The California synth lovers learn to enjoy the road again
Gardens & Villa's latest album was made in a vortex. The recording process for Dunes was a new experience for the members of the Santa Barbara electro-pop outfit, when they left the comfort of California beaches for a secluded Michigan studio. Guitarist and vocalist Chris Lynch said the band headed north for practical reasons — Michigan was a good middle-meeting place for producer Tim Goldsworthy from the UK, and the studio is home to a recording console custom-built for Sly Stone. But in many ways, Gardens & Villa was making an exodus after long bouts of touring, retreating to somewhere removed in order to refocus. The band stops Sunday at Gasa Gasa.
Lynch says the change in scenery made a powerful difference between the band's self-titled 2011 debut and Dunes. "The first record, we were kind of younger and more starry eyed, we hadn't toured much, hadn't been out of California," he says. "Dunes has travel, a more realistic vibe. It's a little darker."
The darkness comes from the exhausted, homesick place with which many young indie acts are familiar. Touring is surviving. Lynch says the band fell in love with touring early on, but it didn't stop that negativity from creeping in as the number of days away kept growing. "We love touring, but doing it for month to month on end, you kind of don't really feel like yourself anymore." That includes keeping up energy and smiles but still keeping it genuine. As much as touring took a toll on Gardens & Villa, Lynch says the output was never forced or faked. That's why recording Dunes was such a release, because for all the anxiety and remorse hanging around its inception, it's a lively album.
Gardens & Villa take numerous cues from funk and disco, at times seamlessly incorporating more modern sounds, all backed by rich, abundant synths. It bounces along constantly, with each track latching on to another ambling beat. This isn't the sound of a defeated, lifeless band. Dunes is less the result of a hibernation and more of a reawakening. "I think a lot of it was done in a playful way," Lynch explains. "There wasn't a heaviness or sadness while we were recording."
That vortex — including sleepless days, an insane VHS collection and "tons of tea" in a desolate town — found Gardens & Villa falling in love with its craft again. The dream of being a musician, foregoing a lifeless day job, touring the country for months on end became sour, but Dunes is Gardens & Villa's survival story. "We're back on the road being off for a year," Lynch says, excitedly describing the beautiful New Mexico view outside. "We're in love with it again."