MAMMOTH GARDENS/NEW MOON VARIETY
1. Amy Airplane *
3. Coming Down
Postscript: You Don’t Need Anything Anymore
All songs c 2015 Barry F. Walsh (SOCAN/BMI)
Produced by Laurence Currie except *, produced by Richard Lloyd
Mixed by Laurence Currie
Mastered by Noah Mintz at Lacquer Channel Mastering, Toronto
“Can’t you feel it in the air/ Something that could take us anywhere?”
With those words, Barry Francis Walsh, co-founder of beloved Halifax-based alt-pop band Cool Blue Halo (Too Much Kathleen, Sweetie Said), kicks off and sets the tone for his first recording project in close to 10 years, made under the moniker Mammoth Gardens.
The seven-song EP, New Moon Variety, captures a range of styles and material from the now Toronto-based singer-songwriter – including a revamped and rearranged version of one of the first songs he wrote with an earlier Halifax band, and a recording made in New York at the turn of the millennium with legendary guitarist Richard Lloyd (Television) as producer and guest soloist. Recorded over a span of close to five years, the songs are arranged in two “sides” – ‘Dawn’ and ‘Dusk’ – meant to represent an emergence from darkness, or a “waking up” from a long, fitful sleep.
“The ‘dawn’ songs are more reflective, and are more acoustic-oriented,” says Walsh about the songs comprising the first half of the EP. “The ‘dusk’ songs, meanwhile, are louder, a little heavier, a little darker. People can listen to them in whichever way they choose, or shuffle them up if they like, but it made sense to me to arrange them like that.”
Produced in large part by longtime friend and collaborator Laurence Currie (producer of Cool Blue Halo’s acclaimed debut Kangaroo as well as Sloan’s One Chord to Another), the team played the lion’s share of instruments, bringing in instrumentalists including drummer Johnny Rowe (King Konqueror), guitarist Paul Kehayas (John Ford) and pianist Aaron Collier to augment the proceedings.
“I wanted this stuff to sound ‘orchestrated’ – not necessarily in the sense of having string sections or whatever, but having lots of different parts that would interlock and add to the whole,” says Walsh. “So we would build each song piece by piece and go through a few different iterations of each.”
One song – Reinventing the Real – arrives at what Walsh feels is a “definitive” version a couple of decades after his first brush at recording it, with Halifax pop band Flags for Everything. While the early version was much more acoustic and rough around the edges – “woodier,” says Walsh – the new version brings mandolin, Mellotron strings, and Byrdsy, chiming guitars and vocal harmonies to the fore.
Meanwhile, the Sparks-esque glam shimmy Amy Airplane, was recorded in New York City with drummer Tim Timleck and bassist Edward Pond, then-members of his post-Cool Blue Halo project, Galore (which has, to date, released two full-length albums and one EP), at Richard Lloyd’s own East Village studio. The Television and Matthew Sweet guitarist also performed the song’s distinctively incendiary solo.
“He has such a unique approach to playing that you can instantly tell it’s him from two notes,” says Walsh.
Elsewhere, the set’s opener, Distress Call, recalls both the sparse, direct nature of Plastic Ono Band while also capturing some of the sonic experimentation Walsh indulged in with Cool Blue Halo via their track, the MuchMusic Video Award-nominated Sweetie Said. Arizona, which Walsh describes as “a letter never sent until now,” might remind some of early R.E.M., with its guitar arpeggios and delicate piano motif, while Break Your Heart – another track previously attempted by Galore – uses barrel-house piano, a sing-along chorus and scorching lead guitar work from Currie to underscore a “sad tale about people using each other and being used,” according to Walsh.
Prior to a “postscript” track recorded at home that Walsh felt “fit the rest of the record thematically,” New Moon Variety closes with yet another stylistic twist, via Coming Down. Walsh marries a fly-on-the-wall lyrical approach, following someone contending with anxiety attacks at the end of a typically harried work day, with 1950s-style balladry that culminates in a climactic crescendo before taking another twist in its final seconds.
With his first EP as Mammoth Gardens now ready for release, and plans for live performances underway, Walsh says he hopes it won’t take another five years to follow New Moon Variety.
“If you’re not a full-time, recording and gigging musician, you have to do what you can, when you can,” he admits. “But I’ve got some things brewing for the next one, and I think it will probably wind up sounding completely different than this.
“That’s one of the things that attracted me to the name, ‘Mammoth Gardens,’” he summarizes. “On the one hand you have an image of a giant behemoth, stomping around and crushing everything in its wake, and on the other, you have this image of beauty and tranquility.
“There’s a lot of room, between those two worlds, for exploration.”