Reference Library: Here’s How Carla dal Forno Covered “The Garden of Earthly Delights”

On The United States of America, Derek Jarman’s garden, and more.

To be completely honest, I’m not a long time fan of this band, and heard the original song for the first time the week I started recording my cover. I was introduced to the band by a friend who asked me to do a cover of “Love Song for the Dead Ché” for their label, which led me to discover “The Garden of Earthly Delights.” I loved the lyrics and thought I could do a better job of producing this track — so much so that I ended up keeping the cover for myself. 

The first thing that comes to mind when thinking about my time working on this song is the damned side-stick percussion. It caused me a lot of grief during the mixing process. I didn’t want it to be the dominating element, but I thought it added a lot of momentum. I spent months listening to a lot of my bedrock post-punk tracks trying to see where the side stick (or equivalent percussive element) sat in the mix. Stuff like Robert Rental’s “Double Heart” (claps), Modern Art’s “Hello/Goodbye” (snare), Weekend’s “Red Planes” (sidestick), and Normal Hawaiians’ “Yellow Rain” (snare) to name a few of many. On reflection, it probably was a helpful tour of all the foundational shit that I like, but I don’t really know what to make of the fact that the sidestick is the strongest — bordering on traumatic — memory from producing this track.  The sound haunted my dreams right ‘til the moment I submitted the final masters. 

More happy associations about this track involved visiting Derek Jarman’s garden in Dungeness, while I was living in London in 2019. The whole environment messes with the contrasts of beauty and nature. It’s a desolate, sparse place echoed in his book Modern Nature, which I read shortly after returning to Australia the next year. Jarman’s Prospect Cottage is beautiful and quaint. It’s got vivid yellow window frames and door jambs, which contrast with damp brown, almost rotting wood. On first glance — probably more so in winter, when I visited — the garden looks more like a collection of weeds sprouting up from pebbles and shale. Then there’s a power plant humming away in direct line of sight from Jarman’s home and the coastal winds whip your face as you walk around these strange alien plants. I feel like all of this is soaked into my cover of “The Garden of Earthly Delights.”

An excerpt from Modern Nature

A cool dry wind blows across the parched landscape. Crickets sing in the gasses. White butterflies congregate on the lavender and lay bring orange eggs in clusters on nasturtiums and cabbages; within days they hatch into crowds of little caterpillars which nestle together and hide themselves from the fierce sun. 

In the bone dry landscape there are splashes of yellow ragwort. Ragwort was believed to cure speech impediments..It is the only plant flowering; the sea peas and valerian have long gone. The wounded landscape waits for the autumn rain — blood red berries of woody nightshade scattered like rubies.

An excerpt of lyrics from “Garden of Earthly Delights”: 

Poisonous gardens, lethal and sweet,
Venomous blossoms
Choleric fruit, deadly to eat.
Violet nightshades, innocent bloom,
Omnivorous orchids
Cautiously wait, hungrily loom

The way I’ve produced the track, and the reasons it appeals to me lyrically, won’t come as a surprise to people who are familiar with my back catalog — the motifs of the natural world are pretty fundamental to my creative language. In 2017 I released “The Garden,” which was a direct response to the Einsturzende Neubauten track of the same name. I mirrored the original film clip but wrote lyrics from a distinctly female perspective on being alone in the beautiful wild. Then, on my last album, I released “Don’t Follow Me,” which was a response to The Cure’s track, “A Forest.” I decided to write a song from the perspective of ‘the girl’ portrayed in Robert Smith’s song and how threatening it would be to be followed into the woods by a man. It’s about how the lived environment and the people in it who conspire to be threatening while expressing to women – and other vulnerable people – that everything is fine. There’s something so insidious and creepy about The Cure song, and countless others like it. The lyrics of “The Garden of Earthly Delights” were a crystallization of this threatening nature, which I tried to soften with the sonic atmospheres in the production. I wanted to produce something enticing and emotionally resonant — a reflection of a false sense of security — alongside these lyrical depictions of scary wilderness.  

Coincidentally, months prior to all of this, I’d completed a 1000 piece puzzle of Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights. Not a direct influence but surely the cherry-on-top of these cosmic forces converging in this cover. 

Carla dal Forno is an Australian singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. Her third album, Come Around, is out now on Kallista Records.