Every garden goes through its cycle of life. There’s the zenith of growth in summer, a gentle decline and falling away in autumn, a death or mere sleep in winter, and rebirth again in spring. So it has been for folk-soul singer Moorea Masa herself and her newly released track, “The Garden.”
Seeds of this song have been sown in various forms beginning with an acoustic performance set in a field of wildflowers as part of Chuck Johnson’s Humboldt Live Sessions in the fall of 2015—watch below.
Then, the first recorded version went out to sea this August with Bellingham’s Grant Eadie, also known as the electronic artist Manatee Commune. Eadie brought in two chords and a slower groove while Masa wrote the melody and chorus—listen below.
“[Grant] finished his version of it. But then I started performing it out and made it more my own,” Masa says. There are in fact a number of new songs Masa has been playing live, and the next expansion was a matter of timing.
“I had all those old songs I wanted to put out, but I hardly play the songs from the first EP anymore. It’s all new stuff and it’s way more in the R&B realm, which I’ve been doing for while,” she says. “To be totally honest, I thought, ‘I’m leaving for a tour with Allen Stone and I have nothing that represents what I’m doing now,’ so I wanted to release something before I tour to show here’s this picture of what I’m doing.”
“The Garden” is the first song to represent the promise of music to come on a forthcoming full-length release of 10 to 12 songs next spring. “This was the first song that really feels like me on my own,” Masa expresses.
In the spirit of letting go and taking bigger, braver steps, Moorea Masa reached out to Jeremy Most (aka J. Most) through mutual close friends. Most is the guitar player, partner and producer of Grammy-nominated R&B singer-songwriter Emily King, who Masa toured with.
“It was my friend Jans [Ingber] actually, who was in The Motet. We were hanging out talking about who would produce the next record,” she explains, “and he said, ‘I feel like the perfect person would be J. Most.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah right, he’s way too good for me [laughs]. There’s no way, he’s like my dream producer. If I had my pick of anyone in the world, it would be him.’”
“You might be surprised, just send him an email,” Ingber encouraged, passing on Most’s contact.
It took her a while to get up the courage, but Most replied within a couple of hours, they chatted and Masa presented him with “The Garden” to see if he liked the music and to test out how they could collaborate together.
“I sent him a bunch of demos and we worked on that song and just agreed to finish the album.” Most worked on the track from New York via phone and over the internet, which was a really different experience for Masa, who recorded “The Garden” here in Portland with her band and Sebastian Rogers.
“I'm used to being in the room with somebody, working through everything and building a relationship with a person that I’m having produce the record. The songs are such personal things for me and I want them to know what the song is about, really have a deep understanding of who I am and what I’m looking for,” she describes. “So it was a new process for me to work with somebody who lives across the country. But I feel like we have good banter, and I also just really trust him—I love what he brings to it, and he does everything on his own. He considers himself more as an artist ‘playing on your tracks’ than a producer.”
In creating all the elements that went into making and producing “The Garden,” “I sent J. Most my guitar and vocals and he built a track around it,” she says. “Then I redid the drums and bass parts with my band, The Mood, and had Margaret Wehr and Mel Guerison sing on it.” Final touches saw the track mixed in L.A. by Joe Hall and mastered by Bruce Brown in Washington.
“The Garden” opens with a glimmering echo of guitar and keys before it drops into a soulful bass heartbeat. It’s a clean, crisp, almost symphonic song with plenty of space for fingersnaps, strings and sumptuous harmonies. The bridge dissolves into a minor key moment of insecurity at the middle mark, of ‘maybe we could make it through,’ before asserting the chorus and the exalted outro of “letting go for the last time.”
“The Garden” was never meant to be a love song or a breakup song, but it is reminiscent of a faded love and the need to find new room for growth. “It’s about some of these toxic relationships in my life that were unsupportive and not encouraging to me,” Masa says. “Letting go of things can be so hard but when you hold onto them, it can be more harmful. For me, the chorus is like the line from Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet: ‘Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.’ You have to have the darkness to see the light. It’s a really big theme on the album and in all the songs I’m writing.”