Gordon Von Villa is like some weird cigar-puffing, Tony Clifton brass showbiz type from another time. Granted, “Gordon”is fictional, but he’s the base of Gardens & Villa’s fourth album, Gordon Von Zilla Presents: Gardens & Villa (Aug. 14).
When longtime producer, Richard Swift passed away in 2018, the band—vocalist Chris Lynch, bassist Shane McKillop, drummer Dusty Ineman, and keyboardist Adam Rasmussen—left their unintentional hiatus following 2015’s Music for Dogs, regrouped to pay tribute to the Swift, forming a supergroup, The Hex Band, featuring members of Foxygen, Lucius, Damien Jurado, James Mercer, and other artists who had a connection to the late producer. Still inspired after the shows, Gardens & Villa returned to Swift’s National Freedom and started working through Gordon with producer Jonathan Rado of Foxygen.
Gordon Von Zilla Presents: Gardens & Villa is a collection of expansive electronic fusions weaved around fully textured arrangements of heavy synth and trippy beats all guided by Lynch’s melodically spaced out vocals and nuanced narratives exploring everything from loss, isolation, moving on, and even falling in love on the dance floor and being baptized under a Los Angeles rainstorm. Filled with different worlds and characters, Gordon Von Zilla Presents lives up to its name. A voyage into some unknown, it’s like a warped play, starring Gardens & Villa, that you can’t seem to keep your eyes off.
Reflecting on the new album and where Gardens & Villa are now, nearly a decade since their self-titled debut, Lynch shares stories from the band’s journey with Gordon, still finding inspiration in Swift, the often abstract concepts around their songs, and the time the band recently broke up.
American Songwriter: First off, you have to tell us about the title of this album, Gordon Von Zilla Presents. Who is Gordon Von Zilla, and what has he done to Gardens & Villa?
Chris Lynch: Gordon is a character that the late, great Richard Swift invented while we were recording the Televisor EP with him back in 2013. Gordon Von Zilla Presents Gardens and Villa has a wicked ring to it, right? Gordon is sort of like a mean Mr. Mustard mixed with Sgt. Pepper and maybe Jim Carrey as “Tony Clifton.” He’s the archetype of a cigar-smoking, mustached show biz big-shot from a bygone era.
To elaborate more on that first question, it’s been nearly a decade since your debut. Where is the band now? How have you evolved over this time, as writers and musicians leading up to this fourth release? Have you noticed that you approach songwriting differently now?
The band has evolved quite a lot. We’ve been recording each other and friends and all kinds of side projects for a long time now, and we have slowly and steadily perfected our craft and the sounds that we like. When we get together and plug our instruments in, we have that easy connection and can jump into a jam almost instantaneously. It’s that familiar rhythm-glue that comes from playing hundreds of shows together over years of touring. The feel that is impossible to find with hired musicians or random studio players. Our friendships have evolved too and our connections are deeper and more compassionate—I would like to believe—but we still bicker and fight and make fun of each other a lot. We try to keep things light and fun, though. As writers, I think we are definitely reaching our zenith, or peak, or best zone yet. The approach and method is roughly the same. I try to see myself as an antennae channeling sounds from cosmic space. I try not to impose my will or any very specific ideas too strongly. We like to let the songs arise and write themselves as much as possible.
Richard Swift worked with you guys since your 2011 debut. In piecing together Gordon Von Zilla, and working out of his studio in Oregon again, how did his spirit, and the experience of your previous work with him over the years, seep into Gordon Von Villa Presents?
The period of time that we spent at Richard’s studio was totally cathartic and sentimental at times, sort of like therapy mixed with a spiritual gathering. There was much reminiscing and laughing and a little heaviness at times. We were using almost all his gear, and it really felt like he was in the room with us at points. We recorded almost everything live to tape, which we hadn’t done since our debut record, and the signal chains that Richard left were perfectly intact. It was crazy to be there with Jonathan Rado (who produced the session) as we met him back in 2009 after playing a show at a Borders Book Store in Thousand Oaks, CA. He and Sam [France] (Foxygen) hung out with us after our set, and we all gushed about Richard Swift, nerding out together about his sounds and space echo usage and red lighting and one liners. Swift sort of fathered both of our bands around the same time, so to be there together again was really special. There was a feeling of sacred return or pilgrimage or honoring that I can’t quite explain with words.
When did you start writing this album? Was it predominantly recorded in 2019, pre-COVID?
Yes, it was pre-COVID, but oddly some of the songs didn’t really make sense thematically or lyrically until COVID hit, and it feels weird and odd that it aligned with these themes, particularly the last song of the record, “Its Not the End” and the song “Curious Sun,” which is about leaving the city during an apocalypse.
Were any songs held over from Music for Dogs (2015), or are all completely new to Gordon?
All the songs are completely new except for “Rosie,” which we recorded a version of before Music for Dogs. I think I recorded around 15 versions of “Rosie.” We have about 15 leftover demos from Music for Dogs that I want to hit up again pretty soon. Maybe we will do a full record of demos someday.
Take me through some of the songs and the overall concept of Gordon Von Zilla Presents.
This record is about loss and love and failure and getting over it and trying to “laugh about it all again” as Leonard [Cohen] used to say. All the songs have different worlds almost like a series of cartoons like the drawing on the cover of the record. Each song represents different spaces and places and times where we found ourselves at some point during the last four years of chaos. A lot of stuff happened, and we kept coming up against obstacles, which tried to prevent us from making this record. The greatest of these being the passing of Swift, the least of these being getting evicted from our warehouse home studio space on the LA river by the fire department. A lot of weird and amazing stuff happened and at one point we even broke up as a band. There is a lot of stuff and even some fiction. The Spotify version of the record has a song called “Walker Lake” which is a sci-fi thriller song about a space man entering the atmosphere of a nuclear-wasted earth. The final song of the record “It’s Not the End” is about not giving up hope even as the world is collapsing. “Soaked” is about being baptized by an LA rain storm, and “Underneath the Moon” is about falling in love on the dance floor. “Hurrah” is a sort of eulogy/cry/pray for a fallen hero, while “Rosie” is an elvish emo song. So as you can see there are a lot of worlds and feelings and characters involved. You have to listen to find them all.
In light of everything happening in the world right now, where does the music of Gordon Von Zilla fit in all of this? Are there some songs that have taken on new meaning from the time they were written to now?
I’m not sure where the music world is or how it will recover from all of this recent stuff. I’m not sure how society in general will recover or if it will be radically altered. For me this is a time of listening and going back to the earth. Growing food and working in the soil. The song “Kissing the Ground” is about this, building community and playing and sharing music as a collective healing mechanism. Although we recorded much of this a year ago, I think it reflects many of these sentiments. The song “It’s Not the End” feels pertinent and like it might be exactly what I am feeling right now. Some of the other songs like “Hurrah” also feel good to let soak in or cry with and or let out some emotion. Others like “Sojourner” and “Like a Bird” are dreamy escapes, like watching a mystical movie to get your mind off something. Remember those nights chasing the wee hours, dressed in white, floating like a cloud, drifting through a party of the future, nervously looking around for the frantic heart throb, crowded hallways thick as the kick drum thumping in the walls. Smash the way through the living room blaring house band, chase the twinkling eyes walking away with another, holding hands, laughing to their French getaway car. Let them go. Let ’em all go away to an oblivion world, where you can sip your tears and wipe your heart clean and drain the heaviness. Lift up the soul light as a feather that lost itself in the wind.