Things change in Devonian Gardens. Things stay the same in Devonian Gardens. There is only Devonian Gardens.
We’d like to describe the way that “Solar Shifting” – the indescribably great album released this past year by the Canadian band Devonian Gardens (and out May 13, 2014, on CD from BBiB Records) – has dominated our consciousness through recent months. But to do that, we need to beat a dead horse, an exercise viewed as futile at best (although regular exercise is essential, it could be argued).
In this case, the dead horse is in fact “Dead Horse,” a Canadian band that we praised as “Band of the Week” some two and a half years ago – and one that we still listen to with alarming regularity to this day. You see, Dead Horse is Devonian Gardens. Or was. Or perhaps someday will be again. It’s all fairly unimportant.
What we would like to impart, rather, is the enlivening, sometimes subtle sonic blossoming that is Devonian Gardens on “Solar Shifting.” Devonian Gardens are one of those special bands that really don’t sound quite like any other band – at once not trying to sound like any other band and not not trying to sound like any other band. They are naturally beautiful. They are Devonian Gardens. There is only Devonian Gardens.
We couldn’t be more thrilled to have Devonian Gardens answer our ridiculous questions below. Enjoy.
How is your perception of yourself altered by playing music with others? What have you learned about yourself through playing music that you were most surprised to learn? Does being in a band impact the way you think about other bands in any noticeable way?
Jennifer Crighton: You grow and expand your form when you are working with other people whose skills you respect. There are times when differences of opinion can create some tension, but ultimately the act of being in a band like this is about sharing ideas with other people you think are amazing. This means we are always pushing each other’s boundaries as we respond and adjust to a wealth of musical options much greater than we would have at our disposal as individuals. I think more about the relationships in bands than I did before I had the experience of being in one, imagining what shared or disparate influences were brought to the table by each member and about the circumstances that allowed them to be combined in such a way.
Danny Vescarelli: I ponder my own characteristics and those of bands as a way to discover new directions and sense what comes naturally as opposed to what takes focus, and I’ve realized if I’m oblivious to any “should do that / shouldn’t do that” thought process, then that’s when music feels best. Playing has been an extraordinary and sometimes bumpy road towards self-fulfillment and group betterment, with perception navigating the give-and-take that goes along with that.
Marie Sulkowski: To me, the musician’s journey can feel like climbing a never ending ladder, where all the steps have not yet materialized. Reaching out to grab hold of the next notch in the sequence, and finding out it is not yet in existence. Just as soon as preparing to plummet, the step appears and the journey continues. It always surprises me when you think that you have hit a dead end, but something within speaks up and finds a solution. Through playing music I have learned that music is always being created within the self, conscious or unconscious. It is impossible to tune out; the dial was broken off ages ago. So the never-ending quest for balance continues, and it impacts the way I think about other music, art, life, and existence in general.
Ryan Bourne: For me it’s the transition from chronic thinking solo experiencer to participant in this really visceral landscape. Self-perception is sort of turned inside out, and replaced by a kind of polyhedral organism I’m an arm of. There’s a lot of surprise, a lot of mystery in that process, every time we play. Being in a band has involved a deepening recognition of the community, that there are all these collectives of fabulous weirdos out there, and this great exchange that comes from that in terms of inspiration, competition, mutual support.
Can you point to a specific live performance that triggered a shift in your own personal musical evolution, leaving an impression to this day? What was it about that performance that made it so compelling to you? What does the word “performance” mean to you in the context of Devonian Garden playing live?
DV: Around 2003 I tripped into a small town bar and caught this bluesy band with a serious “Freedom Rock” bent. They’d upped the anti by bringing a lighting rig, a keyboardist with a Leslie speaker acquired from an ex-Iron Butterfly member, one guitarist in a Tex-Mex poncho and cowboy hat plus another with a big red ZZ-biker beard, a bandana and a madman voice possessed by 110% heartland gusto. I learned a lot about performance energy that night, and of music’s ability to transport. There was also something about these older gentlemen that helped me understand the lifelong commitment one could be making in becoming a performer.
MS: I think music is the release of soul energy. When an audience ingests that energy, they take it and make something of it that is unique to them. If it is received and reciprocated, then a VIBE is set in place and to me that is performing. Also cloaking oneself in freaky garbs is pretty alright as well.
RB: There was one time in the Gulf Islands on the Canadian West Coast I forgot what kind of sweet I’d ingested before the set and found myself in an absolutely delicious bliss, just mind fucked at how GOOD it felt to play. There was no apparent obstruction to ability and the band-brain was sort of playing me while I was playing it. That one stuck. Performing with DG is like being near the bottom of a river – it feels thick, heavy. Performance is a kind of absorption we’re all involved in that we’re inviting the audience to participate in. That absorption dictates the physical performance – and the garb.
JC: Up until I first played with a jazz quartet at music college, a long time ago now, my musical experiences had been either classical where my part was really precise and prescribed, or rebelling against that structure by writing and performing solo. Improvisation with other people was something that completely changed the way I listened, my perception of the whole structure of a song, its elements and how it fit together and could be deconstructed. In a live performance setting that meant getting behind ideas before you knew they would work. It really illustrated how much of music hinges on the element of trust and how absolutely essential that is. Listening to each person perceiving the soul of a song, interpreting a melody or group of chords in their own way, has become invaluable. It continues to alter and expand my own musical horizons exponentially, adding to the straight-up pleasure of jamming stuff out.
Further into the cave of personal musical evolutions, what bands or artists were you most obsessed with in your youth, and what is your relationship to that music now? What was the first non-musical influence – a book, a sculpture, a conversation, etc. – that you were conscious of coming through your music?
RB: Obvious one, but the first three Floyd albums, and “Relics,” all of which I discovered randomly on cassette in junior high (they sold said cassettes at department stores back then, and there was no Internet yet). They’re still these strange artifacts of a magical, inexhaustible realm I want to lose myself in. First non-musical influence was the obvious experimentation that “See Emily Play” might lead a 16-year-old to, and how that informed the pop-psych books on Tibetan Buddhism and a particular cartoon book of Zen koans I pored over endlessly.
JC: My dad had a doozy of a record collection. Joni Mitchell’s self-portrait on the cover of “Clouds” produced a kind of terrified wonder in me. She was so intense with that quintessential Canadian landscape behind her. I probably wrote my first real song in response to her music. I was always seeking out the women especially, who to this day still blow my mind … The Breeders, Liz Phair, Mazzy Star and Bjork, to name a few. The more I look forward in music the more I am inclined to look back; you have to do both to keep a sense of balance, to see how much everything is informed by everything else. As for non-musical influences I went to a Steiner school where we regularly sang our times-tables, so I never saw music as particularity separate from the things that influenced it; it was just another tool for perception.
DV: My broad tastes might be traceable to the early 90s – I was super into country music before converting to Nirvana-worship and heavier rock by the middle of the decade. Later on, when playing music was finally starting to stick, my parents gifted me the “Rust Never Sleeps” film and the unofficial Jimmy McDonough biography on Neil Young. This continually significant influence (read: nerdy obsession) arrived in time for my transition away from home, providing the best examples of how themes like soul searching, hang-ups and spaced-out ramblings can drift from life into song without making everyone else uncomfortable.
MS: I listened to a ton of ELO when I was younger. The album “Time” hit me like a brick the first time I heard it. I was nine years old and my parents were driving on the autobahn. It felt like lift off. These days my favorite band is … ELO, still, I love them! They cover it all for me. I recommend them to anyone’s ears. As for non-musical, space and time seem to extract themselves from my psyche, as well as the topics of karma and the non-material world.
From an artistic sense – or a spiritual sense, or a personal sense, or all three – what does the name Devonian Gardens represent to you? Was there a single reason for the change in name away from Deadhorse? How have your ambitions or impressions of the band altered or shifted since that shift?
JC: By definition, the Devonian Gardens are a fecund, murky and mystical place populated by giant hairy fern-like plants, where fish take their first slippery steps out of the primordial ooze. It’s a garden marking a seminal time for evolution. Our namesake is also an indoor glass house in downtown Calgary that used to be a prime spot to make out and drop out; you could hide from the often extreme and changeable Calgary weather, with the overfed koi and slightly haggard looking turtles in a steamy oasis. In a way, the contrast between the mystical and humorous elements implied by the new name is something you might only really get if you lived here and had visited to the old Devonian Gardens (they have since been redesigned). For us, the contradiction of meaning preserves a grain of the irreverence intended by our original moniker, albeit with a different vibe. If you’ve gotten your hands on a copy of our first record, you could take a good look at back cover, where this journey and transformation was potentially foretold, many moons ago.
We changed the name because we were asked to, or rather threatened in the legal sense. It was also the right time to do so. The old moniker was officially retired at a local “End of the World” music festival on December 21, 2012. The symbolism of laying a dead horse to rest in order to grow a primordial garden is not lost on us, either; it feels very apt at this moment. I would say that the new name suggests the kind of exuberant growth of sound and ideas that comes working with so many songwriters, this band is very much like an unruly and slightly out of control garden we are tasked with tending.
When listening to your stunning new album “Solar Shifting,” we’re struck by just how much individual emotion runs throughout, with the result not being a schizophrenic sound but rather a cohesive whole. What perspectives do you feel other band members contribute that, left to your own devices, you would not be able to offer to the Devonian Gardens sound? Did you set out with a vision of “Solar Shifting” as a complete LP or did these songs have to find a way to live together?
Melissa McWilliams: Since most of the tunes weren’t recorded live off-the-floor, we had to adapt daily routines with our producer Jay Crocker to, like you said, find a way for them to live together. Almost like a reverse restraining order effect, we were never more than a few feet away from each other throughout most of this journey. The sound is wholly due to the fact that we always had each other to confide in. We all played a role in each other’s installments. As the drummer for this band, the others and especially my rhythmic better, Bourne, play such a huge role in my part. I’m so astounded everyday to be able to collaborate with such imaginative writers that create a kaleidoscope-like bed for me to rest my talents.
Without asking you to spell-out anything such blatant as a “meaning,” what does the song “Night Beams” mean to you? Are we hearing this line correctly – “Once upon a time, there were many confused eyes, there were too many things to decide, well that time is right now” – and if so, what can you tell us about its origin?
MS: “Night Beams” is a very old song, I wrote it almost ten years ago. You are close to getting that line right, but instead of “confused eyes,” it is “confused lives.” Although, “confused eyes” is waaaaaaay better in my opinion! I wish I wrote that! As an 18 year old, my whole trip was of time speeding up, “day and night spiral hand in hand” (sun sets, moon rises, and repeat) wake up, do the drill, sleep, have dreams, wake up, have coffee, go to work, go home, eat, sleep. Try not to think about it, just keep going. The times of the past, present, future. Not being in tune with much, but just existing. I think I was feeling much of this at that time. I have learned much since then. I think these days I would be like, “Hey self, what about survival? It’s a thing, grow up! Things are OK if you make them that way, you young ass turd.”
Would you care to comment on the rumor (the rumor that we are attempting to start right now) that your next album will be a concept album about the band Devo working in a nursery with Ian Curtis, entitled “Devo ‘n Ian: Gardens!”?
DV: We’d much rather continue with our meditations on the attempted absence of any delectable thought of Booji Boy in his crib banging away at “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)” with guest-babysitter Bernard Shakey, for all of heaven’s eternity.
What music have you been listening to lately? If push comes to shove, what is your favorite song by Shooting Guns and why?
MM: The only thing you should be listening to: Our Solar System.
RB: Marie and I are listening to Amen Dunes, Robbie Basho, and early renaissance music as we write this. We can’t think and listen to Shooting Guns at the same time.
DV: While not necessarily one of the deepest Shooting Guns cuts, “Public Taser” was the first one to cut me (and the first cut is the deepest). That one amazing riff comes around a few times as the song builds, like a normal, albeit above-average bass/guitar fill, then suddenly it’s getting looped and dug into so good and it’s like “hell fucking yeah! The fill is the chorus, the fill is the chooorruus!!”
In his book “The Age of Wonder: How the romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science,” author Richard Holmes (rumored to be the original drummer for Shooting Guns) says the following:
“Physical vision – one might say scientific vision – brings about a metaphysical shift in the observer’s view of reality as a whole. The geography of the earth, or the structure of the solar system, are in an instant utterly changed, and forever. The explorer, the scientific observer, the literary reader, experience the Sublime: a moment of revelation into the idea of the unbounded, the infinite.”
RB: A lost Douglas Adams cover depicting Shooting Guns’ original drummer Richard Holmes floating in concentric crystal spheres using a magnifying glass to turn a bowl of DNA strands into jelly belly Mobius strips.
What’s next for Devonian Gardens?
JC: We have some definite plans, and plenty of dreams too. These days you have to be a bit of a dreamer to be in this business; luckily we all have that trait in spades, and some amazing support for this album in particular, which makes the dreaming come to life. 2013 was a year of seismic shifts, of literal fires and floods from which we have emerged, steeled and determined, as a new band. We are looking forward to touring east in the spring, getting out and about for 2014 in as many ways as we can. We’ll also be releasing the celestial animation we have been working on for the “Solar Shifting” title track. Then of course, always, always writing, which will necessitate heading back into the studio before too long. It’s one big magical ball of string that is constantly unraveling, with us doing our best to follow that thread as it is spooled out.
“Solar Shifting” by Devonian Gardens is available digitally at Beyond Beyond Is Beyond Records’ Bandcamp page. The CD version will be released on May 13, 2014.