It’s always sunny in California, but it’s been a while since the guys behind Gardens & Villa have found themselves in a comparably cheery mood.
Deaths, drug abuse and homelessness (three members currently split time living in friends’ houses and their tour van) have plagued the band and its social circle, but the music has reflected that in a manner opposite of what one might expect. Think of it as laughing to keep from crying.
“I feel like when times are really good, people play negative music, and when times get a little harder, they play more happy music,” singer Chris Lynch said. “There’s a release there, and that’s where we are at. It’s been a hard couple of years, but we’ve found a release in this.”
Their sound — ’80s-era David Bowie meets Ariel Pink meets Afrobeat — certainly comes across starkly different than the gloomy circumstances they’ve endured, but playing through the pain has helped. Hailing from Santa Barbara, the beach-party capital of the West Coast certainly hasn’t hurt.
“It’s not known for its music scene; it’s known for the partying and going to the beach. We really aren’t that into partying, but we like to bring that warm, palm-tree vibe, if you will,” Lynch said.
Adopting the “dance it out” policy has worked to the advantage of members and crowds alike, who have come to love the groove-heavy, authentic and sometimes melancholy, lo-fi dance ballads Gardens & Villa churns out, especially in a live setting.
“We want a powerful experience for all the people who are a part of it,” Lynch said. “We feel like it’s a successful show if we can get even one person to start dancing. And we pride ourselves on playing everything live. No backing tracks or people pressing a space bar on the computer.”
The rain cloud over their collective heads seems to be parting; their invigorating sets and a buzzed-about upcoming debut helped Gardens & Villa snag a record deal. The group kept the recording process fresh and loose, believing it would pay dividends in the final product.
“We recorded the whole album live in studio and onto tape, all analog. We’ve tried to capture an older style of recording an album, instead of doing a million takes on Pro Tools. It sort of establishes the vibe of the song,” Lynch said. “Giving everything in a few takes and trying to just nail it ... that’s how the album was done.”
If these harsh times have given them anything, it’s the knowledge that things don’t have to be perfect, and that may be for the better.
“We really tried to focus on the groove and the vibe and overall feel of the song. Soul is the biggest thing we tried to put in the album,” Lynch said. “There are plenty of mistakes on this album, but at least they were done with style.”