Natural instincts: digging-up good vibes with Gardens & Villa


While watching the frigid winds blow snow past my window, I sat down for a chat with Gardens & Villa front man Chris Lynch, situated halfway across the continent in the balmy beachside town of Santa Barbara. An electro-rock band filled with the odd flute, tambourine, and a distinct psychedelic vibe, Gardens & Villa is truly in touch with their roots. Amping-up for the February release of their second album, Dunes, Lynch and I discussed the band’s next steps as well as their near purchase of a Michigan synagogue.

Laura Eley: You guys call Santa Barbara home. How would you describe it?

Chris Lynch: I guess it’s far enough from L.A. to where it’s separate from L.A. and it has a small town beach thing but it also has a little bit of a central coast vibe. It’s not necessarily purely southern California. Probably our favourite thing about it other than the friends and community is that the natural beauty is spectacular. It’s like the ocean comes right up to the mountains and Santa Barbara is right in between. Everyone in the band, we’re huge beach-goers. We surf and the beach is a big part of our lives.

LE: Do you channel this nature into your music? 

CL: Definitely. I would say for the first record it was more innocent and starry-eyed and channelling a lot of natural energy. This record still has a lot of that but there’s also more of a dystopian kind of dissatisfaction with certain things. Just after touring for two years straight and being immersed in America’s infrastructure, it definitely gave us things to sing about that weren’t just nature-driven but also culturally and architecturally driven.

LE: If you weren’t in your current environment, do you think you would create the same kind of music?

CL: I think I would. Music has always been spiritual for me and I think I’ll always make music that moves me, you know? That can come in so many different ways. I play the flute, so wherever I am I’ll go out into the trees and sit somewhere and play the flute.

LE: What was your recording process like for Dunes?

CL: It was very surreal. Obviously we went from late January in Santa Barbara which is really nice and the Sun’s down and people are jogging on the beach, and then all of the sudden we’re in Michigan in this tiny-ass town [Benton Harbor] that was built for 10 times as many people than actually live there and it was really bummed-down and depleted. You could buy houses for $3,000 there, it’s a lot like Detroit. But the studio is amazing, it had all this gear and was really affordable, and Bill and Jessica (the owners of it) became our close friends. We were isolated in the studio and rarely went outside and were told not to go out at night without the dog or we would get stabbed or shot. It was just completely different from anything we had ever experienced and we all kind of fell in love with it. We almost, when we were leaving, were like, “oh there’s this synagogue for sale for $5,000 and maybe we should all buy it.” We almost ended up moving there.

LE: Did you test out any songs on Dunes in front of a crowd before recording them?

CL: Yeah, a few of them. We actually dropped a few songs that after we played them live we were sort of like “I don’t about that one.” No one seemed to like them, it just didn’t vibe. We wrote so many songs for this record, we wrote 30 or 40  songs, and then only ending up recording 10 or 11. So there’s a lot of distilling going on but now we have enough material to write like three more records.

LE: Do you prefer recording or playing live?

CL: I like both. Being in a band is like being in a relationship and playing live is like having sexy time so you all can groove with each other and you feel this crazy collective energy. Whereas recording is actually laying something down that’s going to be permanent, so it’s more of a permanent creation. I guess they’re both really special to me. It’s cool when you mix both, when you record something live and it’s really good and it’s like “oh that’s the key, that’s the fusion.”

LE: Were you always a flute player?

CL: I went on a hitchhiking trip before the band formed and I went all the way up to Oregon, Washington, and Vancouver by myself. I was 23 and stupid and ended up in Portland and I met this guy in this park and he was playing the bansuri, a classical Indian bamboo flute, and I heard it through the trees and was like “what the fuck is that?” I ended-up sitting down with him and he played for a couple hours and I got out my guitar. And so then I just decided to buy one and I’ve just played it ever since. And when we wrote “Orange Blossom” there just happened to be a flute in the room and I played it and everyone was like “yeah that was cool,” and it just kind of developed. There wasn’t anything contrived, it wasn’t like “we got to have a flute guy.” I never wanted to be the flute guy, that wasn’t part of the plan.

LE: Did you ever see the flute man again?

CL: I got an email from him like two years ago that he moved back to Michigan. He studied bansuri for four years in India and then went back to Portland before moving back to Michigan. I’m going to definitely end up in India for awhile at some point in my life. I want to go to an ashram or something and learn from a real master for awhile.

LE: As a band, do you find it hard to establish an online presence?

CL: Yeah, it’s hard. Like a band 15 years ago didn’t have to worry about all this shit. Like 20 years ago, our favourite bands just had to drive and then play music and write some letters and do interviews. We have all this side shit to worry about. People need more and more information, it’s not as much about the music anymore. You almost have to be a multimedia company, but it’s kind of cool because it gives us an opportunity to collaborate with other artists, which we’re trying to do for this second record especially. But I’m pretty happy with our online presence. None of us really want to do the twitter. It’s sort of like “I have twitter duty? Damnit!” Instagram is the best one because it’s the easiest and you just get to post pictures.

LE: What’s on the Gardens & Villa 2014 agenda?

CL: We’re going to try and do as much touring as possible. We’re basically going to all move out of our apartments and take it on the road. That’s kind of what we did last time and we ended-up playing like 400 shows. We will be in your hood shortly.

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