As back stories go, the Garden has one so great it reads like something dreamed up by the world’s coolest marketing firm.
Let’s start with the fact that the Orange County duo is made up of highly photogenic twins who share everything, including their thrift-store-chic clothes. Drummer Fletcher Shears and his singer-guitarist brother, Wyatt, are so tightly wired together they didn’t see the point of working with anyone else.
Then there’s what you get when you look for six degrees of separation between one of Orange County’s pioneering hardcore bands and one of the world’s most famous fashion designers. As Google will eventually reveal, the twins’ dad plays with ’80s punk survivors Shattered Faith. The siblings’ high cheekbones and model-calibre looks, meanwhile, got them pulled from the clubs of L.A. a couple of years ago and jetted over to Paris, where—complete lack of experience be damned—they found themselves on a catwalk for Yves Saint Laurent.
In the unlikely case you’re still not impressed, consider the Shearses’ knowledge of obscure punk rock. Anyone can cite Black Flag as an influence in 2015; Fletcher is more likely to pepper his conversation with references to cult trailblazers the Minutemen and the Big Boys. Off-stage, he’s not averse to strolling around the neighbourhood in women’s clothing—despite his willingness to drop the gloves in ice hockey, which he plays on a regular basis.
A complete mess of contradictions? Definitely, with the twins’ determination to defy all expectations colouring what they are out to achieve with the Garden.
Critics gushed all over the band’s 2013 debut, The Life and Times of a Paperclip, praising the songs as brief, snotty, and often bizarre blasts of genre-bending punk. When Fletcher picks up the phone at home in Los Angeles, he reveals that he and Wyatt are in the studio, working on a follow-up. Those who have an idea what to expect, he hints, are going to have to rethink their opinions on the Garden.
“People will, I think, be surprised by what we have to show next,” the drummer says. “I consider the band to be more of an experiment than anything else, so if people expect us to go on the same track that we have been going on, they will be very disappointed. We still have the same sound and overall vibe, but a lot of the things that we’re trying and adding in are very different than what we’ve done in the past. There’s a lot of improvising with us, but also a lot of deeper planning that we don’t really talk about and don’t have to talk about because we’ve been working together for so long. People would never expect violins or trumpets or pianos on the album, but you never know—there very well could be.”
Consider that a statement that the Garden has decided to follow the true ethos of punk, namely that there are no rules except the ones you choose to make up. That alone makes the band a hundred times more interesting than Green Day, Blink-182, and NOFX, not to mention every act that’s been booked for this year’s Warped Tour.
If the Shears brothers understand the true spirit of punk more than most of their generation, that has something to do with their upbringing. Their father fed them a steady formative-years diet of acts that ranged from Circle Jerks to Fatboy Slim to the Prodigy, and encouraged them to try whatever instruments were lying around the house.
“We grew up going to shows with my dad,” Fletcher relates. “The first time I saw Shattered Faith I was pretty young, maybe third or fourth grade. We started our first band in fifth grade. It was a band called Alert—we made stickers, one CD, and played, like, two shows.”
Those early concert-going experiences would leave a mark on the twins, especially in terms of warping their view of the world.
“I definitely was affected by a lot of weird, gnarly shit that I saw when I was young,” Fletcher says. “I went to a lot more shows than Wyatt did—I went pretty much every time my dad asked me when it wasn’t 21 and over. One time I saw a guy get his face stomped in—his eyeball popped out right before security dragged him out.”
As well-educated as the Shearses are in ancient SoCal punk history, the Garden was decidedly forward-thinking right from the start. After playing together in MHV, a three-piece influenced by jazz-punk agitators such as the Minutemen and Saccharine Trust, the brothers came to the conclusion that they didn’t want to live in the past.
So they shelved MHV and devoted their attention to the Garden, whose The Life and Times of a Paperclip is enough of a shape-shifting mindfuck to make you wonder what planet the Shearses were beamed down from. If straight-up weirdness is your thing, proceed directly to “8 Foot Tall Man Walking Out of the Forest”, during which Wyatt turns the line “I see an eight-foot-tall man/He’s walking out of the forest” into a mantra. Or cue up “Charlie”, a pummelling 58-second surf workout dusted with pixielike harp flourishes.
“The Apple” suggests impossibly suave mofo Bryan Ferry slumming it with postgrungers Girls Against Boys, while “Life as a Hanger” is spoken word mixed with feral swamp blues. The duo unleash their inner thrash kings for “Grass” and then hunker down in a Vegas lounge for “What We Are”. Only two songs are over a minute and a half, with the shortest clocking in at 22 seconds.
Fletcher admits that, when playing live, the Garden used to leave audiences wondering what the fuck they were being exposed to.
“The bands that we liked when we started out were the sort of creative but violent bands,” Fletcher recalls. “Raw, artsy punk bands like Francis Harold and the Holograms or Gestapo Khazi. But they didn’t really give a fuck about us, to be honest. The people that like those bands still don’t, to be honest. But we didn’t want to play for an older crowd, we wanted to play for younger kids. So it took us forever to play shows that had a decent crowd, or a crowd at all. A lot of people think that we started, and then just got big with fans right away. Nobody knows that we did a lot of shows in bars to nobody, where I had to sit on a ladder to play my drums.”
That’s changed today, with the Garden garnering mountains of press everywhere from Interview to the NME to every web-based music site that matters, yet still very much entrenched in the underground. As thrilled as he is at having already toured the world, not to mention having vogued on the catwalks of Europe, Fletcher says he and his brother remain stoked on the Garden for a more laudable reason: they’ve started to amass a following while playing by their own rules.
“I remember the first time I ever saw someone stage-dive to our music,” Fletcher says with a sense of wonder. “It was just the best feeling for me—to think that some kid was hyped up enough by what we’re doing to dive off a stage. I’ll never forget how totally cool that was.”
The Garden plays an afternoon Neptoon Records showcase and an Electric Owl show on Tuesday (February 24).