When you visit a musician's home, it’s not uncommon to get a tour of the points of pride: a glimpse of a pricey guitar collection, or maybe a state-of-the-art recording studio. Rarely do the highlights include a homemade shower and toilet. But lead singer Chris Lynch and multi-instrumentalist Adam Rasmussen of psychedelic-synth duo Gardens and Villa don’t hesitate to show off their handiwork to visitors at their Frogtown warehouse studio.
“They make so many books on plumbing and electrical. You just get it and you read for days and then start working. YouTube's good, too,” says Rasmussen, as we walk from an artfully industrial hodgepodge of construction supplies to the nearby bike path that curves along the L.A. River. “For me, the construction and the woodwork is all an extension of manifesting my own creative abilities. It's all expression. And going back and forth between fucking around with pipes and then going back to playing guitar, it's kind of soothing.”
For Lynch and Rasmussen, two Santa Barbara natives transitioning from that city's chill beach scene to the frantic gridlock of Los Angeles, this warehouse they call “The Space Program” is as much a labor of love as it is a project driven by pure necessity. Following four grueling months of touring and the dissolution of their respective relationships, Lynch and Rasmussen had hit a musical plateau in Santa Barbara, and decided to reset in Los Angeles.
The move didn't quite go according to plan. After the rude awakening of an eviction, followed by a brief stint as pseudo-squatters, the bandmates found salvation at the end of a residential cul de sac, wedged between a women’s art collective and a bike co-op. Thus began the process of turning a bug-infested workspace into something akin to home.
It’s a not-unfamiliar story of L.A. newcomers feeling the swift kick in the ass that this city never hesitates to deliver, and that harsh reality comes across immediately on their third and latest album, Music for Dogs. Laced with references to the drought-stricken river, never-ending traffic jams, acid-trip sunsets and the persistent humming of helicopters overhead, it’s both a love note to and a scathing portrayal of L.A.’s hectic landscape, and proves that falling down our city's surreal rabbit hole might just be the best thing to happen to Gardens and Villa.
“You respond to the energy around you, and the waves are much slower and relaxed in a town like Santa Barbara, where you spend so much time with nature,” says Rasmussen. “And then as you get more into a metro environment, everything starts to vibrate much quicker, and people — the way that they act is a little more frenetic. I think certainly part of the sonics and the themes come from that.”
With the album's many references to surveillance and subliminal messages, the duo might unintentionally come across as tinfoil hat-wearing shut-ins, but Lynch says that was never their intention. “Some of the songs may have come off as paranoid, and they are," he admits. "But it was more of a playful paranoia. It wasn't anything really dark.”
Their lyrics are more aimed at the inescapable presence of technology, and the superficial culture of social media — a critique perhaps best expressed in the music video for “Fixations,” shot at their warehouse, in which a trippy party spirals into drone-monitored madness. “We're not extremists, and we’re not saying, ‘I hate vaporizers. I hate Segways. I hate our generation. It's bullshit,’" Lynch explains. "We're more just like, ‘It's funny, but it's just silly, and we’re trying to emphasize the sci-fi reality that we all live in now.'”
At the moment, Gardens and Villa aren’t exactly trying to dismantle the cultural zeitgeist, one song at a time; they’re more focused on building their “Space Program” into more than just a decrepit warehouse. “We have a lot of dreams,” says Rasmussen of the compound they share with filmmakers and other musicians. “We want to do more shows here, and be the sound guys. Everyone that lives here and works here is an artist that lives off of the stuff that they create, so we like being artists as professionals.”
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From the look of it, they’re only a few YouTube home-improvement tutorials away from launching something big.
Garden and Villa perform at the Roxy on Thursday, Nov. 12 with De Lux. More info.