Band of the Day

2011.10.01

Gardens and Villa

Sunny psychedelic pop on a spirit quest for 80s dance domination
Think of me like a swarm of bees buzzing around your leaves, to pollinate means ecstasy.
lyrics from Orange Blossom

Gardens & Villa is an indie pop band from Santa Barbara, California consisting of college friends Levi Hayden (drums), Adam Rasmussen (piano, synth, vocals), Shane McKillop (bass, vocals) and frontman Chris Lynch (guitar, vocals). Initially experimenting with folk, post-rock and psychedelic during their formation in 2008, Gardens & Villa's current sound can be described as minimalist indie pop with heavy use of vintage synthesizers, bold basslines and falsetto vocals. Gardens & Villa released their debut self-titled LP in 2011 on Indiana-based label Secretly Canadian Records. The album garnered them a reputation as a band to watch in the indie scene, with the group being compared to the Shins, Built to Spill, Grizzly Bear and the Talking Heads.

Gardens & Villa are a five-piece of college friends from Santa Barbara, CA who make sun-kissed indie pop with a psychedelic sheen and extra helpings of funk. Their sound overlaps with some of the 2000s most loved indie artists, The Shins, Built to Spill, Grizzly Bear, but Gardens and Villa are more playful than their fore bearers, not afraid to bust out a flute or cheesy funkadelic bass line when the time is right. However, the ace up their sleeve is frontman Chris Lynch. His vocals range from a falsetto androgynous croon to confident sing-shouts a la David Byrne of the Talking Heads to a classic wistful indie-dude delivery. Gardens & Villa's self-titled debut starts with a bang, leading off with “Black Hills.” GV use plenty of synths, but the low-pitched gurgling electronic textures blend in so seamlessly with the guitars, drums and vibraphone in “Black Hills” that you don't even think consider a collision between electronic and not, it's just music. The track is beautifully brooding, with its steady driving beat and spacious guitars, like Beach House by the way of Joy Division. “Thorn Castle” is a more light-hearted affair that seems to have slipped off of the Shins Chutes Too Narrow with its shuffling beat, 80s keyboards and acoustic guitars. On “Orange Blossom,” Gardens & Villa shows an exciting example of a fertile new direction that they could expand on in future albums. Glitchy programmed drum beats play alongside a funky synthetic bass line and a flute. Lynch lords over it all, singing “think of me like a swarm of bees/buzzing around your leaves/to pollinate means ecstasy,” it's a declaration of awkward sexuality delivered over idiosyncratic white-boy funk. Not every track on Gardens & Villa are as strong as the highlights, but that's a herculean task the bars that high. If excellent tracks like “Black Hills” and “Orange Blossom” are any indication, this young band will be going nowhere but up.

Gardens and Villa are a five-piece of college friends from Santa Barbara, CA who make sun-kissed indie pop with a psychedelic sheen, extra helpings of funk and dancy 80s synth magic. While their sound overlaps with some of the 2000s most loved indie bands, Gardens and Villa are exceptionally fun and playful, not afraid to bust out a flute or cheesy funkadelic bass line when the time is right -and totally pull it off. However, the ace up their sleeve is frontman Chris Lynch, whose vocals range from an androgynous falsetto croon to confident sing-shouts like David Byrne of the Talking Heads. Not even two weeks after the release of their self-titled debut album, we had a chance to sit down with the full band after an electric gig in San Francisco. Sitting in medieval-style chairs that could have been grabbed from the set of the Lord of the Rings, the band shed some light on their touring adventures, spiritual and Native American influences on the band, and the official Gardens and Villa band plant.

Band of the Day: Question: I hear a lot of Native American vibes from you guys, is that an influence?

Adam (Piano, Synths): Yeah. Very much, the American cultures are an inspiration for us.

Shane (Bass, Vocals): When I was young, my mom would have little sage circles for my brothers and I, and we'd listen to music, even though we would fart and laugh then... Where we all got together as a band was very influenced by the Chumash culture- it's a local [to Santa Barbara] Indian tribe. Even though it’s a casino now and kind of soulless, there is still a lot of feeling of the natural surroundings.

Chris (Guitar, Vocals): It definitely brings us into a connection with the land, not even just California. I’m always thinking about what the land was like before. Wherever we go on tour we imagine what the land was like before, just knowing that all of us came from other continents, it's an interesting dichotomy.

Band of the Day: Was there one place or landscape you saw on tour that was extra special?

Adam: I think just driving down I-95 from upstate NY to Washington DC, the landscape through there is pretty inspiring.

Band of the Day: I was expecting you to say the Oregon coast or something!

Chris: If you talked to us after our first three tours our favorites would have all been West Coast. But the first time we went to the East Coast, especially upstate NY, it was magical. These fireflies we had never seen before blew us away, and then the Bayou country in New Orleans.

Band of the Day: If you guys were to go on a full band mission quest, what would happen? How would that play out?

Shane: Lots of flutes! We keep saying we are going to do it sometime. We just want to play naked …maybe play Death Valley or some strange river. Oregon definitely.

Chris: The Northwest coast or one of the deserts of California or Nevada.

Band of the Day: I noticed you guys incorporated a little Fleetwood Mac in your show tonight, and also a Gary Numan cover. If there was one song you could claim as a Gardens and Villa song, what would it be?

Chris: There are so many Fleetwood Mac songs, they are all awesome, all of Rumors pretty much.

Dustin (Multi-instrumentalist): Maybe Purple Rain.

Shane: Or the Beatles song from Revolver, “Tomorrow Never Knows.” Every time I hear that song I get transported to a different reality, during that 10 minutes it can make you feel like you’re on drugs and a new stratosphere…

Chris: Or Igor Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring.”

Adam: Yeah that’s a great jam.

Chris: Or Debussy's Prelude to “The Afternoon of the Faun.”

Shane: Creed “Higher.”

Adam: When he starts talking about the streets of gold...takes me to another place.

Chris: Actually Dr. Dre, probably the original Chronic.

Adam: One of the songs that comes on every time when we're cruising in the van, “Psycho Killer.” It's so good, that song is amazing.

Band of the Day: I've heard you guys say that Talking Heads are a big influence -

Shane: There seem to be a lot of bands that cite that influence, and you feel embarrassed to say it but…we said it first.

Dustin: They’re a near perfect band live, that's the energy I strive for.

Chris: We draw a lot inspiration from the Talking Heads, just because when you listen to their music you wonder how you can pull it off live. We want to play everything live on stage and get at the human energy.

Band of the Day: You worked with producer Richard Swift for this record, was that a pretty cool experience, did he push you guys forward?

Adam: It’s sonic, spiritual, existential bliss.

Chris: More like pushed us backward. We grew up recording on ProTools, all digital, do a million takes, find the best one, chop it up. But Swift took us back to 1985. It was all, the tape is rolling, lay the track. Very much establishing the vibe of the song before dropping it live. So it was kinda more like an older, classic style of recording.

Band of the Day: So you guys are from Santa Barbara, or at least met in Santa Barbara. I was there last year and it seemed like a really nice, pleasant place, but not a place where there’d be much artistic vibrancy. Do you feel like it's limiting being there, and do you think you’ll stick around?

Adam: I think it’s definitely on the rise. A lot of us have spent a lot of years there, I’ve been there for about 11 years now. When I was first there, it was just a lot of bad Cali reggae and really bad hard rock. Artistically it was like really overpraised watercolor stuff. Finding the treasures was hard but they existed. But I feel like now, every day I run into someone who’s doing something really special. But it’s not an overwhelming art community, it’s a really natural community, lots swimming in the ocean, bathing in the ocean, hiking.

Chris: And all the artists know each other, it's a nice small community.

Band of the Day: Do you guys feel like local celebrities? 

Shane: It's funny, we sold out our first show at this venue in Santa Barbara, which is kind of a big deal if you're from there, and it was kind of a surreal experience for us. But everyone that really loves us doesn’t really put us on that pedestal. Which is great, and I hope they don’t. But we’re always hanging at this one coffee shop in town, The French Press. It’s the best coffee. And everyone always sees us there. And people are pretty proud of us, which is nice.

Adam: You spend the day at the coffee shop and Julie and Todd, the owners who are music fanatics, give you heart high-fives that are rad, cause they’re so rad! And you mosey down to the record shop and Kurt will be down there, who started the first record shop in Santa Barbara. You see your LP there and think, “whoa, this is strange.”

Band of the Day: So you guys aren't moving to Brooklyn in two weeks, like every other band out there?

Chris: We were in Brooklyn two or three weeks ago and we wanted to move there when we were there. We were walking around - there’s so much stuff. And a lot opportunity it feels like. But we’re not in a rush to go anywhere... we’re open to it, but we’re all broke too [laughs]!

Band of the Day: You guys are Gardens and Villa, so what’s the official band plant?

Shane: Ooh, Japanese basil!

Adam: Or Heirloom tomatoes.

Chris: I have a special spot for tomato plants. Our name comes from a literal garden that we made [their garden was on Villa Street, hence the name -ed], we grew all kinds of things, so its kind of hard to pick which vegetable or fruit it would be. I like the basil tomato combination because they grow together and you can make like, Caprese salads with them, so I'd say tomato basil. Or avocados. Yeah, avocados too. Santa Barbara is like the avocado capital. The best avocados.

Band of the Day: Any highlights of your tours? Crazy experiences on the road?

Chris: There is a funny little story when we were in Atlanta. We had to drive all night from Atlanta to Houston so we were starving at two in the morning. We had made a pact not to eat fast food on the tour, and we were like four weeks into the tour, starving, and we gave in. We're f*cking going to Wendy's man! It's right there! When the lady holding the food bag brought the food to the window, we saw this shadow behind us. Then the lady started yelling “the guys’ got a gun!” So apparently the guy behind us was coming up from behind to rob us. Without taking the food we just slammed on the accelerator and took off. We took it as a sign from the gods not to eat fast food.

Band of the Day: Any trivia or fun facts about the band you'd like to share?

Chris: Adam collects rocks, and sea shells…we have a crystal on the dash of the van and it gives us all powers.

Levi: We bathe it in the headwaters of Mt. Shasta every time we go out.

Adam: You have to cleanse the crystals in the water so it doesn’t get clouded, but only in the headwaters. It's so pure it absorbs the negative energy.

Band of the Day: Don’t you have to climb pretty far to get there?

Adam: No, its so pure, it’s really nice.