there are different things that you can do with chords, that really are Jazz, fundamentally.’
Joseph: ‘You have to look at who we’re looking up to, and why I sing the way I do. Really, it’s because of people I listen to like Ella Fitzgerald, Donny Hathaway… Even Jeff Buckley, he’s covering so much Nina Simone, who is one of the greats of Jazz. When I’m listening to that, you know, I’m understanding that Jazz has that movement, it’s so expressive and colourful.’
Leading up to my review of ‘Goodbye, Hello’ and my interview with the boys I did a lot of listening to the EP and enjoyed every moment of it. I got the chance to dig deep into the creative minds of Joseph and Gibbi, and break down their writing process, what working as a duo is like and how working in the Pandemic has been for them so far. Speaking on their working relationship:
Joseph: ‘I would say, it takes a while to get to know somebody, and we’re getting to know each other, people wouldn't think it, but probably on one of the most personal levels. I’m coming in and writing about my heartache, and Gibbi also has an honest emotion that he wants to express. There’s definitely not anything we do that is that planned, but I think being close to someone is just that reflection of feeling between people. ‘Goodbye, Hello’ came out of not even thinking, just start playing something, start singing something, press record and that’s the song.’
Gibbi: ‘We made the songs during the Pandemic. We didn't make them as an EP, we decided on releasing an EP afterwards, which is cool because we’ve never wanted to put out an EP, but this just felt right. Being in this time, with everyone feeling the way they do and it being very lonely and unsure, it came out very relevant to how we were feeling. It’s very intimate and personal, which I find quite interesting, because we’ve never made music like that and probably never would have made that music if we weren’t in this situation.
I think over the years we’ve found a place where we just respect each other. It all works towards trusting that person, being aware of your own ego and knowing whether you don't like something because it wasn't your idea. It isn’t going to work out every time but because we are writing so much, and we always want to be writing, we try to do things differently. We want to be progressing with sound and ultimately that requires experimentation. There has to be freedom to do whatever.’
Joseph’s soulful and tasteful vocal leads the way on ‘In The Missed’, supported by The Garden's sparse and haunting piano accompaniment. The instrumentation leaves a perfect amount of space for the listener to fall deeply into Joseph’s experience of heartbreak, only to be welcomed by a beautifully arranged string section, played by Midori Jager - who also features on the boy’s 2020 single ‘Push and Pull’ , introducing us to the world of Joseph Lawrence & The Garden.
Joseph: ‘In The Missed is about an approaching feeling of loneliness. Not about loneliness... but the feeling of it being the next stop on the journey.’
Gibbi: ‘What I find interesting about ‘In the Missed’ is that it’s still very warm sonically and the piano is very gentle and pretty, which reflects what Joe is talking about a lot. The warmth reflects the fact that the loneliness hasn't actually happened yet, as he’s still with her at this point, so it’s almost the realisation that he’s about to drive off the cliff, but it hasn't happened yet. So, the mood changes and the strings are introduced, and it feels sweet and free. To me it feels that, though he's been freed of his prior feeling, he knows now there’s going to be a crash.’
The second track ‘You Know The Way’, is introduced by a retro-sounding drum machine followed by sparse fingerpicked acoustic guitar. The Garden’s use of harmony is unique to the sound that the collective has created for themselves and really brands their music as truly theirs. Speaking on his use of harmony, Gibbi explains:
‘With Guitar it's more just about having to find each note in the chord, and create a more unpredictable way of playing, so I can be a bit surprised by what I play, as opposed to playing something I know will sound a certain way. I find it hard to play just simple chords, which obviously you can make amazing songs with and is to my detriment for not using as much, but it’s more my own thing, the positive side of it is that I create more unique sounding harmony, and that’s where a lot of the Jazz comes from.’
The drum machine aids to a sense of lo-fi nostalgia throughout the song, boldly juxtaposing the earthy sounding guitar and bass, creating complex layers of rhythm and harmony for any Jazz lover to sink their teeth into. Gibbi explains:
‘If you think of the song as a room, it’s just Joe, and guitar. If we had a drummer in it would mean another person, and it being clearly a synthetic sound, helps with the intimacy and the weirdness of that song.’
Any fans of a good singing voice (me being one of these people) will not be disappointed by Joseph’s performance in the EP’s second track. With a mixture of soft falsetto and more velvety tones, Joseph’s sheer control and understanding of his voice play an integral role, tying off this gift of a song with a silky-smooth ribbon. Speaking on this Joseph explains:
‘I definitely think my voice has evolved. I think it comes from understanding how to convey emotion a bit better. For me now, if I'm singing, then it's wrong, it's more about speaking the emotion. I think with this EP, it's such a personal, raw thing to me, I’m just speaking my mind. Every year, and as time goes on, with everything I write, I’m becoming more and more myself.’
The first part of the EP is closed by ‘Don’t Tell Me You Love Me’, my personal favourite. Joseph’s powerful lyrics ignite an understanding and empathic listening experience. He uses words and phrases powerfully, to help explain his yearning so skilfully through his song writing - and his vocal performance once again seals the deal, creating something that is truly inspiring. The instrumentation is equally as impressive, crafting a foundation for the song to build, and eventually, explode into a wonderfully broody version of the B-Section, littered with a up close and personal sounding drum groove, backing vocals and bassline that kept me replaying this song for days on end.
Joseph: ‘This was the only song we didn't write together. Writing it separately worked well and helped to capture the space of raw emotion running through the whole project. I was just at home, just me and an audio recording of Gibbi’s guitar, and I was talking about something honest and truthful.’
We wrapped up our interview with a check in on how the boys are feeling in the current climate:
Gibbi: ‘I think it’s been a very strange time; a lot has happened. Obviously, the whole Black Lives Matter movement has got a lot of attention and it’s good that people are taking a lot more notice of it. Everything going on is just a lot to take on, and people normally don't have a lot of time to sit and really think about these issues.’
Joseph: ‘I think as a writer and artist, it’s been difficult. I used to be quite a reclusive person, and as I started to be out more, pre-Covid, I saw that that’s kind of the best food for the music. The coronavirus pandemic forced us into a place of loneliness, and we couldn't go out and experience people, strangers, feelings, emotions, it’s just pure self.’
In my opinion, there is nothing stopping Joseph Lawrence & The Garden from bursting on to the scene and truly marking their ground as they do so. They are unique, authentic and talented creatives, with a bright future in the industry and the shaping of the genre of Jazz today. The second part of their EP ‘Goodbye, Hello’, will grace our ears on the 27th of November 2020, followed by the stunning visual for ‘In the Missed’.
About Ashaine White