Old college friends hailing from Santa Barbara, Gardens and Villa formed with a desire to do the simplistic. To simply create songs in the most literal, by-the-book sense of the word. But what you’ll hear on their debut eponymous recording is anything but a traditional “how to” for music fans.
Part of it was just timing keyboardist Adam Rasmussen stated: One of our members wanted to take a break from our punk band so we [did] and when we reformed we wanted to focus more on “songs”. Before, we were working on big arch-forms and movements and stuff; and these nine-minute projects. For the now five-piece their creation stemmed from a move away from their post-rock and punk stylings toward something almost a bit more formulaic as a song by definition. The first incarnation of [the band] was actually like borderline folk, because Chris [Lynch, frontman and lyricist] was playing guitar and I was playing piano, but as the instruments started to come in and we got some synths going it started to become a bit more electric. That was around that time that the bass player moved into the house and he started jamming with us.
Drawing upon a variety of musical influences and experience from drummer Levi Hayden’s jazz style drumming, to Rasmussen’s classical training and Lynch’s part in various bands throughout his youth – mainly surf punk, which he mildly cringes at the recollection of “there were lots of songs about me and my girlfriend when I was 12 to about 16” he states – the band grew a following, finally embarking on a first out-of-town, albeit self-funded tour, on the back of an EP release of the original, folkier formations of some of the tracks which appear on this year’s debut. Hayden recalls I don’t think it really amounted to anything [financially], but certainly for us it was a huge step forward to play out of Santa Barbara for the first time and from there we knew the sort of direction we wanted to go in. There were a lot of house shows and coffee shops. It was super DIY, but it was a pretty monumental breakthrough and one where we decided that we were actually gonna have to do this.
It was at this point that they came into contact with none other than lofi musician and producer Richard Swift, something which in retrospect seemed almost like fate. It was with those songs with the demo that we were able to come into contact with him, Chris recalls. I knew his manager and so he asked Richard to check out our stuff which he heard and liked. He was at the point where he could record a new band very cheaply and wanted to kind of give something back, help someone out. There were lots of those moment where everything was so well timed. It was a hard transition leaving Santa Barbara, moving out of the house, quitting jobs, living in cars but meeting all the people we’ve met along we the way has made it worth it.
It hasn’t been an altogether easy ride, and while the naturalistic imagery of the album reflects the very idyllic surroundings of the back yard, in which they camped out prior to and during the recording, it was more out of need than want. It wasn’t necessarily by choice, Chris remembers. It was because we had no money at the time and the only place for us to stay was a small backyard behind the studio. We had no showers, no kitchen. Nothing. We just ate avocados, had to bathe in a river a couple times. It was pretty Dharma Bums-esque, but a lot of the songs that we brought up the studio were three fourths of the way complete, and so I think the context in which we wrote, finished them and recorded [them] definitely allowed the [the album] to be very much influenced by that whole situation.
Gardens and Villa’s sound is at once rich and colourful, but too melds the disparate sounds of ’80s electronica and glam pop with folk and Eastern leanings which take queue from the wooden flutes – the batsuri – which Chris performs with. For Adam (keys) it is this melding of “this weird acoustic quality with the weird electric quality that really feeds off of, and compliments the other. In the last five year the ’80s which were written off as a bit shitty have made a comeback, he states, and G&V are quick to differentiate themselves from similar sounding bands back home. For them they are doing it all themselves. Some of the bands that are similar to us in the States have computers on stage and so the sounds that you’re hearing aren’t actually produced live. But we perform it all, we don’t use backing tracks and so on…
In places there are echoes of Local Natives, Grizzly Bear, perhaps a more rootsy Animal Collective to name but a few contemporaries, but too there are heavy influences from the likes of the Human League and Talking Heads, onto British post-rock bands like Mogwai. I feel like each decade has some kind of influence states Adam, while drummer Levi is keen to reflect on the ’60s music he was brought up on from the Kinks to the Moody Blues, and more recently Kraftwerk. Finally they all feel they owe plentiful thanks to the time they spend with Swift’s epic vinyl collection. The latest thing you could find in there is like late ’80s they joke.
Their first UK show, having played dates across Europe in recent weeks, saw the band land a bustling and dancing crowd at The Lexington. The dates in Europe have been really nice, Chris told us. It’s way easier touring in Europe rather than the States. Everyone told us that before we came and I was like “yeah sure, whatever”, but it’s true! It’s been very nice, [I think it comes down to] their hospitality and respect for the arts in general. Everyone from the sound guy to the lighting guy to the monitor person; they all take their jobs very seriously. I think part of it comes from the government fund for a lot of the bands and venues, similarly in France and Belgium and Switzerland. It’s nice that they’re excited to see you and they all treated us very well.
From violent handclaps to ferociously loud vocals with effortless range their live show is a loud one, not just in terms of sound, but in both energy and colour. Like much of their music it seems to captures split moments in time: “flash lights make faces like witches” Lynch sings in ‘Orange Blossom’, just one of the snippets of lyrics that stands out amongst these echoes of memories and snatches of time. For this band it’s all about the music, and their appeal lies in the a unique consciousness and awareness of their sound, the vibes they give off and the collective experience that is gained in both watching and performing.
On keyboard and an array of percussion from woodblocks, maracas and tambourines Shane McKillop is delightfully watchable, pulling some ’60s backing girl grooves, while other live quirks include frontman Chris Lynch’s nods to Jethro Tull. Armed with a selection of batsuri flutes strung across his back he resembles a somewhat Nomadic Robin Hood figure.The weirdest thing you’ll see on stage is the flute, that’ll stand out, he told us earlier. It isn’t played like a normal flute, not like the Western version of the instrument. They’re called batsuri, [they’re] Indian, and a lot shorter. Each flute is in a different key and the Indian scales are different so you have to kind of match up the two. It can be difficult but it’s worked out well. It certainly adds uniqueness to both the visual and audio experience of seeing them perform, and it’s quite surprising just how the notes of the batsuri rise above the clamour of the other arguably more powerful electric instruments on stage. With his imitation flautist pelican stance, I can’t help but recall his earlier comment: We never intended to be a flute band. But I think the flute makes the band come alive in a weird way.
Remaining Tour Dates
11/10 Manchester, UK- The Ritz
11/11 Dublin, Ireland- Whelans
11/12 Leeds, UK Constellations Festival/ Refectory
11/15 Oslo, Norway- Revolver
11/16 Stockholm, Sweden- Debasser Slussen
11/18 Copenhagen, Denmark- KB18
11/19 Berlin, Germany- West Germany
11/22 Turin, Italy- Loser Club
11/23 Ravenna, Italy- Bronson
11/25 Barcelona, Spain- Primavera Club
11/26 Madrid, Spain- Primavera Club