Ian Maleney chats to Levi Hayden of Gardens & Villa, who make their Irish debut in Whelan’s this Friday.
Gardens and Villa make their debut Irish appearance this Friday night in Whelans. The Santa Barbara four-piece craft arch-pop songs with glorious Californian harmonies and a deep understanding of space. It’s this use of negative space that really gives the band their edge as their restrained, tightly-coiled structures grow and develop into massive rushes of sound, weaving unusual synth textures and flute melodies into the traditional wash of guitars and drums. Their self-titled debut album for Secretly Canadian was produced by singer-songwriter Richard Swift and shows a band properly getting their teeth into recording for the first time, with all the sense of wonder and excitement that brings.
Drummer Levi Hayden answered a few questions as the band set off on their first ever European tour.
This tour will be the first time a lot of people on this side of the world have heard about you so can you tell us a little about how Gardens & Villa came to exist? Have you known each other long?
After the collapse of a previous psyche/post rock project, Chris, Adam and Levi started Gardens as a three piece about 3 years ago. We played more folk influenced styles and began focusing on writing complete songs for the first time, rather than 10 minute instrumental pieces. After a year Shane began writing with us and joined right before we recorded with Swift. Dusty joined right after to make our live show what it is. We all more or less knew each other for as long as we have been playing shows in Santa Barbara.
Is there a main song-writer in the band or is it more of a collaborative effort? What’s your usual process with a song?
As the vocalist, Chris more or less writes all of the lyrics and vocal melodies. Musically though, we all take responsibility for writing our own parts while crafting a song. It’ll start with a simple riff or beat and we’ll explore every which way it could possibly go. It takes time until we really feel content, and it can be difficult on the road. This January we are looking forward to hunkering down in Portland and digging deeper into new material.
You’ve described your music as heartfelt, what kind of emotions or feelings are you trying to get across? For instance, there definitely seems to be a pre-occupation with nature in some way, a lot of the imagery seems based on the natural world. Is this the case?
We do feel that our music is and should be heartfelt. It’s honest. I don’t think we’d ever write or perform anything that didn’t truly move us deep down. As a band we generally agree on what we enjoy listening to, so it’s the same with our own songs. As far as nature, it’s a definite inspiration for us. We all love getting outdoors, whether that be hiking, camping, going to the beach or wherever. Being on the road can be inspiring in that way too because you get to see so much. We do enjoy a good handful of cities too, but being out in the natural world is something we need.
I’m sure you get asked all the time about the flute, but when did you start using it in songs and why?
Chris started using the flute when we were writing Sunday Morning and Orange Blossom because he had just started learning it and we felt that the songs called for it. It was a very natural process.
You’ve said that recording with Richard Swift made a big different to your songs and overall sound, why do you think that was the case? Have things developed since, especially with all the touring?
We had no idea what to expect when we met up with Swift. Our previous experience was laying down tracks with an intern engineer in another room. With Swift, we was right there with us. Listening closely for parts that aren’t there, feeling the overall vibe and enjoying it as much as we were. Since we’ve been touring so much, things have definitely changed. We try to make the songs special for the live set, not just exactly what you hear on the album. Know these songs so well too and remembering what it was like with Swift, it helps us with our vision for future songs.
Swift also remixed Orange Blossoms, did you enjoy hearing your track re-imagined? Have you considered having others do the same for other tracks?
When we first heard Swift’s remix, we were obsessed. Still am, it’s incredible! Since then we’ve had some others do some remixes. There are a couple Easy Tiger remixes from our friend Aaron Ray that are really good and Gayngs did a great remix of Orange Blossom. It’s always fun to hear someone else’s take on your own material.
Will this tour be your first time in Europe? Any places or things you’re really looking forward to?
This is our first time touring in Europe and its been better than we’ve ever imagined! I think we’re excited to just play anywhere there are new faces. But in particular we’re really looking forward to Scandinavia. We hope it gets cold!
You’re doing a lot of touring for the second half of the year, has that affected the way you work as a band? Have there been any huge arguments or fights over the van music or anything like that?
I think it just the way things fell this year. We wanted to tour earlier in the year, but we needed to wait until it was closer to the release of the album. So we had to be patient and I think it most definitely worked out for the best. Times do indeed get hard on the road though. It’s been a complete lifestyle change for all of us. And the occasion argument inevitably breaks out, but they’ve all been important learning experiences for us. As long as the music is good, we’re happy and getting along.
How did it feel to quit your day jobs? Must have been a pretty sweet day?
It had been a long time coming for some of us, so it was really good. But also a mix of emotions. Excitement, but also uncertainty. Some nostalgia too, it was kind of surreal. Really thankful for what those jobs meant and were though.
You’ve just finished touring with Youth Lagoon in America, which must have be pretty interesting. How did it go? He’s been getting a lot of attention lately, and deservedly so!
It was great! The timing was perfect as his album was just coming out and we were returning to a lot of important markets that we had just been to a month earlier. He was the perfect opener with such a simple set up and he really set a great vibe. We had actually played with him way back in April while in his hometown of Boise, Idaho to about 5 people. So playing sold out shows in New York and Chicago was so amazing. He’s a true talent and a good friend.
Gardens & Villa play Whelan’s this Friday, November 11th with Halves. The gig will be kicking off after the Ireland / Estonia soccerball game which is being screened live in Whelan’s.