GARLAND: Songs of romance, love, desire, faith

Frankly, I was blown away when I heard GARLAND, the L.A.-based indie rock band. Rich Kay’s angst-filled vocals are smooth and melancholic. In fact, I’d go so far as suggesting the humble singer has one of the most soulful voices in L.A. Keep reading for our interview with the band. [Photo by Caroline Frost]

[By Monica Harris, Photos by Caroline Frost

Q. Tell me how you all met and created Garland. 

Rich (vocals)– Oh ok well.. I guess I was the musical expeditionary who sang and wrote songs. I had this Elephant 6/Belle and Sebastian-type dream, you know, a large group of musical and artistic people collectively playing and creating together. I meet great talents through different music schools and from different bands in L.A. We hooked up and made a record. The GARLAND record. A mourning and melancholy record with Victorian psychedelic flowers on the cover. We slapped a picture of a 1905 coronet band on the inside and that represented the spirit of our band, you know, lots of people playing various instruments coming together, contributing to creating this music. Also it was a kind of a shout out to that mad band Sergeant Pepper! So we made the record and put it out and it was pretty well received locally. It was sort of a touchstone of that freak folk/Arcade Fire moment. Though the sound was complex, post-rock, with layers of sound. We spent the next year and a half playing it out. There were lots of other people playing, coming and going. Six months in, Will, who was 19 years old, joined the collective on bass and has stayed on, so he’s the other original member, he was around for those experiences.

Will (bass)– Yeah I joined during that time, officially in the fall of 09 when it was a completely different band. So patched together. There were three guitarists and a violinist. It was something else! I had done a couple impromptu rehearsals with them during the Summer but after the guitarists and bassist had left there was room for me to get in the fold. 

Rich- It was pretty crazy! We only played about one show a month then. It was hard to have any really solid direction of sound. Many discrepancies, every show was like a different band. The impact, at first was inspiring! Everyone felt empowered being in GARLAND, given permission, socialized. Permission to be free, open, free floating like a new world with a synthesis of vision, where we could come together. We played the songs in so many different ways, which is a testament to the strength of the songs, that they could be pulled apart so many ways and still be good songs. But it became an incredibly chaotic reality very fast. Our final show like this was two summers ago, the IPOP festival 2010, at the Satellite. There were like 9 people on the stage, a full string section. That was a really difficult show. There were some magical moments but also a lot of woozy shambolic ones too. So that was it! I stripped it down to just me and guitar for the next few months to see if the songs were good enough to carry on like this and to see if I could even do this, and hold an audience. Which I proved they were, and I could. 

Will– As of that summer show it was down to just me and Rich so I brought on my friends. Brett on drums and Jose on guitar, respectively. We started to re-imagine the band as a straight up rock band. A tight rock and roll combo. 

Brett (drums) – I knew you guys before that time too. I think Will asked me to play some shows with you. But nah I wasn’t interested…I didn’t want to be in something with like 20 freaky weirdoes running around. Jeez if I wanted that I would have joined the Venice drum circle. I wanted to play in a 4 piece ROCK band. When I met Rich through Will sometime later he was just playing by himself acoustic style. So we booked a rehearsal space, jammed together a few times, it felt pretty good. Jose came on and it was a real band, then… So I joined. 

Jose (guitars)Garland was created before I arrived on the scene. Each member has a different story on how it started, so I’m a little unsure of how it happened. I would trust Rich’s answer the most though. He doesn’t kid around. 

Rich– It was so rare. It worked! Dec 2010, I played a solo show at Silverlake Lounge then, and a few weeks later we played an event Downtown at the Alexandria hotel as a proper 4 piece. It was really crowded and it went really well. So that was that. We [were] like YES! This is a great band! It’s been just gaining momentum ever since.

Q. Richard has an amazing voice! Did he get any special vocal training? 

Will- Not that I know of. I’m pretty sure Rich channels the icy fjords and beaches of Scandinavia or Ireland right into his microphone when he’s on stage.

Brett- That he sure does. A great voice! Probably some lessons here and there but nothing major.

Jose- He does! Apart from having a unique voice, he takes his time to warm up and take care of it. He always sings on key.

Rich- Aw thank you, people. What a nice compliment. No major training. One good teacher for 6 months about 10 years ago. She taught me placement and how to stretch so that I don’t blow it out when I holla. I just always sang you know, one of my talents. I liked to do it and was good at it. I liked it cause you really BREATH when you sing. All that oxygen always left me buzzed…It took me a while to find my voice though. 

Q. You perform all over L.A. What’s your favorite experience so far? 

Brett- I’ve enjoyed playing two venues: The Los Angeles Convention Center because it’s huge, and the Viper Room because it sounds great. I also enjoyed when we ended the year of 2011 with a nice bang playing a party in Malibu. 

Jose- I love going to play at the KXLU college radio station. They have a good people there, good equipment, and it’s a great way to share an intimate show for a large audience. 

Will- I’ve loved playing Livation at 88.9 KXLU, a weekly live music show at midnight on Wednesdays. I especially have loved playing in Pasadena and Malibu. It’s been a great opportunity to meet people in different circles and put our vibes out there.

Rich- Hmm so many shows….We have had an astonishing year and a half. Where we once played one show a month, we now get the opportunity to play like 5 or 6 a month sometimes. Some of my favorites are not always the immediately popular ones. Let’s say, so as not to piss anyone off by leaving them out, that I’ve enjoyed every show. Especially where the sound was good and the audience treated us kindly. I started off wanting to create a collective and I realized shows ARE a collective — the audience creates the show for the band. It’s an exchange of energy.

“The audience creates the show for the band. It’s an exchange of energy.”

Q. Any crazy or funny stories to share from backstage?

Jose- I always get lost just outside the venues we’re playing and have to call Brett to stand outside and wave. 

Will- When I was still 19 we played a place on Vine and the bouncer almost didn’t let me in without my ID. After our set, however, the girl at the bar said I had earned a free beer and gave me a Newcastle. There were also countless times I had to wait outside the entrance until our set time. Like that first Satellite show. I missed every freakin other band playing. Playing bars underage was like a rite of passage for me, since I joined Garland when I was eighteen and still new to LA. It feels good to be in the same band after all these years. 

Brett- One time I was stuck in OC without my car and we had a gig in Silverlake that night. My bus was supposed to arrive at 5 but arrived at 5:30. If it would have been there at the right time I would’ve made it to the gig. I spent the whole gig on the phone saying “gonna be there in 30 minutes, 20 minutes, 10 minutes, I’m here! Oh I just missed it?!” 

Rich- Not crazy funny. More like randomly tragic. I have A LOT of stories to tell, I don’t think we have enough time to go into that now. haha. 

Q. What is your approach to creating a new song? 

Jose- I fish for melodies first. It’s the most important thing. If it’s good, everything else just flows naturally. 

Brett- To speak with my instrument and to create something that the human ear won’t be jaded to. 

Rich- I don’t really know. I just want to write something good. It took me so long to find my voice to sing in and a long time to SAY something. “To know my song well before I start to sing it.” I think I’m an OK writer…I just want to write good songs now. Not just “baby, baby, baby,” though those are fun songs. Something that suggests something about life, that can be formulated in philosophical terms. 

Will- Rich wrote most of the material before we had our current lineup but shortly after Jose joined the band the two of them banged out TEN new songs that are still so fresh almost a year later. Hopefully we’ll have them on a new full-length one of these days.

Q. What is your favorite subject to sing about?

Jose- Experiences that we commonly share but fail to give the proper importance in our everyday conversations. 

Brett- I like writing and singing about different kinds of things as long as they sound good and stick. 

Rich- Songs about romance, love, desire, faith. Hopeful, enthusiastic songs. Pop songs about getting sexy are fun, but also well-written message songs that have something to say. Sometimes songs with words that mean nothing, just fantastic melodies like the Cocteau Twins do. 

Will- Personally, I like to sing about girls, girls, girls and trying to set the night on fire. 

Q. What are your goals for Garland? What does the future hold for you?

Jose- Garland will reach many kindred souls to sing their songs with. I’m helping make that a reality. 

Brett- To persevere, stick together, and hopefully get to new, better levels. 

Will- I’d like to do a US tour and possible hit some dates overseas. 

Rich- No one knows what the future holds do they…This band is about to enter an new phase, get serious and step it up. We should be recording and releasing our first real single soon. This fall look for a release. I’d like it to be a success in contemporary culture. ~