Mixtape Prescription: Bell Gardens

Bell Gardens BWMuch has been made (probably by us) of how Bell Gardens was hatched over evenings spent sharing wine and vinyl, as band founders Kenneth Gibson and Brian McBride shared their mutual love for the sounds of eras past.   We asked them to put together a mixtape of some of their favourites to share with us.  To go along with the mix we’ve asked them a few questions.

Bell Gardens presents “In So Much As” by Southern on Mixcloud

This mix seems to be really representative of the types of songs that inspired Bell Gardens – is there a particular quality or character in these songs that ties them together for you?

Brian McBride: I remember some Dennis Wilson bootlegs were some of the first songs we cranked while we killed off the times.  We’d stumbled into “Barbara” and some of the Bamboo recordings most likely in one fell swoop. Inevitably a handful would be repeated over and over again. But to really answer your question, there’s obviously a lot of sadness in more than one of these songs. And many of these were our drinking songs. So feel free to psychologize at will.

Kenneth Gibson: Really great tunes and really late nights….and some early mornings as well. A fine mix of the many styles that have influenced where we have gone with Bell Gardens, a proper BG “mixtape” really. It is the quality AND the character that tie them together.

When you recorded the album, how did you try to replicate the sounds that you aspired to?  Did you use digital software?

KG: To get the sounds we wanted we used everything available to us. If we couldn’t do it ourselves we would get somebody else to do it, such as string and horn players. Yes, we used software. We use computers to record and we have used soft synths and samplers when needed. I’m not sure where the rumor got started that we didn’t use software, but its not true. That being said, we would choose a real piano or strings over software any day and you definitely can’t duplicate something like a pedal steel with software.

How many musicians were involved in the recording of the album?  Is the  performing band different than the recording band?  Are Brian and Kenneth the only two constants?

KG: If we couldn’t do something ourselves we would get someone to make it happen. The majority of the record was done by us, outside of some of the drums, strings, horns and pedal steel.The current performing band is different then the album for sure. We have tried many different ways of doing things live and now finally have a great band, who will also be all over the next record as well.  Our drummer Charlie Woodburn and pedal steel player Julian Goldwhite have been with the live band since day one pretty much and Charlie plays drums on the album as well. We now have an outstanding keyboardist Mark Colgrove and bass player Chris Camacho and have also just recently added harmony singer and percussionist, Nelson Bragg to the live band as well.

When you play live, how are you presenting the album’s material – is it a simplified version?

BM: I don’t know if I’d say ‘simplified.’ When we first began to play live, we were really beholden to the original version of the songs and with time we let the songs develop into their own live identities. There is less going on in certain parts for sure. I mean it’s kinda impossible for Gibson to sing multiple harmonies with over twenty different layers just by himself. But there are also parts of the live material that have been un-simplified a bit.

If you could collaborate on writing on a song with one artist (dead or living) who would it be?

BM: That’s a tough one. I thought a couple of times early on that I always wanted to do a ‘pop’ record that was big in size. I guess I thought no one out there was pushing their music too hard to be bigger than itself, in terms of production and instruments. But, saying this, I should admit, that we don’t really know that much about current bands. Our heads seem to be elsewhere. That being said, I’ve always wondered what someone like Jeff Lynne or Jack Nitzsche would do with one of our songs. (Jack would work on it in heaven of course). I’ve even had aspirations about trying to contact Jeff to see if there was a way to record a song with him. Even though we’re pretty dyed-in-the-wool home-recorders, I’m intrigued by the possibility of how a different setting and a different set of ears can alter the music.

Bell Gardens’ album Full Sundown Assembly is available now on vinyl and CD in the Southern web shop, and from Sakistore in the USA.  Download available from iTunes.  Check our Gig Guide for upcoming dates by Bell Gardens.

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About Allison

Allison teamed up with John Loder as the very first Southern employee back in 1985 when they had the idea of starting up a record distribution company. Prior to that she published a fanzine (Savage Pink), played in bands, promoted shows, ran a venue (for about a week before the mayor shut it down), worked at a record distributor, and generally fought the punk wars. Now she is the owner & chief pot washer of Southern.