Things are moving so fast that Adam Rasmussen can’t really remember if Gardens & Villa have been together for one year or two. Turns out, as the Santa Ynez-born keyboardist counts the band’s key events backward via phone from a Philadelphia club green room, that “two” is probably the right answer.
This muddle is entirely forgivable, though. For one thing, the boys in the band, including vocalist/guitarist Chris Lynch, drummer Levi Hayden, bassist Shane McKillop, and percussion player Dusty Ineman, are on a national tour in support of a self-titled CD that hasn’t actually been released yet, though the buzz is building. Every tour stop brings more Facebook fans, the vinyl EP is selling well, and back home friends are getting impatient. “We got [the label’s] permission to sell some copies at shows before it’s actually released,” said Rasmussen. “And we’ve already sold around 300, which is kind of incredible.” Their manager has never seen an opening act do so well. And then there are the crazy gigs hitched to an unexpected star. The band is currently opening for Foster the People, whose ubiquitous radio hit “Pumped Up Kicks” continues to set the female teen set aflame. “It’s crazy,” said Rasmussen. “The first night we were in Denver, and we were playing a room with 500 people. We asked each other if this was really happening. Then last week we played a solo gig in Long Island at this really shitty bar with three people in it, and that was our dose of reality.” From relative obscurity to Lobero-sized rooms and back again: no wonder Rasmussen’s a little bleary-minded.
Access to a calendar would likely remind them, however, that their self-titled CD itself is almost one year’s activity. Late last June, the four were camping out in producer Richard Swift’s backyard in Cottage Grove, OR. After a year as Gardens & Villa (the magazine-friendly band name derives from a house they shared on the Westside’s Villa Street), they had already cut a demo, toured the Pacific Northwest, and decided to present themselves to Swift, a singer/songwriter and Wilco protégé. In turn, Swift, for the price of a high-end Vespa, happily offered to help them polish out a debut. “It’s not a big house: two bedrooms. Richard has a wife, two daughters, and a cat named Bowie,” explained Rasmussen. And they grew close. “We started out strangers and ended up family.”
“Uncle Rich taught me to vibe totally,” laughed songwriter and vocalist Chris Lynch, who says the whole band blossomed under studio conditions. In fact “Thorn Castles,” the third and most haunting song on the record, was discovered there, entirely. “We were just messing around and Richard said, ‘That’s sick,’ and then told us he’d be right back.” When he returned, the song was born with Swift’s touches, which range from punk to something Lynch called “cheesy super-’80s” stylings. But the overall effect seems completely integrated. At its best, songs like “Black Hills” and “Sunday Morning” feature a bold marriage of machinelike beats, synthy sounds over-washed with romantic guitars, and Lynch’s lush, sweet voice. At times, the influences seem obvious—try not to hear Talking Heads during “Orange Blossom”—yet the young band’s sounds are startlingly mature. Swift thought so, too, and sent the tapes to indie-fave label Secretly Canadian, who then sent a rep out to make the deal.
While the rest of the planet hears the record this week (release day was July 5), you can catch the popular psych wave band live at SOhO in a post-dated CD release party. “I think we’re actually playing the El Rey in Los Angeles the day it’s released, but we wanted to do it officially here with our friends,” said Rasmussen.
And they are best caught live, as lots of folks here know. Partly because G&V is secretly older than two; at least counting its earlier incarnations. “We literally met in choir,” said Rasmussen, who was introduced to Lynch at Westmont, hung out in his dorm, listened to tunes, and a few days later—with Lynch’s roomie Levi Hayden—began a high psychedelia jam band called AVE Caesar, a career that included many noise-rock assaults and audience raptures not foretold in the Bible. They were wilder. “I thought nothing of throwing both arms on the keyboards back then,” said Rasmussen, wistfully.
But today they stand more melodically on precipices of fame, or at least wait in its green room. Before they left on this tour, they looked forward to the crucible of the road. “Last week we were auditioning psychiatrists,” joked Rasmussen. He’s proud of their live set. “When you play things over and over, inevitably you hear some new notes, and sometimes you say to each other ‘Don’t ever do that again.’ Other times, however, it’s ‘Hey, that really works.’” They know which tracks will play, and which ones don’t work in, and, best of all, they’ve written two new songs on the road. It’s been wearying and, memory problems aside, a fruitful time, living in a van and crashing places, dependent on the kindness of strangers. On the other hand, there’s free food and drinks, and they often get to shower backstage at the shows. “We’ve adjusted. We’ve got a little money, though nobody’s buying souvenirs. Really, though, this is the time of my life.”
Gardens & Villa play a CD-release show this Wednesday, July 13, at SOhO Restaurant & Music Club (1221 State St.) with openers Little Owl and Hosannas. The all-ages show starts at 8 p.m. Call 962-7776 or visit clubmercy.com for tickets.