Q&A: An interview with Garden City

We caught up with Joel Ansett and Dan Decristofaro of Garden City to find out everything essential in getting to know the new duo; including how they navigate the difficulties of being in a long distance band mate relationship and their current project of releasing one live performance video a month. 

Hi Garden City! How did you meet?
Joel: We met on a patio outside a college dorm, and literally two minutes into meeting we started sharing song ideas, haha.

Is there any particular meaning behind your band name?
Definitely. The simplest meaning is really that we met at Grove City, so the name is a sort of shout out to our roots. The bigger meaning is a great big metaphor. It's almost too big because the meaning is always changing and expanding for us. Right now what really hits home is that the garden of Eden is this beautiful picture of perfection; there is no shame, no sorrow, no guilt, and no tears; intimacy with your creator, intimacy with nature, and with humanity. It's a place filled with meaningful work, creativity, and never-ending pleasures. No matter what you believe, it sounds like a great place. But when we talk about it we almost always talk about going back to that place.

 The idea of a Garden City is a hope that the story of the world is one of absolute redemption and that there is a future Eden that will be even better than the first. A perfect kingdom that's not just a garden, but also a city. A place where God's work and man's work are gloriously intertwined as we imitate God with our own creativity. A place that has joys we haven't even imagined. Maybe there's pleasures and emotions a million times stronger than love. Maybe we'll play planetary capture the flag. Maybe you'll be able to build a castle just by describing it. Maybe you'll live in some sort of enormous oak tree with a skyscraper as the trunk, and host decade long parties. Redemption is the idea. I'm sure it sounds crazy, but we believe the story of the world is ultimately one of redemption, and we're doing our best to write songs that tell that story.

This year you've been introducing yourselves by revealing one live performance video a month on Youtube. How did this concept come about?
Despite living in different cities, Denver, Colardo (Joel) and Boston Massachusetts (Dan) we meet up every other month to write these songs and make these videos. We wanted the foundation of our band to be in the honesty of a live performance; but living in different cities means we can't exactly build a live concert following just yet. Hence this live performance video.

And how's that been going for you?

It's  just been amazing to have the built-in accountability to keep creating. Being in different cities it would be very easy to launch something and then just let it sit there. It's not easy to stay motivated when you're in different places so having the goal of one live video a month keeps us focused on writing and creating regularly. It's great even just to look back over these first five months and think, man, we've released 5 songs!! That's more efficient and productive than I've been on any other project. And to think at the end of the year we may have as many as 10 or 11 songs released is a very exciting thought.

Are you working up to release the live performance tracks as a live album next year?

We're planning to release the live tracks as singles throughout this year. Not sure if they'll be compiled into an album yet or not. But the goal is to build a sort of grass-roots fan base with the videos this year, and hopefully that will create enough desire for a studio album going into a next year.

Could you give us a  track by track breakdown on the ideas behind the songs in each live performance vid you've released so far?

'I Need You' - Joel: This song was amazing to write because both of us were working on separate song ideas and realized if you took the verses from one and the chorus from the other it made a great match. It's actually kind of fitting that this is the first song we released because the two separate ideas came together so seamlessly; almost like a sign that starting a band while in two different cities might just work out. The song is about embracing dependence. We would much prefer to be completely autonomous, independent, and self-sufficient but this song is about the struggle and eventual beauty of being spiritually needy. It's counter-intuitive but maybe self-fulfillment is a side effect of not depending on yourself so much.

'Through' - Joel: This song was written after watching the movie "Boyhood." That boy's story is unfortunately common and it hit me pretty hard that if I had met him out of the blue, with no back-story, I probably would have judged him for being emotionless and removed; but really with everything he had been through he had every right to be that way. For him that "distant" sort of personality was just an honest state of self-preservation to cope with his pain. It honestly made me sick to my stomach to think of some of the people I have met that I just make snap judgments about. Some specific people came to mind and I realized if I knew more of their story I would probably see them much differently. Everybody has had some level of deep pain, it's part of being human; and this song is about taking the time to learn about the people's stories around me; especially people I dislike or have just flat-out judged. Proud evaluation can turn into commiseration if we listen to each other's stories.

'King of Love' - Dan: Sometimes when writing, you have a lot on your mind and you know exactly what you are going to say. Sometimes, you feel the weight of song on your shoulders, but you have no idea what it is or where to start. This song was written at a time in my life when I had an obsession with being loved by people. I would get very disappointed when I hurt people or let them down, regardless of my intentions. One afternoon I was feeling heavy and I was face down on the piano, waiting for something to hit me. So I started to play the keys in an attempt to mirror my mood and speak the words I couldn't find. Before I knew it, I started singing and the words that I needed to hear came right out of me, capturing the struggle between my desire and inability.

'Graveyard' - Dan: This song is about a perfect moment. The kind of moment that was specifically designed just for you to give you exactly what you need and lift you up. I think we all have these moments where we feel touched by something bigger than us...it's truly humbling and made me feel loved. We wrote this song in response to that moment.

'Foolish Ways' - Dan: I'm in my mid-20's and I have been struggling with bad habits, the influence of bad company, and refusal to change. I started writing the song as a reflection on the personal habits I have that cause the most strain in my relationships and how I am foolish for being unwavering about them. My good friend Jake Clough heard the tune and we jumped into an inspired conversation about jesters being fools, but having one of the most important roles in the kingdom. While not the most glamorous role at times, jesters get to be at the right hand of the king and have a great deal of influence because of the king. The line from the song that struck me most was "shaping the mouth of the one who speaks a word and kingdom comes". As artists and entertainers, our work can shape people. If you inspire one person, you could change the world.

I read you've been shooting these videos all  in one-take! Even though you are clearly professionals, have you been worried about making a mistake in the recordings?
Dan: We always have a blast, but we are very aware of each other's personal sacrifices and our collective desire to get the most out of every session. We prepare tirelessly during the day or two leading up to our recording session and keep each other pumped and energized. But as soon as we finish the recordings, everyone looks dead from the sheer exhaustion of "being in the zone" for days on end.

Joel: A little worried for sure. I mean we all go out of our way to be together for a session; using vacation days, buying flights, lots of logistics. There are big sacrifices being made, so there is definitely pressure to make something we're proud to release. But it's a healthy sort of pressure, and it probably makes the music better. And part of the beauty is that we're learning to embrace little imperfections in some of the takes. In each of the songs we've released so far I can easily find moments I'm not thrilled about, but I think through the process we're learning how to own a performance and the humanity of it.

And lastly, could you give us a couple of names on the  acoustic/ folk scene who influence your sound?
Joel: Man, there's a lot that aren't folk artists but I do think of Sufjan and Iron & Wine
Dan: Yeah, for me it's Civil Wars and Matt Corby's early work.

Interview feature by Karla Harris