Monday, May 13, 2013

Artist Interview/Review: Golden Gardens

The cover of Narcissus, GG's newest EP out June 11th.

I'm not gonna lie, I am smitten by Golden Gardens, and since my Songs We Love write-up of "Transparent Things" I've only gotten worse. It's lucky for me then that I didn't have to wait too long to hear more from Aubrey and Gregg, who are gearing up to release their next EP, Narcissus (above image), on June 11th with Seattle's Neon Sigh collective and were all too happy to give NGD an early listen. But never fear, we're passing part of that privilege on to our readers in the form of an exclusive track from the release, "Blue Eyes of a Broken Doll", which you can stream below.

Our impression? This is clearly some of their best work to date, and despite Narcissus' brevity it is fairly epic in scope. The four tracks, each strongly differing both sonically and lyrically from one another, make up a concept piece chronicling the cycle of infatuation, from the high of the initial crush to the depths of the aftermath. I think that new fans will fall for the gorgeous dream-pop ambiance, and old fans will find that both members have grown increasingly confident in their ability to impart to each song with exactly what it needs to leave you awestruck for the few seconds that bridge each track.

Recently, Aubrey and Gregg agreed to talk a little more with me about life in Golden Gardens land:

You’ve been releasing material pretty consistently over the past couple of years; has the process of writing a record changed much or is it the roughly the same for you?

A: When we first started the project, Gregg was living 3,000 miles away in Florida (while I was here in Seattle). We basically had to write and the record the way we did, which was essentially Gregg writing/recording musical compositions or parts thereof and then file sharing them with me. I would write/record vocal melodies/harmonies and then share with him. This would go back and forth until we had a final version we were happy with. It sometimes was a quick process, but it often took awhile. I think our strongest material has been conjured up since we both have been living in the same place; we do still record separately, which I think is just a convenience thing mostly, but now we mix in the same room which has been ridiculously fun and rewarding.

G: As an artist I seem to do my best writing in solitude, even when working collaboratively, so it tends to be "come up with idea for melody, record, send to Aubrey, edit or expand based on feedback." Things have adjusted on the technical side as we have gotten more comfortable with ourselves as musicians and have started to learn more about how production works. We have been able to sculpt our sound much more accurately as we have grown as musicians and artists.

"No one is trying to control what we do creatively."

One of the things that I think fans of How Brave the Hunted Wolves will recognize in Narcissus is that despite covering a range of approaches, these songs fit really well, which gives the EP as a whole a lot of character. Is this cohesion something you intentionally set out to accomplish? 

G: I feel the way the songs work together is a little bit of a mixture of intentional effort and happy accidents. A couple of the songs took longer to work into shape than the others, but from listening to the songs, they're probably the ones that sound the most effortless. A couple of songs are a million miles from their original seeds, "As I Lay Hidden In the Garden" was in another key, "Blue Eyes for a Broken Doll"'s main riff was originally written on guitar. As the songs were written, then expanded and shaped, how everything held together began to feel natural.

A: Lyrically, when I started working on these songs I wanted to dig a bit deeper artistically and try to write from a more personal place. I usually write from a mostly imaginative place, one where the lyrics tell more of a fictional story. This time I wanted to try and write from within; to craft songs that are directly tied to myself, my feelings, my experiences. It was a challenge, but a very rewarding one. I also wanted to explore a theme on this album, namely infatuation. So if there is a character or progression that develops on the album, I think it's one of a person who is going through the cycle of infatuation - that initial excitement, hope, the projected fantasy, all the way through to reality, dissolution of ideals, the end of the crush - but in that very self-centered, self-preserving way, hence "Narcissus."

4/28 at The Sunset
When you were interviewed following the release of The Somnambulist in 2011 you had still yet to perform a live show, but when I saw you at the Sunset a few weeks ago I was blown away by how intimate the performance was. How important is the show aspect and how do you convey “music written in solitude” (to quote you Gregg) for a room full of concertgoers. 

G: The performing aspect of what we do has become very important since we started. Since nearly the start we have been using visuals as part of it, between short experimental films that Aubrey has made, and more recently visual treatments that our friend Randall Skrášek has been putting together have been part of the experience. I think we really try to treat our shows as performance art - we are trying to bring the intensity of these feelings and stories to life in some way.

A: We don't wear jeans and t-shirts to perform. We dress up, we have moving visuals and dreamy lights when possible, we have different live musicians at various shows - we make an effort to create something special, alchemical on stage. Our music is very intimate by nature I think. I sort of go into a possessed trance and forget about the room I'm in when I start singing; I just feel the music and then I am transported to my own little world. Golden Gardens Land.

 "I think we really try to treat our shows as performance art - we are trying to bring the intensity of these feelings and stories to life in some way."

For How Brave the Haunted Wolves you guys choose to work with Seattle’s Neon Sigh collective. What drew you to them initially and why did you decide to continue the relationship for the Narcissus EP?

G: We've established a really great working and personal relationship with Chris Bendix, who runs Neon Sigh. He has been working closely with us to put on live shows and has been playing bass guitar at some of our performances. Neon Sigh has been a great home for us during our last album cycle, so it made sense to stick around.

A: Listening to him talk about wanting to help bands he already loved and really seeing what a music fan he is at heart made it a no brainer for us. It's a very organic, laid-back experience and not so unlike doing it ourselves; we just get an extra boost on promotion and shows. No one is trying to control what we do creatively. We wanted to continue in that vein with the release of Narcissus. And as Gregg said, he's also joined Golden Gardens' live line-up on bass, which you can check out at the CCT show next week!

Did they have anything to do with this late-night, shoegaze/goth/ethereal-themed cruise down the Willamette River that I've been hearing about?
A: Nope! That was entirely organized by DJ Wednesday and DJ Curatrix, the ladies of Brickbat Mansion, a monthly shoegaze/ethereal/dreampop night in Portland. We met them when we played a show at The Lovecraft Bar (where Brickbat is hosted) in December of 2011. We've been good friends for a while and they regularly spin our music at their monthly night.

The cruise is going to be extra fancy - DJ Wednesday has been friends with Suzanne Perry of the band Love Spirals Downwards (and one of my favorite voices in music of all time) for years and has arranged for her to come up and perform at the event. This is exciting enough on its own, as Love Spirals Downwards material hasn't been performed live in quite some time, but even what's even more exciting is that Suzanne has requested for us to be her "backing band" for the night! So, in addition to playing a regular set of our original music, we will be teaming up with her to play a set of LSD songs. It's a dream come true for sure; it's going to be a really special event

I hope you're not thinking of leaving us here in Seattle for greener grass in Portland?
G: Oh dear me, no. We'll be sticking around in Seattle.

A: No no no no no! I will admit that Portland audiences can be a bit more... welcoming... than Seattle ones, but the Seattle environment is almost too perfect for the music we make and the city has really embraced us which makes my heart all glittery-sparkly.

Are there any other big plans for Golden Gardens on the Horizon? Any dream gigs you’d like to make happen? 
G: There are all sorts of dreams, like tours I'd like to go on, venues I'd like to play, bands I'd love to open for. We have a few fun things in the planning that we will be announcing soon, though.

Do you want more? Is June 11th too long to wait? Well, it just so happens that you can hear the new record live this Friday night at Columbia City Theater. This will be an awesome show and we'll definitely be there!

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