There’s something to be said for the bands or artists that introduce us to, or make us like, a genre of music. The ones that we either hear first and want more of, or hear later on and it finally clicks. We’re seeing some of that now with younger generations being exposed to the music of Kate Bush and Metallica through Stranger Things. It’s beautiful, really – beloved music that still holds up given all new life because of a minutes-long segment or scene that makes a huge impression on a new wave of would-be fans. Today, though, I wanna think a little smaller.
I was hugely into instrumental progressive rock and metal years ago. I just bathed in the hits – Animals As Leaders, Plini, Intervals, David Maxim Micic, Scale the Summit, all that, and way more. You can see me contend with a lot of it still in the years since I began writing for Everything Is Noise and back when we were It Djents, but ultimately falling out of favor with the genre as a whole. I blame oversaturation more than any perceived decrease in quality or quantity. Post-rock on the other hand? A lot harder for me to get into. I listened to some of the classics and newer blood around this time. I just couldn’t vibe with it, and the crescendo-dependent stuff that a lot of the straighter-flying material wasn’t something I was into. I could get into BRUIT ≤ from last year – it was one of my, well, our, favorite albums – but how did I get to that point? I thank Helu and our Weekly Featured Artist, Secret Gardens, for that.
Masterminded by multi-instrumentalist Greg Almeida, Secret Gardens has been in pretty regular rotation since I discovered their work with Tundra, an album I enthusiastically reviewed last year. It was post-rock – with progressive and ambient stylings, yes – that I really, really liked. I connected with it. I felt its chilly, winter-themed charm and converted it to raw comfort and warmth. You get used to doing that in the cold season of Colorado. In the throes of a pandemic especially, comfort was at a premium. Sure, we were all at home where we should have been safe and cozy with streaming apps, books, and video games; yet the prominent threat of illness (and death for our most vulnerable friends and family), capitalist economy itching to return us to the grind to churn out profit converted from our blood and bones, political and cultural unrest, and the mental health damage that comes with persistent isolation managed to wrack us to the point of trauma. Tundra was a salve at that time.
The hook with Secret Gardens is the projects so far have each been devoted to a season. Starting with Verão in 2019, a mini album/big EP whose name translates from Portuguese to mean ‘summer’, then Tundra in 2021 blanketing us in snow for winter, then the recently released and absurdly beautiful everbloom melting the snow away with warming sun and chirping birds for spring. Each one is so precise in its conveyance of its season, though without being predictable or stereotypical. Like, there’s no sleigh bells in Tundra – at least that I can hear [EDIT: just kidding! There are on “Lighthouse” – very obvious ones that I don’t know how I forgot]. It’s a natural, personal reflection of what the seasons mean to Almeida.
Look, I’ve already outed myself as a post-rock novice, therefore much of what I say should be taken with a grain of salt, but there’s one thing that’s doesn’t need qualification and can’t be challenged, and that’s the impact and feeling of what Secret Gardens brings. You can tell, feel, that Almeida puts his all into the music, distilling his then-current self into it all, to be read like an emotional DNA sequence every time you hit play on a Secret Gardens project. This is something they confirm themself when reflecting on the theming of the project’s music so far and how it all came to be:
‘I’ve had this idea in my head for a long time, because I have honestly have this – I’m not sure what I’d call it – deeply emotion-driven memory with sound. Music transports me back to the most influential time I first listened to it. I remember exactly what time of year it was, what the smell was outside, the temperature, what relationship I was in, etc. It’s kind of a curse sometimes, it’s completely visceral. The way I started categorizing music was something that became more apparent as I accrued more memories with different types of music, and I thought it would be just really freakin’ cool to put out a thought-out, deeply emotive series of albums that represented those feelings and periods of my life, categorized by season.‘
This is so wildly relatable that it’s no wonder I vibe with his music so much. I’m certain Almeida’s memory is better than mine – it’s not a high bar to clear – but some stuff just seems hardwired in my brain. I can still see eight-year-old me playing Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island in my room while listening to Beastie Boys‘ Hello Nasty. I remember the first time I heard Garage Inc. by Metallica after stealing the CD from my dad’s collection and listening to it, finding the filthy, crude cover of Anti-Nowhere League‘s “So What” endlessly amusing because lol, cuss words. AFI‘s Decemberunderground is forever linked to my high school crush because, well, it just is.
I guess this is the secret sauce to Secret Gardens, at least for me. I can hear the almost defiant, energized place Almeida must have been in when writing the rousing “Electrical Storm” off of Verão, placing overcast, stormy skies at the forefront of my mind, the smell of impending rain permeating the air. “Kosciuszko”, a possible reference to Australia’s tallest mountain, from Tundra calls forth visions of snowy foothills with nothing but the chilled wind blowing flakes about for sound. everbloom‘s “Idaho Willow” is a dead ringer for the hoodie weather and high noon suns that come with the burgeoning spring season in Colorado, insects beginning to tour the warming atmosphere (nay😒) while rabbits and other critters emerge from their burrows to swaying grass and other fauna to be used as food (yea🙂).
Each track is like seeing another person’s memories, or just making up your own with or without any personal reference used. The point is that they just feel personal, lived, experienced. Possible. For me, there’s not a ton of fantasy or suspension of disbelief involved to enjoy Secret Gardens, though if you feel differently then that’s swell too.
Let’s dive into the project with Almeida himself, who was kind enough to provide a plethora of insight into the project, its intentions, and future. Secret Gardens itself is a very evocative name and I told him as much, something intended from the beginning. I asked about the inspiration behind the name – something steeped in practicality and reality.
‘When I try to recall this, I always cite 2018 when I began working on the project – entirely on my own, no one knew about it other than my s/o at the time. I was in another band and didn’t want to detract from that so I wasn’t really promoting it or hyping it up. I just dropped the first release and project name out of nowhere. So that’s the ‘secret’ part. Somewhere in my writing during that year I had all the ideas/inspirations in my head for what this project would be, a very nature-centered musical therapy session. I think at some point on a hike I put the two ideas together. ‘Secret’ and then ‘Gardens’ popped right up next to it. I had heard the term before but something about the plural was striking me a lot more. There’s also some Norwegian duo that uses the singular, haha.‘
Almeida was practically bound to be a musician from a young age. With a deep love for music, ‘especially Green Day,‘ their mom bought them a guitar before middle school. That’s when the inspiration hit. They took lessons for about six months and from then on, the training wheels came off and they became self-taught. Other instruments are similarly rooted in his youth – ‘I took band in 12th grade, but I was percussion so I kind of used that time to get my rhythmic chops up.’
Although I have referred, and will continue to refer, to Secret Gardens a single entity focusing Almeida as the crux, I don’t want to leave out his collaborators. Pals Joseph Arrington and Reese Ortenberg are credited in the notes of everbloom‘s Bandcamp page for helping bring the music of the project alive, playing drums and bass respectively. ‘Joseph and I had met in person a few times, and he knew me and my previous band VISTA, but we weren’t really close or anything,‘ recalls Almeida. ‘Just kind of loose associates who would trade the occasional Instagram message.‘ Almeida started posting more ideas and stuff related to Secret Gardens, which caught Arrington’s attention. He became intrigued enough to throw the idea out for a possible collaboration between the two. ‘The rest is history I guess.‘ Arrington’s closer relationship with Almeida also made meeting Ortenberg an inevitability; ‘I met Reese through Joseph, but we actually already had mutual friends because we’re both from Long Island. They’re both absolute legends.‘
One of Tundra‘s standout tracks is “I’m Fucking Tired of Being Sad” which… yeah, mood. Been there. But it begs the question of what the story behind it was. That’s not a title you see on just any song, and while it somewhat fits the music – the tone’s a bit more upbeat than you may expect – it makes you wanna ask ‘dude, are you okay?’. Almeida reflects on where they were when writing the track by saying, ‘When I wrote “IFTOBS” I was definitely in a heartbroken, depressive state and reached that point where I just wanted to wake up every day and NOT suffer. I wanted to write something to myself to realize that I COULD be okay one day, maybe even sooner than I thought. It helped a lot.‘ It’s moments like this where his idea of Secret Gardens being a ‘musical therapy session‘ for him become quite real. How is he now, post-“IFTOBS” and pandemic?
‘I feel okay, definitely adjusting to life and venturing further into adulthood. I find that things feel more transitional than ever nowadays. I’m not sure when that feeling will end, but it lends myself to thinking about the future too much. Begin in tune with the present is the best advice I could give anyone else and I think I’ve lost sight of that a bit recently. Been working hard to get it back, but I still struggle.‘
This is yet another gain in the favor of Secret Gardens and Almeida as a person: honesty. In a society where we feel pressure to simply say ‘I’m good’ or ‘I’m doing okay’ out of easy when really nothing could be further from the truth, it’s refreshing to get a real-ass answer that, again, many of us can feel immense relation to. It’s truthful, it’s dynamic, acknowledging shortcomings yet remaining hopeful. It’s a grace that we all should entitle ourselves to, from ourselves.
Depending on who you ask, 2021 was either three weeks or seven years ago. To paraphrase Devin Townsend, time is a human construct and we’re below the waves. Still, Tundra being released in April 2021 [EDIT: uh, I meant January 2021 – don’t know where I got April from] and everbloom being dropped this May is a wild turnaround for two very fleshed-out and accomplished works back to back. What gives?
‘everbloom was a very ‘hurry up and wait’ process, it was kind of nuts. All of the ideas were gathered between spring of 2020 and 2021, inspired by some of the most beautiful and cherished memories of my life so far – and then finalized and put to demo in the spring of 2021 in Nashville. Those demos sat for a bit, while we figured out logistics to record the record. In hindsight I probably would have started the recording process sooner but at the time I wanted to let the ideas marinate. We were trying to find the proper vocalist for “Sunshower” and lock in some other details. The biggest kicker is that I was already slated to spend 5 months working in a national park during the summer of 2021. That definitely took a chunk of time out of things that I would have preferred to have, but I wouldn’t have traded that experience for the world. When it was go time, it was go time. Tracking officially began in December 2021 and pretty much ended in March 2022, barring Andrew’s feature.‘
Andrew who? Andrew Wells of Eidola (and Dance Gavin Dance most recently) of course. He is the sole vocalist found on everbloom, just as Erin Reus was on Tundra. They’re both exceedingly well-put-together features, complementing the track’s instrumentation and filling out a spot that is wholly theirs – not wasteful, not underutilized. That’s also kind of a big get! How the hell did that happen? Almeida’s answer is long, informative, and riveting, as any good story is. Presented in full:
‘The process was actually awesome, but to be honest, also stressful. Not because of Andrew or anyone though! Just circumstantially, this shit was insane to work out. So, when we finished the demo for “Sunshower” in March of 2021, I kind of knew right from the bat that this was gonna be the song on [Secret Gardens‘ third album] that had vocals on it.
Joe and I traded a few ideas back in fourth for a while, we talked with a person or two. We initially asked Kurt Travis and he was down, but it didn’t end up working out, which is no problem at all, those things happen. We chatted around a bit more as I was recording guitars. Joe sent some rough tracks over to Andrew as I was editing/recording the LP, they were friends and I was definitely a fan of his work, and he seemed down pretty much instantly. That was one of the most insane days for me, I could not believe it!
We rolled with it, Andrew and I hopped on a few calls, and started talking concepts, lyrics, etc. Keep in mind this is all happening a bit later than I would have liked, because the record was supposed to come out in like 3 months. I usually like to take time with important songs like those. Alas though, that’s not anyone’s fault, it just worked out at that point in time in that certain way. I’m grateful it even worked out in the first place.
We had plans and flights booked to track and get in the same room together in late March 2022. There was a medical issue that came up right before the session, so I figured, it’s okay, we will just push off a month to when we’re both available next. I was then slated to go to Sacramento the week prior to Swanfest, where Andrew and his two bands would be playing. We planned to track when they were not rehearsing. However, if you’ve been following Dance Gavin Dance lately, you know that this is unfortunately the tragic week that their bassist Tim Feerick passed away, so we of course had to try and make it work another time.
What ended up working out was something that was sort of nuts logistically to me, but I’m sure people have done worse. I ended up attending a DGD show in Rochester in early May, about 4 days before the absolute latest I could submit the LP for it to come out on time. I rented a quiet log cabin airbnb, I drove up the night before, set up a makeshift studio, picked Andrew up in the morning, we tracked and then took a break for sound check/lunch. Tracked more, then we went back and they did the show. I then spent the next 3 days getting like 3-4 hours of sleep each night, editing/comping/mixing the vocal into the track (which was done instrumentally) and also working with my mastering engineer Billy Mannino to get it done. I’m so glad this worked out, but dear god, I was under a lot of stress that week. Happy to be here though.‘
I got stressed just reading this, but you know… in a good way. I tend to produce my best work under the stress of deadlines and usually purposeful procrastination, but that doesn’t make it trigger the anxiety any less – with great pressure comes diamonds. It sounds like Almeida had a similar outcome too because “Sunshower” is quite the standout from everbloom. Not only did the vocals catch me off guard when I first listened to it all the way through, but I also didn’t expect the harshness of them!
Wells is an accomplished vocalist capable of range and he brings it to play here. Instrumentation is especially lush and powerful on this track, matching the vocals and building to truly awesome climaxes bookended by serene moods, making the bell curve of energy even and engaging. Almeida has since released an instrumental version of the track as that’s his primary mode, but honestly the vocals are what help make it hit hard – don’t underestimate this track, even if you don’t particularly like Wells’ vocals.
Another standout from everbloom is undoubtedly “Cathedral Trees”, a song I focused on with my review of the record. The track is good, but the video is what makes it great, showing some of Almeida’s personality in the process. It’s cute, fun, and packed with charm, showing an artist having a blast with what they do and doing it all with very little budget (an early shot of the video shows Almeida running the numbers, which include a $50,000,000 TikTok dance campaign and a cool seven milli for van repairs – priorities!). It’s all indicative of the great approach they take with the project.
‘I really do love Secret Gardens and am grateful to have had so many ears on the project. I definitely try to bring a genuine attitude to it. If I make a pop song, it’s ’cause I fucking love it and want to, if I make a folk record, the same. If I made another prog record, it’s because I’m feeling it. This is my sacred space, and there is room for collaboration, but I have always used this project as therapy and expression that I need separate from all else. When I’m in a band-type scenario, there’s give and take for sure. But not this, I’ve always used this as a ‘no-rules’ project that can be a room for just about any creative idea I have.‘
For the video itself, he shouts out his partner Holly (who also does much of the beautiful photography of Almeida) who made it a reality. Of course, because I’m a fucking nerd, I had to ask what game from The Legend of Zelda series he fancies the most since he has a replica Master Sword. ‘Majora’s Mask. Hands down.‘ The chadest answer possible.
Easy the most emotional part of everbloom though – likely all of Secret Gardens‘ music so far – is the closer, “tía”. Its inclusion was simple, perhaps destined for Almeida given the emotional freedom and expression he uses the project for:
‘“tía” kind of picks up on the same idea that “Lighthouse” had – putting recorded conversations with people I love dearly in my life on my records. This time it was with my aunt who I love so much, she helped raise me and I wanted to put something out into the world that expressed my appreciation for her, and to just show the world how calming she was to me. She has a lot of emotional wisdom that I’ve picked up on over the years, I kind of wanted to spread that around a bit. No one is getting younger, you know. I figured what better time than now?‘
The acoustic approach to the track lends itself so nicely to the downright cozy and wholesome nature of “tía”. No cloying melodies, no drums even, just an aunt and her nibling trading insight, bestowing knowledge while drinking some tea or something… ‘tea-a’ if you will (sorry).
By now, you should be able to see a grander image of what Secret Gardens is, and therefore why I love this music so much and chose to write what will end up being over 3000 words on it. But what’s the goal for Almeida? ‘I want to create really great live shows, and to tour often,‘ he admits. ‘That’s the dream and always has been for anyone pursuing original music. I’m working as best I can to make more touring happen and really make this a neat little community and leave it all out there on stage. It’s a huge motivating factor for me, and the musicians I play with are all such amazing friends.‘
As such, their plans for the project highlight that desire – that, and new music of course; ‘but not all too soon,’ they clarify. ‘I want to take a realistic amount of time to promote everbloom and make sure any new stuff is well thought out. Always trying to think of new ways I’m motivated to create art.‘ Hell, he’d even consider signing to a label if it made sense (up to now, Secret Gardens has been a wholly independent project – just the way we like them). So if anyone’s looking to make a fair, equitable deal to Almeida, step on up, though he is rightfully weary of that possibility – ‘Unfortunately it feels harder to come by these days, but having a good lawyer/team behind you is key. I probably wouldn’t move forward with anything big like that unless I had the right team and there was no situation in which it wouldn’t be beneficial. Stuff like that can be tough to navigate.‘ Smart.
Given that Secret Gardens has written about three of our four regular, varied seasons on this increasingly intemperate planet, I would imagine a fourth and final LP is planned and maybe even underway given the quick turnaround from Tundra to everbloom. Well, not so much.
‘I actually wouldn’t say it’s well underway, but I’ve started the pre-production process very lightly. I will actually be approaching it much differently, I’m going to take much more time on it to really embellish things. It will probably be out in 2024.
I will preface my next statement by saying Verão (2019) is actually the summer LP – although reads like an EP on streaming services. I plan to re-release it at some point and make it a fully fleshed album and add some tracks.
Anyways, aside from summer LP… you can probably guess what’s next by process of elimination. All I will say for now is that I have plenty of ideas! Right now just taking time to soak in more life and experience more things before I nose dive into production again.‘
Fall is my favorite season for many reasons, so my excitement to see what Almeida turns out for it is without limit. Waiting at least two years for it to come to fruition will be well worth it in my eyes.
Almeida divulged to me that he was ‘hella inspired‘ by The Dear Hunter‘s The Color Spectrum, a massive compilation/series of nine EPs all named after a color on the visible spectrum that marries music representative of that particular shade to it – ‘that is just a total work of art that I still question how it was made to this day‘. It was a huge undertaking for the band and, as someone that’s dabbled in much of that album years ago, it’s clear to see how and why Almeida pulled influence from it, not even so much sonically (the two projects are quite different), more in terms of scale and theme. Other inspirations are just as much fantastical as they are corporeal.
‘I’m really inspired by video games and their stories, characters, and soundtracks. I’m heavily inspired by my own experiences, nature, and the incredible places I’ve been to or hiked in. I would say that’s my main creative source, hiking. I plan on staying as consistent as I can with the outdoorsy stuff, it grounds me. Musically I’m inspired by a very mixed bag, it’s hard to list everything, I definitely can only intake so much new music at once.‘
Secret Gardens is without a doubt one of my favorite projects going right now. Out of nowhere, I was able to connect with its emotional sincerity simply because the person behind it is sincere in how they produce and write for it. It’s symbiotic – Almeida’s therapeutic approach to the music is a boon for them and also allows for me (and I’m sure many, many others) to get something out of it, whether it’s a warm feeling, the replaying of a cherished memory, or the building of new ones to be fondly looked back on in the future. It is one of the few projects that genuinely give me some hope for the coming days, knowing that there’s always going to be at least one thing I could turn to for a needed grounding, or to push away the pains of reality for at least a bit, holding up my end of the bargain of what the intent is for all of this. From a social media post the day before everbloom came out, ‘I’m hoping that you enjoy it during pivotal moments in your life, in nature, I’m just hoping it helps with something. this is a big reason of why I have continued this project or taken it anywhere it’s gone thus far.‘
Not only that, but Almeida is just genuinely a cool, appreciative person, out to do what they wanna do, how they wanna do it, and I thank them so damn much not only for the great music and art, but for taking the time to speak to me about all of it. This is why I love doing Weekly Featured Artist articles and why I love reaching out to some of my faves. I hope you get some enjoyment out of this music as I do. As is customary, I’ll end here with some closing thoughts from our artist:
‘Thank you for all the love on everbloom so far. I had no idea it would resonate this much. I have a few other musical projects I work with people on, my extremely talented BFF Viana Valentine is someone you should check out if you like pop/indie music, we make a lot of stuff together. SG will definitely be playing some more shows, stay tuned on all my socials for more info on that and any other content I release. Love you lots, be kind to yourselves. Talk soon!‘
Secret Gardens is…
Greg Almeida – guitars, percussion, production
You can track Secret Gardens on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Their Bandcamp is a treasure trove of good music, including ‘slowmotion’ variations of select songs from Tundra and Verão – it’s kind of like listening to a chopped and screwed rap LP, just post-rock.