When percussionist, songwriter and producer Darren Garvey wheeled an old Baldwin upright piano into his home, it felt full circle. He hadn’t had a piano in his living room since childhood. For Garvey, songs come from somewhere—an instrument, the confluence of two rivers, a scribble in his daughter’s sketchbook. Take “Only the River,” a song that came from listening to the rush of the St. Vrain behind his house. Or “As A Scribble,” the title track from his forthcoming album that evokes the wonder of child’s play and the messiness of life. After surfacing on over 200 albums by other artists, this new collection of songs center Garvey as a singer, songcrafter and seasoned multi-instrumentalist.
Garvey is well-loved for passionately supporting musicians in the indie-pop and folk scene for over 20 years. Regardless of his role, he always works for the betterment of a song. He’s played drums with Elephant Revival and Daniel Rodriguez and produced music for Rodriguez, The Lumineers, Daniel and the Lion, Nathaniel Riley, Sound of Honey and many others. He plays piano, guitar, bass, melodica, accordion, glockenspiel, bowed percussion, and basically anything he can fashion into an instrument. Adam Duritz from Counting Crows describes Garvey as “an absolute artist,” praising his ability “to play with a band acoustically and just invent.” His Elephant Revival bandmate Dango Rose calls him “a lighthouse” and singer-songwriter Carolyn Hunter says playing with Garvey “makes everything sound and feel so easy.”
Garvey is a natural cross-pollinator. While working on different projects, he’s always gathering lyric ideas, rhyme schemes, harmonic shapes and studio know-how—recombining and recasting them into new songs and contexts. He does this within his own musical ecosystem as well—singing with the rhythmic clarity of a percussionist and crafting drum parts with the precision of a poet. In this fertile process, everything can be recycled into something else. Inspired by LGBTQ+ friends and family, Garvey penned “No Love Is Wrong,” a song about how “the shine of the sun finds everyone” regardless of who or how they love. This speaks to an overarching theme in his music—finding positivity in times of unrest.
A recent move from the snowmelt river basin of the Rocky Mountains to the Milwaukee River in Wisconsin lent Garvey a newfound creative focus. Uplifted by the urgency, poetry, seasonality and unapologetic experimentation of the Midwest’s music community, he’s writing more and finding balance in his life. He wakes early to woodshed new songs before heading to the actual woodshop where he’s apprenticing with a cabinet and furniture maker. “Turns out that woodworking is just like making music,” he waxes. “You cut the wood and then carve, join, sand and fasten the pieces together much like putting together phrases, comping takes or balancing a mix.” Garvey quotes a line from Emerson’s watershed book, Nature, in which the author asks if a piece of furniture is still nature. He muses, “like the tree planted in your yard or the guitar in my lap—is it all nature?” It seems to be Garvey’s nature to notice how things connect—the characters in his songs; the songs on his album; his family, the studio, the road.
Garvey has played with bands at Red Rocks, The Ryman, The Gorge, Telluride Bluegrass Festival and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and as a solo artist at the Living Room (New York), Schubas (Chicago), The Armory (Fort Collins), eTown Hall (Boulder), Al’s Den (Portland) and elsewhere. He has worked with Elephant Revival, The Shook Twins, Daniel Rodriguez, The Lumineers, Bonnie Paine, Courtney Hartman, Steve Poltz, Lindsey Lou, Danny Barnes, Sandra Bernhard, John Craigie, Miles Nielsen, Cameron McGill, Cory Chisel, Chicago Farmer, Trapper Schoepp and so many others. He lives with his wife and two kids in Grafton, WI (home of legendary blues label Paramount Records) in a house that came with a player piano. He sometimes wonders whether a tree that was fashioned into a piano that can play itself is still considered nature.