Every epic journey of legend shares a quintessential trope: the resolve of the return home. Santa Barbara indie rock band Gardens & Villa have endured an odyssey of sorts in their decade together. They endured the frigid Midwestern winter for sophomore LP Dunes and built a fortress out of a Los Angeles warehouse for follow-up Music For Dogs. But for their fourth outing, they found themselves returning to once-familiar landscapes turned somber with the passage of time.
“Richard Swift was our mentor and guru,” says singer Chris Lynch of the band's producer and friend. “We went up [to Oregon] last summer to finish [the record] with him. He was like ‘I’ll mix it for free — just come up and hang.’ So, we went up there, and he was in really bad shape. We sent out a distress call ... His health declined rapidly, and a month and a half after we were there, he passed away. That was a big shock — we really wanted him to help us finish [recording] because it was reminiscent in a lot of ways to [our] first record.”
Like so many indie rock acts of the last decade, Gardens & Villa learned many of their greatest lessons from Richard Swift’s brilliance. His guidance on the band’s first LP for Secretly Canadian would empower Lynch and his bandmates as they worked with producers like Jacob Portrait and Tim Goldsworthy on future recordings, and as Lynch and synth player Adam Rasmussen began doing their own production work at their space in the L.A. neighborhood of Frogtown. Swift sent Gardens & Villa on a galactic trajectory that they wouldn’t be quick to forget.
“In the fall, we were part of the Richard Swift tribute, along with Foxygen and Pure Bathing Culture,” Lynch says, talking about the benefit concert at the Masonic Lodge in L.A. last December. “When we were all hanging out, [Jonathan] Rado was like, ‘I really want to record Gardens in Swift’s studio. That was where we did Foxygen’s first record.’”
Brought together by mutual admiration for their mentor, Gardens and Foxygen's Rado are a match made in heaven. Rado recently has had a hand in some of indie's best releases, including Weyes Blood’s Titanic Rising and Father John Misty’s God’s Favorite Customer. His talent as a collaborator is exactly what Gardens need in the fourth quarter of their album process.
“It’s exciting for us on multiple levels,” Lynch says. “None of us have been to the studio since [Swift] passed away. We got our start up there, so it’s a really big, meaningful thing.”
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Our first taste of this next chapter comes in the form of “Underneath The Moon.” This blissful summer single is reminiscent of the band’s early singles like “Black Hills” and “Orange Blossom,” but also showcases a decade’s worth of songwriting growth and evolution. The song speaks to the power of love to bridge differences between people and worlds, a notion mostly lost to our increasingly reactionary times.
“This record has a lot more love energy, and a 'return to nature' theme,” Lynch says. “It’s also a long story of our friendship as musicians and brothers. And life, really — we’ve all gone through a lot of shit in the last four years. It’s been good and bad and all around we’re making it.”
With restored confidence and optimism and in touch with each other and themselves, Gardens & Villa are ready to take lessons learned from their guru to the world.
Gardens & Villa. 8 p.m. Tuesday, July 23, at Valley Bar, 130 North Central Avenue; valleybarphx.com. Tickets are $15 via Eventbrite.