Welcome to an alternative universe, where everything is Vada Vada and any other reality, well, just kinda sucks really.
California’s avant-garde punk duo, The Garden, have returned with an outstanding follow-up to 2013’s debut, The Life And Times Of A Paperclip; simply entitled Haha, and released today – Friday, October 9th.
I’m drawn to misfits like a square peg to a round hole, so I was hardly going to pass up on the opportunity to meet the only twins worth knowing from Orange County, (as far as I’m aware.)
It’s backstage before their 100 Club gig in London, earlier this year, that the opportunity arises. A copy of the latest Wonderland magazine is open on the graffitied table before us, with a typically cool, full bleed portrait of the siblings, one of them casually wearing a pink feather boa. There’s no alcohol rider to be seen though, just a few family packs of chocolate bars and bottled water. These boys are teetotal. Oh, and around 21, so I guess that kinda makes sense for two boys from the West Coast.
Not that Fletcher and Wyatt Shears are your typical youths, far from it. Although later, over pizza in Soho, they did recall an incident where they chose not to admit that yes, they had indeed left part of their gear back at the last venue, even though they’d already been on the road for like an hour or so. Yup, just keep driving, that didn’t happen.
I’m keen to know more about their Vadaverse, especially if there exists some sort of teleportation system for band gear; that would be awesome. “Vada Vada is, it’s just kind of, it’s kind of a word I made up a while ago but it’s kind of another form of creative expression,” tells Fletcher, “It’s like creative freedom and it’s the opportunity to not box yourself in, […] we’re not really into genre placements and how a lot of the music industry at least works today…”
“…it’s not really the music industry,” adds Wyatt, “it’s more like bands, you know you start off being in a band and you know, you follow certain rules ‘yeah, we’re gonna be like this rock band, we’re gonna play rock songs, or we’re going to go to these rock shows’, but you don’t really have to do any of that. You can if you want of course, by all means, but we choose to do it our own way, which we call Vada Vada and we do things, we experiment with music and we experiment with not one genre but we test other genres, we just mix our shit up but in a way we’re still like, it’s still us.
“We’re not like ‘okay, we’re going to try to just rap out for a while, or, we’re just going to try punk out for a while, we mix it in, kind of like a chemistry project. Like an experiment, but it’s still us and it’s still Vada Vada – that’s what we call it.” finishes Wyatt, before Fletcher concludes, “It’s kind of limitless, there’s not really any rules and there’s not really any guidelines or straight definition for it, it’s just a lot of floating ideas. Like instead of trying to struggle and figure out what we are, what genre we are so people can feel comfortable about it, we decided to just call ourselves Vada Vada.”
Clearly, freedom and innovation are at the heart of this duo, but surely there must have been some point, way back when, that they followed some sort of ‘rules’, as they put it?
“I think you have to, even when you start off, at a certain point, you have to learn and you have to grow and you have to start somewhere you know, […] I wouldn’t necessarily know if we were following the rules or not, because I didn’t even know what the rules were you know,” laughs Wyatt, “So I mean, I think its… you have to learn from something, you have to take influence from something, but part of what Vada Vada is, is not taking… if you have an influence, don’t take like the whole thing and bring it to you, it’s taking a little bit of it and using it to your advantage to create something of your own, instead of just copying what was done before you, you know. It’s about the future, it’s about the present, it’s about keeping your head on straight.”
“Progression is a big thing between us, it’s a massive thing,” adds Fletcher.
As with any true creative, inspiration for The Garden, comes from anywhere and everywhere, “Human interactions, paranormal interactions,” laughs Wyatt. “I try to keep myself open, you know, and whatever’s around me could potentially be used as a source of inspiration really, […] it just kind of happens when it happens, when it feels right, when it feels genuine.”
“Sometimes it could be kind of unconscious as well, it’s not like we’re thinking up exactly what we’re going to do and put it into the song, but it could just be in the back of your mind and be falling into whatever you make, if that makes sense, you know,” adds Fletcher.
Perfect sense, but hang on… have they had any paranormal experiences?
“I’ve had a few minor ones but I also know a lot of people who’ve had really intense ones,” says Fletcher. “Some like strange things but nothing that was like ‘oh, I just saw a ghost’, you know but weird things that have happened. I mean, I like that kind of culture, you know, ha, I like myths and um, folk lore and that, so it’s all interesting to me.”
Not that they’d go out of their way to encourage any paranormal activity, “I think Ouija boards are nothing but a bad idea,” laughs Wyatt, “I really, I think they’re like… I think I kinda believe in that kind of stuff like, you know. […] I wouldn’t go near it. I wouldn’t NOT go near it but I wouldn’t go for it, I wouldn’t try a Ouija board just because of my own paranoia for the actual thing you know.”
“Yeah, I mean who, god knows what you could let into your world, you know,” laughs Fletcher, “It’s one of those, and I don’t wanna find out.”
So you definitely believe that there’s something else?
“Sure. Yeah, I mean, I think a lot of the world tries to pretend there’s not, based on no experience, or personal safety and fear so if you’re open to it but not accepting of it, I mean that gives me a kind of contentedness.”
“I don’t believe or not believe, but you know. Who knows, maybe it is real, you know.”
“Anything is real you know.”
“I think there are so many people in the world that have had experiences, and so many people that have not, and I would say its borderline half and half, half of the people in the world have, half these people haven’t. I don’t doubt that 50 percent of the world is crazy, you know, versus sane,” laughs Fletcher, “I think people just have different experiences and you can choose to believe or not to believe it I guess.”
Unlike The Life And Times Of A Paperclip, which was more like a collection of 16 soundbites, ranging from 0.19 seconds to a maximum 1.36, (and none the less for it) this latest offering sees the boys working with producer Rob Schnab to develop their tracks to fit into a slightly more, dare I say it, conventional package, “He is basically our rock in LA, he’s really helped us construct a new album […], and he’s a good guy, a great producer and really, you know, he doesn’t feed us ideas but he offers suggestions that really help us move forward, you know, because we don’t know everything,” laughs Wyatt, “you know, we still sometimes need a little bit of help.”
A spacey, sci-fi-esque intro leads into fast-paced album opener, ‘All Smiles Over Here :)’, with the chant – “Take your sunglasses off and then put them back on again/I’ve created a force field and I hope no one breaks it/this is my life and this is how I choose to live” – spelling out their attitude to, well, pretty much everything really.
Given that bizarre, offbeat lyrics are the norm for these guys – personal favourites including, “like a ghost with flip-flops/I’m not heavy/don’t look at us/we’re not ready” from ‘Devour’, and “shoot up/shoot up/if you’ve got a fucking face/put your hands up/if you’ve only got a face” from ‘Everything Has A Face’ (would you believe) – the standout tracks on this album are those where Wyatt has gone straight into full-on singing mode; such as the dreamy, grunge-pop enthused ‘Egg’, and the excellent ‘Haha’, which lends the album its name.
Tracks like ‘Vexation’ could easily fit the soundtrack to a cool movie, but maybe not with characters they’d imagine themselves to be, “I’d probably be a slug,” suggests Wyatt, “and someone would probably dump salt on me and I’d be gone.” Oh. Not even a person…
“I’d probably be a fish,” adds Fletcher, “caught – caught fish, flapping around on the ground. That’s me.” He concludes, clapping his hands once to demonstrate the finality of this existential non-starter.
Fortunately the Shears are not slugs or fishes, surely never the twain would meet, and they’d never be able to indulge in the thrift store shopping that makes up their eclectic style – favourites being Good Will and The Salvation Army.
“I think it’s just like Vada Vada, it’s like The Garden, it’s just like us. Take a little bit from other things but try to make it, the style your own, and it’s also about comfortability and basically daily use at the same time, you know,” laughs Fletcher. “Thrift stores are a great option for me, they’re cheap and the clothes usually feel nice ‘cause they’re not all stiff, you know, because they’ve been worn in so…”
“And you can find good fitting shirts that, you know, can be of any gender or any size, and it’s just one big guess, anything you can find.”
“The hunt is okay, it’s kinda fun sometimes too.”
As for their music, the hunt is pretty much over with regard to production, with Schnab sat firmly with his feet under the table, “If we can go to him for the rest of our life, we probably will,” states Fletcher.
Maybe that’s no bad thing, but I can’t see these boys setting anything in stone, like they stated earlier in conversation, “It’s a creative experiment between the two of us, so we’d rather just grow with it and try to make it as real as possible.”
And that, is how The Garden grows.
Haha is out now via Epitaph/Burger Records.
EUROPEAN TOUR DATES:
26 – Molotow Bar, Hamburg (DE)
27 – Yuca, Cologne (DE)
28 – Paradiso [upstairs], Amsterdam (NL)
29 – Trix, Antwerp (BE)
30 – Madame Moustache, Brussels (BE)
31 – Ramsgate Music Hall, Ramsgate (UK)
01 – Bodega, Nottingham (UK)
02 – The Exchange, Bristol (UK)
03 – Green Door Store, Brighton (UK)
04 – Dingwalls, London (UK)
05 – Hare and Hounds, Birmingham (UK)
06 – Gullivers, Manchester (UK)
07 – Broadcast, Glasgow (UK)
08 – Headrow House, Leeds (UK)
10 – Badaboum, Paris (FR)
11 – Les Z’Eclectiques, Cholet (FR)
16 – Bar Rossi, Zurich (CH)
19 – Arena, Vienna (AT)
20 – Comet Club, Berlin (DE)
21 – Stengade, Copenhagen (DK)
22 – Cafe Mono, Oslo (NO)
23 – Babel, Malmo (SE)
24 – Fangelset, Gothenburg (SE)
Words: Sarah Hardy
Photo: Myles Pettengil