gglum Breaks Down Her Not-Entirely-Glum Debut “The Garden Dream” Track by Track

The Londoner’s Jadu Heart–assisted new record is out now via Secretly Canadian.
Track by Track

gglum Breaks Down Her Not-Entirely-Glum Debut The Garden Dream Track by Track

The Londoner’s Jadu Heart–assisted new record is out now via Secretly Canadian.

Words: Will Schube

Photo: Hermione Sylvester

March 29, 2024

The Garden Dream is the new album from gglum, the moniker of Ella Smoker—who might just have the best name in indie rock. But, kids, good name does not always equal good music. Don’t judge an LP by its album cover, or some variation of that maxim. Anyways, Smoker doesn’t have to deal with this because her music—especially The Garden Dream, our focus today—is indeed very good!

The record moves from a propulsive sort of experimental folk to straightforward indie rock with a hardened core, often melding the styles into a recognizable yet distinct whole. Touchstones she’s cited include Alex G, Phil Elverum, and Adrianne Lenker, which is pretty good company if you can actually sound like some approximation of any of these artists—let alone all of them. Lo and behold, Smoker does. Still just 21-years-old, there’s a remarkable maturity and lived-in nature to these songs, which is palpable from the ramshackle beginnings of album opener “With You” to the acoustic swell of the title-track finale. 

“For this project I really wanted to lean into more janky, gross sounds and push the boundaries between nice sounds and more jarring sounds,” she shares of the project, which arrives today via Secretly Canadian. To expand on this, to share how her friends in Jadu Heart helped bring the record together, and to help explain the lyrical origins of The Garden Dream, we had Ella Smoker take us through the project one track at a time.

1. “With You”
I wrote this song with Karma Kid and Alex Headford from Jadu Heart. I wanted the first song on the album to feel like a door opening into the world of The Garden Dream—like the beginning of a dream where everything is still pleasant and nice. I think it’s just about a normal, healthy relationship and the day-to-day of it: insecurities, the happy times, arguments, dates. It’s about loving each other and still being there for each other through the ups and downs. I guess you could say it’s a love song.

2. “SPLAT!”
I wrote “SPLAT!” really, early in the writing process of the album. I think we knew it was a single straight away, which really took the pressure off of the rest of the album. I wanted to get outside of my comfort zone and decided to lean into the discomfort. I learned from writing this song that gglum could be a little more jolly sometimes. Since playing more live shows I realized I wanted some more fun, upbeat songs to be able to play in the set, so this was perfect.

3. “Late”
A lot of this album was me allowing myself to grieve for my teenage self. In the moment, when bad things are happening, you can’t really stop to feel sorry for yourself—otherwise it would be near impossible to get through it. With this album it was like, “I gotta stop and reflect from a safe place, far away from bad situations from the past.” I wrote an early version of “Late” when I was 18 or so. I thought it would be really special to bring the words from my past self into the project with the words from my current self. I think it’s about a desperation to get inside someone’s head, see what they’re thinking, what’s true and what’s not. I think I tend to feel a very desperate need to connect, but I never feel like I can get close enough and therefore everyone seems distant to me. I even reference that idea of running away from reflecting or feeling the pain of what’s happening in the current moment.

4. “Pruning 1”
“Pruning 1” is one of my favorite types of songs to make—almost cinematic, and just capturing an emotion rather than following a set structure. I want it to be whatever the listener thinks it is. A punch in the chest. It’s difficult to pick favorites, but this might be one of mine.

5. “Pruning 2”
Weirdly, I actually wrote “Pruning 2” before “Pruning 1.” Karma Kid suggested I write “Pruning 1” as a sequel to “Pruning 2.” So it’s the same story and the same feeling’s just presented in different ways. I wanted “Pruning 2” to be vulnerable and real, hence the shaky vocals. These songs might be the most honest I’ve been with my lyrics yet.

6. “Easy Fun”
Having the name gglum can sometimes be quite the self-fulfilling prophecy. “Easy Fun” was a chance for me to do something a little different and a little more playful than I usually would. I just wanted to write about all of the nights out I’ve ever had mashed into one. I wanted it to capture being a teenager in London and getting up to no good and not being afraid of consequences. For this project I really wanted to lean into more janky, gross sounds and push the boundaries between nice sounds and more jarring sounds. I think this song is a good presentation of these two elements together.

7. “Glue”
“Glue” was a song that came a lot later in the album-writing process. We were worried about not having enough options, so decided to bash this one out. On the day we were writing it I was extremely anxious and actually really struggling to even be out of the house. It’s about wanting to heal a relationship that you know is probably doomed. This project does tell one big story track-by-track that links into the narrative of the album. I think although everyone has had completely different experiences of life, most people could still relate to the narrative of this album in their own ways. “Glue” is very on-the-nose lyrically compared to a lot of the project, but I think that can be nice sometimes. Just clearly stating your feelings can feel like the easiest way to connect.

8. “Second Best”
“Second Best” came at a time when I was feeling very paranoid, and my self-esteem wasn’t very high. I decided I wanted to write a song where I was really leaning into paranoia and blow the whole thing out of proportion as a way to clear those feelings out. So in reality, this song is actually not based in any true situation, it’s me allowing my feelings about myself to take over real life. It was extremely cathartic, but it also definitely took a few hours to calm myself down after writing it. I think I went home and drank a bottle of wine afterwards, but when I woke up the next day all of those negative feelings I’d had before had washed away.

9. “He Laid His 97’s Neatly by the Door”
Alex Headford from Jadu Heart invited me and a couple friends to Bristol for a week to do a mini writing camp kind of thing. There was no pressure behind it—it was just a way of putting a group of us in a room and seeing what would happen. We wrote this on the last day after a week of quite a lot of heavy drinking and writing. It really felt like it captured the vibe of the room and what the week had been like. All of those weird shouts and moans at the end of the song are actually recorded on the guitar track while I was playing. It’s little details like that that make songs feel special to me, and this is one of those songs.

10. “Honeybee”
Karma Kid and I wrote “Honeybee” on the day we started writing the album. We’d written a song already that didn’t end up making it on, but at the end of the day I was playing around with the chords and Karma Kid got me to record on my phone while he mumbled a little melody. The next day on the bus to the studio I listened to the recording and wrote lyrics that fit in with what he was humming. In total it took me maybe five to 10 minutes to write the lyrics. We wrote “Eating Rust” when I got to the studio, and then recorded “Honeybee” at the end of the day. I sat in front of a microphone with a guitar and sang the song three times. Then we just picked our favorite, so this is actually a one-take song. It was really nice to be able to include something so organic and stripped back.

11. “Do You See Me Different?” (feat. Kamal.) 
I wrote this song with my friend Kamal., who I’ve known for a very long time but we hadn’t really written together before. A lot of this project is just about being vulnerable through the stories of dreams I’ve had, or setting them in a dreamscape. That’s where a lot of the inspiration of wind chimes and bird sounds comes from. I wanted to really set all of these songs in a little dream world, taking the places inside my head and translating them to others.

12. “Eating Rust”
“Eating Rust” was the first song we wrote that we knew was going on the album and captured the sound of the album. It feels like the song that sums up what the whole project is meant to be. it’s a reflection on realizing that a relationship that you’re in has been rotting you from the inside out from the start. I guess it’s like when the penny drops and you realize you’ve been a fool the entire time. This song took a lot of influence from The Microphones, which has always been a massive inspiration of mine—hence the heavy percussion and out-of-tune accordion. 

13. “The Garden Dream”
When writing this song I was imagining my dream world and what the atmosphere feels and looks like. It’s heavy and barren and feels like you’re being watched. When writing this album, I wanted to feel like you were opening a door and then each song was like opening a door to a new room and stepping through each of them—kind of like each song is a different dream. “The Garden Dream” is the last in that series of rooms. The end of the song is like closing the door behind you and knowing that all of those rooms are still contained behind that door, still existing and moving and breathing. You just can’t see them anymore.