The classically trained pianist and singer's music has been featured on hit TV series "Grey's Anatomy" and "Private Practice" and in Pedro Almodovar's 2011 film "The Skin I Live In." The new album, released in November, captures the spirit of the season not through eggnogs and yule logs, but through personal and secondhand childhood stories about abuse, abandonment, and atrophy. Sure, the topics are as dark as winter's shorter days, but Garneau's soothing voice and lulling sounds are comforting counterpoints. This is the album you want to listen to in its entirety on a snowy day, curled up on your couch while burning yule logs or watching them over the Yule Log app.Download.com caught up with the 31-year-old singer to talk about the new album, his favorite game, and the app he wants for Christmas.
What is "Winter Games" about, and how do the album tracks play into that theme?
Mancala is an ancient African game of memory. When I started writing the songs on this record, I asked several close friends and family to send me their earliest memories of winter. To many, it felt like an exercise in memory or a game. I have always had an obsession with the winter season. I was specifically interested in people's relationships to other humans who surrounded them at younger ages and how those relationships were possibly affected by winter, cold, darkness, etc. The memories I received served as inspiration for some of the first songs I wrote on this record.
"Winter Song #1" is the memory from my friend who suffered sexual abuse from her sibling growing up, though always had a tendency toward defending him in front of her parents, as he was her older brother. Winter played an extreme and particular role in her story of abuse and also of her family's ultimate denial of truth.
My mother wrote to me about her memory of going to the outdoor skating rink with her friend Rita when they were young girls. They used to change into their ice skates and leave their shoes on the side of the rink, and she told me about a day when some boys stole their shoes while they were skating. But the ice pond was up the hill from her house, and the whole street and sidewalk were frozen, so they just skated home. This was a favorite and became a B side on this record, a song called "Boston Movie Time."
You were a Brooklyn fixture for years, yet you recently moved to upstate New York. What inspired the move, and what is your home life like now?
I was nearing 10 years in Brooklyn when I left. I guess I got pretty burnt out and felt that maybe, even though I felt like New York City was somewhere I had to be at one time, it really wasn't serving much of a purpose for me anymore, personally or artistically. I had started a performance venue with two partners in Bushwick, which took the last bit of energy or will I had left in me to stay in the city. It was fun, but it was a lot of work, and I wasn't able to create work at all anymore.
I always had a really hard time throwing food away when I lived in the city. I always wanted to compost and didn't know how. Spending my morning giving kitchen scraps away to my goats and chickens is much more appealing than walking down a dirty city block to spend $5 on a cup of coffee from some shitty hipster coffee shop. My days now are long, and life goes by slowly. I enjoy this. I don't like the idea of life passing you by so quickly. I had a constant thought in my head that everything I was doing while living in the city was for something bigger and better, eventually. What I realized when I moved to the country is that the bigger and better thing was always there; I just had to choose it.
Can you talk about the recording process for this album and the software you use/used for recording, like Pro Tools and Logic?
When I first moved upstate, I found a cottage on a private farm, and I became its caretaker. This is where I started recording. I lived on 40 acres and raised animals pretty much alone, except when my boyfriend came up on weekends. It functioned much like a sanctuary and care farm. I found that being out of my normal surroundings to create work was a much more profitable experience and became one that was also more experimental. I could make any amount of noise at any time of day or night, and no one would ever hear me. Living and -- often, for me at least -- making work in the city was very much about keeping up with peers -- things being clean, tight, and fitting. I felt very disengaged in Brooklyn the last couple years I lived there. The move very directly reflects the change in my work. I had more time to myself than ever in my life. So I took liberty in experimenting with sound; I recorded noise and played instruments in new ways. I started to engineer things very differently and learned a lot about how to create work on a more technical side, as well. That and being around animals, which is all I ever really want.
I had only ever used Pro Tools and Logic a bit, but I was fairly well-versed in Pro Tools to begin with. That being said, I never engineered entire sessions, and most of the recording I had done up until this record involved co-producers or engineers. Losing that person next to you kind of feeling really allows you to kind of go for it. I abandoned all insecurities and self-consciousness and really allowed myself to explore the recording process earnestly.
What are your favorite apps for play?
I mean, I had to stop using/playing Tiny Zoo, because I actually started buying sh*t for my zoo at one point in time. I use pretty much the normal, default apps like Instagram, where I endlessly post photos of my goats or cats. I also use weather apps a lot, because with raising livestock and growing food, we constantly need to know what the weather and temperatures will be like and what needs to be prepped ahead of time if we are going to get a blizzard or a really extreme temperature. In spring, just a few degrees can make a big difference between food staying alive or dying in one night. I also have a Metronome app and Twitter and Amtrak. We use the trains very often to trek back and forth from the city.
If you could receive an app for Christmas that would change your life, what would it be?
Is there an app that herds chickens to their coop at the end of the day? I need one. It needs to be like a sound or some kind of chicken call that gets them all to come back to their house. 'Cause I am damn tired of chasing chickens around every day before the sun goes down.