Garth Stevenson
The Nature of Music

Garth Stevenson is one of those rare musicians who can actually make you feel. A native Canadian, Garth was born and raised in nature, and this experience has had a significant influence on his music. His compositions are so genuine and evocative of the age we are living in; so full of scope and grandeur that they make an indelible and profound impression on the listener.

If you take a moment to immerse yourself in his magnificent track Flying, you could be forgiven for thinking you are doing just that. His background makes Garth an unusually aware, attuned and sensitive character. Now ready to take aim at Hollywood, Garth looks to bring a welcome dose of humbleness to the industry.

I came across your music accidentally. The first track I ever heard was your song Flying, an extraordinary piece of music. I’d be interested to know where your path into the world of performing and song writing started – there is scant information about you on the web, so maybe you can give me a bit more detail?

I grew up in Western Canada, in a town called Kelowna. I was a very busy boy, spending a lot of time with my family. We were often out in nature. My parents were very active and we went on quite a few fairly extreme camping trips in the middle of nowhere. I started playing piano at about 3-5 years old, although it wasn’t until high school that I started getting serious about music, putting aside sports and picking up jazz after the existing bass player quit the local high school band. At fourteen, I found a dusty old double bass in the attic of our high school and just fell in love with it. My very first double bass teacher, Bogdan, was the man who made our hardwood floors but, it turned out, he also used to be the principal bassist in the Vienna Philharmonic in the 70’s and 80’s! So Bogdan turned out to be one of the best teachers I ever had.

Your music is very environmentally informed. It’s fragile and sensitive. I’m very attracted to those qualities and I think you display them a lot within your music. So I think the question I wanted to ask was, would you say you’re a fragile, sensitive person, and do you agree that permeates your music?

I am definitely sensitive. I am one of those people who has strangers telling me their deepest darkest secrets pretty quickly. But I wouldn’t consider myself a fragile person. I’m definitely sensitive to people and my environment though – I think living in New York for so long made me realise there was always this strong pull to get back out to nature. And in a way it was good to be stuck in the city, always wanting to get out. Every chance I got, I drove out to upstate New York to go hiking in the woods. I might be going off track here…!

Do world events inform your music?

Absolutely. I have written pieces for specific events like the death of family members or things like that. But I think in general I just really try and experience world events, whether it’s 9/11 or something wonderful that has happened. Instead of running home and saying I need to write a 9/11 piece, I just want to take it in and then just let it come out in whatever way it does. Whether it’s that week or five years later.

Music is very important to people, it’s almost undervalued as a commodity in society and it isn’t felt enough as a cultural currency. We use words a lot in order to communicate and channel our feelings, but music such as yours can really transport you and represent how you feel in many ways.

Absolutely and those types of compliments are usually the best  I have ever gotten, I have never really cared too much about what critics think of music.

“I get emails such as: ‘My son is 15 and he suffers from schizophrenia. He has not talked in 2 years and we started playing your music for him and he started saying his first words again.’ ”

Why is that?

Well, I guess for the most part, and it might sound ignorant, critics can be so set up – they just need to decide whether they like something or not.  I just wish all critics were master musicians themselves. Often when I read critical reviews of other people’s music, I can see that the writer just didn’t really know what was going on.

Things that have more meaning for me are emails I receive such as: “My son is 15 and he suffers from schizophrenia. He has not talked in two years and we started playing your music for him and he started saying his first words again.” Or: “My mother died and the only way I got through it was by your music”. I’ve heard that a lot of people have given birth to my music and that is much more meaningful to me – it makes me feel like I am on the right track.  Music, for me, is still a very mysterious thing.

That was one of my questions. You were quoted saying ‘music is still for me a very mysterious thing’, what do you mean by that?

Well, I have been thinking about this a lot. As a musician, I have studied so much music – I went to college for it and listened and wrote scores. But then I took a step back, and I said wait, what is actually happening here? People have such strong reactions to music but it’s just the air vibrating. And it’s so interesting, how do we even know why we like it or not? Part of it is just purely primitive and instinctual.

When I was in high school I listened to music that, at the time, I thought was crazy, chaotic music, but now five years later I listen to it and I realize I just wasn’t able to hear it at the time. Everyone’s ears are always evolving and so you know, when they hear music, that same music could sound something completely different to them thirty years later.

Are you terrified of Hollywood?

(Laughing) No, not at all. I went down and met with my agent and they said it’s a blank slate. The more experience I build the better. I also feel I’m ready and not scared to do a movie by a major film director. You lose that fear because you start just seeing them as a person. Some people get star struck when they see a celebrity. Hollywood does not scare me – I think I’m just going to keep going down my path and see how the two intersect – if they do.

What would be the one movie that you wish you could have composed for?

Oh boy! I don’t know. There are obvious one’s like Into The Wild because it was so similar to my love of nature. I am thinking of solitary one’s like Dead Man with Johnny Depp. But I also do not want to pigeonhole myself as doing just epic nature movies. That is why doing Ten Thousand Saints was great, because it was about kids getting into trouble in Vermont in the 1980’s. That was a good challenge for me. I had to leave the nature thing behind, but still come at it with my same influences.

What is your opinion on the state of music at the moment?

Well, it’s very easy to go down the same route of discussion, where you talk to musicians about Spotify and whether its destroying their lives because no one is making money anymore. But I just try not to go there. Someone once asked me what I thought of Lady Gaga? And I replied I do not think about her.

“People have such strong reactions to music and yet all it is, is just the air vibrating.”

That’s a great answer!

And I didn’t mean that as in I am not interested in her music.

No, I understand what you’re saying. So who do you think about then Garth?

Mostly my son! I feel like I do not have the best grasp on what is happening out there, you get so busy working on your own music that it’s hard. I think there is so much great music and I think a lot of it is just not getting the exposure it deserves.
There is a ‘pop machine’ out there where people want to hear hit songs and that attracts the most attention. I just want to make sure that music doesn’t head away from having a human presence, where you can feel the musicians behind the music. My goal is to accent all the human elements in my music. If I’m recording a singer and she takes a huge breath, I would keep that, a lot of people would not keep it but I would.

And you can hear that. It is very organic and holistic. But I cannot get around the fact that I find your music quite sad. You want to sit alone with it and you want to embrace it and be with it. I think part of that is the nature of the instrument – the double bass – it invokes sadness.

Well when you talk about the sadness in the music, especially in working with directors. I think part of that is the nature of the instrument which is double bass, it invokes sadness.

It’s been an issue really that whatever I play sounds sad which is why I wanted to play piano a little more. I am trying to find ways to make it sound happier, but if you bring it up, maybe my music is sad. I am an optimistic person, but there are a lot of horrible things happening in the world. Everyone has sadness within them, it is part of being human, you are going to feel everything. In general people meet me and I come across as a happy person. And they ask how can I be such a happy person and still write such sad music? And it’s very a difficult question to answer. But I think it’s by not trying to project myself into the music – and maybe that’s where I let all out.

What’s next for you?

Well, I started working on my follow up solo album after the one I made in 2011, Flying. This was before I got called up to do Tracks, probably about two and a half years ago. I might have another documentary that I am starting soon as well. So I’m hoping that I’m unemployed soon so I can finish my own album!

You are definitely the first musician I have ever met that has wanted to be unemployed! Thanks for taking the time to talk to us.

My favourite music to listen to is the music of Tuva. I forget if we talked about Tuva but I spent a few weeks there performing, studying and living with Tuvan musicians. One of my favourite Tuvan albums is “Alash” by the Alash Ensemble. Here is a link to their website. From there you can link to itunes and other stores.

Todd Murphy is my favourite visual artist. Attached is one of his new works that I’m especially drawn to.

One of my favourite places is the Bunsby Islands of the West Coast of Vancouver Island. This is where I’ve gone on many long kayaking camping trips with my family and has been a big inspiration for my music.