PLAYING SEATTLE: The “Cosmic Glitter” of Golden Gardens

COLUMNS|Playing Seattle

Cosmic glitter. That’s how singer Aubrey Bramble describes Golden Gardens, the band she co-founded with Gregg Neville in 2012. She’s dead on, of course.

Their last album, 2016’s Reign, is one ethereal, melancholic starburst after another. Likewise, the listening experience of  their newest single, “Desert Rose,” is less a walk on parched earth than it is a flight through iridescent heavens. There’s mirage-like synth, shimmering guitars, and Bramble’s vocals lingering across it all like a comet tail.

Currently in the midst of an eight-week tour, Bramble works as an energy healer on the road from the band’s converted minivan before sailing into a dreamworld at night. She took some time out of her busy day to chat about her love of poet Mary Oliver and musician Bryan Ferry, the beloved Seattle park that inspired Golden Garden’s name, and what the future may hold for this powerful trio.

AF: Hi Aubrey. Tell me, how did you get into music? 

AB: Golden Gardens is my first real band. I’ve always loved singing and secretly wanted to do it professionally for a long time but never had any formal training. I just sang along to a lot of Sundays, Cranberries, Cocteau Twins, Cardigans, and Kate Bush growing up and fantasized about performing on stage. I played a little violin in elementary school and can also play some bass and keyboard but that’s mostly by ear. 

AF: What about the rest of the band? How did the band meet each other? 

AB: Golden Gardens was originally just Gregg Neville and myself. I met Gregg in 2006 or 2007, when we were both living in Tampa, FL. I curated and hosted a bunch of art, film, and music events at the local skatepark there and I booked his solo noise project a few times. We didn’t start the band until after I moved to Seattle; he was still living in Tampa. Eventually he moved to Seattle so we could do the band thing for real. That was in 2012. We were looking to add a drummer to the lineup directly following the release of Reign and that’s when we met Carl. He joined the band in 2017 as a drummer, but he now plays guitar predominantly (in addition to other instruments in the studio). He and I make up the current touring/writing lineup. 

AF: What’s the story behind your band name? Does it have to do with the beloved Seattle park by the same name?

AB: Our band name does in fact come from the Seattle park! I hadn’t been in Seattle very long when we were trying to think of a name and I remember seeing the sign for Golden Gardens while driving over the Ballard Bridge one day, thinking that it sounded like such a magical place. Very Alice in Wonderland and dream-like. Turns out the park is pretty beautiful — it’s on the Sound and there’s spectacular views of the Olympic Mountains and these giant brightly-colored poppies grow there in the Spring too. So, it just felt perfect. 

AF: I know you’re influence by Bryan Ferry, Cocteau Twins, and Depeche Mode. What about these artists reach you as a band and inspire you?

AB: I’m pretty inspired by the pageantry and sense of luxury in the music of Bryan Ferry. It’s all very exaggerated and lofty and wafting and velvety. It inspires me to lean in to the glitter factor whenever possible. I don’t think you can be too extra when it comes to art.

The power coupling of dream-like, layer-cake guitars and ethereal, otherworldly vocals of the Cocteau Twins has always made my heart burst sonically. It’s a vibe I aspire to (but don’t want to mimic exactly). My intention for our music has always been to hypnotize and lull listeners into a rainbow-colored, aural reverie. Like Audrey Horne always says, “Isn’t it too dreamy?” That’s my goal – dreaminess. 

As for Depeche Mode, it’s all about the sparkly darkness! I love their moody, gothy, seductive aesthetic. Not to mention, the synth programming is so impeccable in all of their songs, especially on Music For The Masses. That level of sharpness, attention to detail, precision, and focus is something that is really impressive to me. Plus, they’ve produced some pretty fire bangers. 

AF: Do you feel like you’re in conversation with any other bands in Seattle musically? What about outside of Seattle?

AB: We don’t really feel like we’re in conversation musically with any bands in Seattle at the moment, but there are a bunch of bands in town we really love like Wind Burial, jjjacob jjjames, Belgian Fog, somesurprises, Charlatan… the list could go on. As for bands outside of Seattle… Beach House, Drab Majesty, and Tamaryn are all bands we feel sonically connected to. 

AF: Tell me about the instrumentation of the band. How do you get that dreamy sound?

AB: On the guitars we use a lot of stereo delay and stereo chorus, as well as some pitch shifting. We also use some of those same effects on the drums. For the synths we are really inspired by a Pure Moods-mixed-with-’80s-post-punk kind of vibe so we look for plug-ins and analog settings that can achieve that sound, and then we’ll usually add some of our own effects on top. 

AF: What inspired “Desert Rose,” the new single?

AB: Lyrically, the song was inspired by my favorite Mary Oliver poem, “Wild Geese.” It’s a good one to look up if you’ve never read it. To me, it’s about how much we torture ourselves unnecessarily — how we hyper-focus on the small picture instead of opening our eyes to the bigger one. There’s a line that I adore: “you only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” It’s so beautiful. It’s a pretty powerful message and it really came to my rescue during a particularly anguishing emotional time for me last year. 

AF: Does this single feel like a next step in the band’s evolution? How so?

AB: Definitely. Carl and I wrote this song together and it’s a very different process than how we previously wrote songs as a band. It was a very collaborative experience where we sat in a room together and programmed everything out and made musical decisions in real-time (versus working independently). I wrote the bass part (and play bass on the recording), which was really fun for me since I’ve previously just stuck to vocal melodies. We also worked with the amazing producer Randall Dunn (Zola Jesus, Chelsea Wolfe, Marissa Nadler) to record the track; it was a way more immersive and organic experience than what we’ve done in the past. He challenged us to come up with improvised parts in the studio and pushed us out of our comfort zone. 

AF: Is it teasing a forthcoming album? If so, tell me a little bit about that album and when it will drop?

AB: We are definitely working on more songs but that’s all I want to say at the moment. 

AF: Tell me about your tour — how long will you be out there? 

AB: We are touring for almost eight weeks! We are making a big loop around the entire country. We started in Seattle, went south through Oregon and California, across the Southwest, into the South, and up the east coast. I am currently answering from Madison, WI where we have a show tonight before hitting the road to Minneapolis in a couple days and then continuing our westward journey towards home. It’s a big trip but Carl and I both work jobs that don’t conform to a traditional 9-5 schedule (he’s a music teacher and I’m an energy worker), so we wanted to use that freedom to our advantage and really do it. Plus, it made more sense as far as gas and travel time and booking went.

We are driving around in a minivan that we converted into a stealth camper – we built a full size bed for the back and also have a camping stove, long term cooler, etc. so it makes it fairly simple (and cheap) to tour. We’ve also been staying with friends and family here and there along the way. It’s been a pretty wild adventure! 

AF: Is touring a creative time for you as a band? Or a dormant one? 

AB: Tour has been creatively nourishing for sure, and we’ve been coming up with a lot of ideas for what we want to do next. I’ve been keeping a journal where I write down potential lyrics and subject matter for new songs. We haven’t had a ton of time to write on this tour, but we did just finish a song that we had in process on a day off in Philadelphia and then added it to our set in Chicago. I feel like playing live and getting feedback night after night has been really valuable for our creative process also. 

AF: What are some goals you had as a band that you’ve accomplished? What are some you’re still hoping to achieve?

AB: I just feel so lucky that our music seems to resonate with people — that’s probably the biggest accomplishment I could hope for. Obviously I’d love to get a song on a commercial or movie soundtrack and we definitely want to tour in Europe. Mostly though, I just want to continue to grow and evolve as a musician and make music as much as possible with people I respect and admire. 

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