Darren Garvey, the drummer of Elephant Revival, just released his sophomore solo album, Heart Attack Sleeves. He has been writing more songs than he can record in a timely fashion, so he decided to challenge himself to share a new song each week for the entire year in what he’s calling his 2018 Song Share. Both the new EP and online Song Share come at a time when his touring band is on a year-long break.
Darren says the name of the six-song release is a play on words. “Heart Attack Sleeves came from the classic idiom of ‘wearing your heart on your sleeve,’ but the twist is that you’re in a downward spiral. Everyone knows you’re close to rock bottom — even you know you’re living on the edge and making poor decisions. Everyone can see the heart attack in plain sight just waiting to happen.”
Garvey is a life-long musician who studied jazz and percussion at the University of Illinois and has been touring with bands since the late ’90s. He is a producer, a father, and he plays myriad instruments. He is inspired by his deep-rooted passion for music and the challenges of life. Those experiences shape his songwriting.
Darren was fortunate to have really supportive parents in pretty much everything he did. He played just about every sport before quickly gravitating toward and becoming serious about music. He was 5 when he started piano lessons. The next year, he started guitar lessons. His parents weren’t really into music and mostly listened to the light FM station in the background.
“I remember being young and hearing that The Beatles were a band that you should know about, but I’d never heard them at home,” Darren says. “So I went to the record store and found what I thought was the coolest looking album cover — Sgt. Pepper’s. I came home with that one, and that one kind of changed me. I grew up listening to a ton of pop music just because that’s what was most accessible on the radio. I did a lot of experimentation with just figuring out sounds and going to the record store and getting cassette tapes and records on my own.”
The moment he knew he was going to pursue a lifetime of musicianship was in junior high, when he saw some friends perform in their band. “That’s when it first dawned on me that I didn’t have to wait until I was older. In my head, I always thought I had to be an adult or 21 or something to play in bars, and I saw kids gathering and playing music together, and that’s when I decided that it’s what I wanted to do. I put a band together and focused on that.”
Darren led a variety of bands in junior high and high school and played the upright bass in the jazz band. He began playing drums at 15 because no one could ever find a decent drummer. He studied under Glenn Kotche of Wilco after his skills as a self-taught drummer plateaued. Some great stars aligned because Glenn happened to teach orchestral percussion at Darren’s high school. “Glenn opened my mind up to percussion and adding that stuff in with the drums,” Darren says. “I eventually started touring with bands, but it was through his inspiration that I went to college and studied music. I’ve just always been going after it from every angle.”
Even though percussion is what he is known for, Darren has always been extraordinarily versatile and wears a variety of hats. He is forever imagining new rhythms and sounds and thrives on collaboration while channeling his creativity through songwriting and producing. “The songwriting has always been something I do on my own time at home, but I’ve gravitated toward the drums professionally in bands,” he explains. “I guess I really like the collaborative process, love unifying a group of musicians from behind the drums, and (that’s) why I love doing production on other people’s records. I really enjoy taking other people’s ideas and shaking them around to see what happens.”
Through Darren’s journey is through music, he has been both the student and the performer. He has yet to focus on his solo projects — until now. Being in Colorado has opened new doors, he says. “I’m kind of running late on doing my own stuff. My own music always remains the project that I’m going to get to you know eventually? Now with my touring band on hiatus, it would be so easy to fall off the radar if I wanted, right? But my colleagues in Colorado hold me to it,” he says. “Just the fact that everyone is willing to sit down and play music together and write songs and everyone sits in with each other’s bands. It’s so friendly and encouraging here in the Colorado music scene. I’m doing this Song Share, and I put out a record, and I’m typically not great at self-promotion…which I think is part of what is so challenging about committing to sharing a new song every week. However, everyone’s been so encouraging and my bandmates, my neighbors, everyone anticipates it.”
This album has been in the making for a few years, and he decided it was time to run with it when Elephant Revival went on hiatus after a Red Rocks performance in May.
“I started recording this album Heart Attack Sleeves right before I joined Elephant Revival,” he says. “So it naturally got put on hold. I was recording in a studio called Honeytone, it was a new out-of-the-way place that I found after working in Chicago studios for years. I’d never worked at Honeytone, but I just wanted to try something different. It’s a huge turn-of-the-century Victorian home in the middle of nowhere, Wisconsin. The guys Patrick, Mark, and Marty there worked as a dedicated team. I had never worked like that before. I’ve always worked with one engineer/producer, but this was a full team of engineers who wanted to collaborate together and bounce ideas around. I really liked their process, and so I trusted them because of the process. I didn’t really know their gear or their place and hadn’t really heard many records they had done, but I took a chance on it. It’s located in a place that I can disappear. For me, it’s easier to work when I’m not at home. I like focusing on recording projects when I travel somewhere because I can immerse myself in the music and don’t have the distractions of the home life.”
Darren has a seven-year-old daughter at home. After becoming a father, his whole songwriting process changed. “I found out once having a kid, there are always these moments at home where you have to drop everything and if you don’t capture an idea in ink, or in a recording, it’s gone,” he says. “It could be gone forever. It is fun to try to remember something you forgot but much easier with a voice memo. I’ve listened back to stuff, and I’ll even make notes about the ideas I really like. Sometimes you can hear my daughter crying in the background or something because I’m just trying to retain the thought quickly on my phone before I go check the scene. The ideas can be extremely disjointed but exist to piece together at another time.”
His writing style is rhythmic, stemming from his formal study of percussion. “Writing comes in waves,” he says. “I feel like I never write one song at a time. It’s either I can pick up a guitar and try, and nothing comes out, or I have 16 ideas that are happening all at once. I go back through voice memos and think, ‘Oh, this is such a great chorus.’ The ideas don’t typically have finalized lyrics, so I have to backtrack and ask myself what the place-holder lyrics are trying to convey?” Sometimes my lyrics come out of nonsense stuff. It’s just an iteration, and I love the way it sounds. Coming from my percussion background sometimes I start singing a chorus or something that I think is really getting somewhere, but it’s not saying anything because the words came more from a rhythmic place — it’s the phonics of it, the sound of it, the syllables.”
One of his inspirations is David Byrne, who wrote in ‘How Music Works’ that songwriting is taking an idea and molding it into drafts and edits until it turns into something that makes sense. “I like stuff that maybe sounds more poetic like using alliteration or other things that roll off the tongue nicely,” Darren says. “It doesn’t have to rhyme all the time. Sometimes I’ll be singing a song and realize about half of it doesn’t rhyme and I never even noticed because it’s saying what I want it to say. I enjoy the concept where the rhyme scheme doesn’t have to be at the end of each line. It can be within the phrase, or further apart. I try to be clever with it.”
As for Elephant Revival, Garvey says, “Everyone’s jumping into these new projects, and I think it’s really healthy. So I’ve been playing shows and producing Daniel’s debut solo record. I was rehearsing with Bonnie last night for our set at Folks Fest. I’ve been recording stuff with Charlie and with Dango, and I’ve been playing a lot of gigs with Bridget. Additionally, I’ve been playing drums in (past member) Sage’s band We Dream Dawn. The musical family of Elephant Revival is still alive and well.”
He says Heart Attack Sleeves gives me time to do some of his own stuff and to finally pursue it.
“Everything happens for a reason, and you never see it right away,” he says. “Sometimes you don’t see it for years later, but I’m thankful for the last two years. Playing in Elephant Revival has been extremely rewarding, and hopefully, we’ll get to do it more. Regardless of the future, I’m certainly grateful that joining ER brought me to Colorado. I’m pleased to call this home and honored to be a part of the local music community.”