Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Mike Gentry
It happens pretty often that a band shows up to the Horseshack here for the first time and all along they had thought that they were heading to an actually barn. They were thinking farm life, fields and livestock, grain and hayracks. We've created a sort of mythology for our humble little studio here in Rock Island that's benefitted from our twice a year road show that we do in some of the finest and finer barns in America. We're known for our barns, somehow. When they get here, we don't pay witness to much disappointment when they see that it's not a barn, but it's something of a surprise that we're just on the third floor of an old downtown building, formerly used to house a radio station that beamed out country and western music and the agriculture reports in the 1980s and 90s. With Santa Barbara band Gardens & Villa, they took it one step further. They didn't just hope that there was some pretty sky to look at and a rustic setting to record close to. They were hoping that the growing corn could play a part in the recording. They called the night before and asked if we'd be able to run a cable and a microphone out the door and into a nearby cornfield so that it could act as an auxiliary member of the band, feeding some of nature's sweetening, some of that lazy yawning into the mix. We had to break their little hearts that we weren't able to deliver this secret sauce, but if you squeeze your eyes closed tight enough, you might be able to picture just where those budding ears of corn could have fit in. We're not sure how well that crop mixes with salty ocean air, but it might just butter the stuff naturally. It might just make it bowl ready, if that were the kind of corn we were growing out here in this rich Midwestern dirt. Gardens & Villa present us with a sense of scampering, of running barefoot through wet grass or over a lukewarm run of beach. We're out there in the middle of a crescent mooned night, with little light to guide us, but enough to keep us from getting hurt. Or we're out on the sand, looking to one of our sides at the awe-inspiring stretch of untamed water, filled with unseen living organisms, all beneath a morning sun that's bright as all hell, but no where near hot enough. There's a presence of the spirit of letting things happen and seeing what kinds of happy accidents could be available. The songs on the group's self-titled debut are held up by youthful wonderment. There's a lot of discovering things for the first time - an adventurousness that could get you lost, but more often just lead to more adventures. There's magic in here. It's a world that we've found ourselves leaving behind, sadly, with every passing year. It's now just wishful thinking that we can set up a tent in the backyard and make witchy faces with our flashlights. Our neighbors will think we're mad. They'll start talking. The songs are dreamy and fluttery, but filled with the meaningful depth that can always be drummed up when we seek such fond memories. When we need something for our drooping eyes and hearts, we turn to those oceans out there or we turn to those cornfields that we'd like to either speak to us or speak for us, if they'd just be given the chance.