Following their show at UCLA, I sat down with Lady Danville’s keyboardist Michael Garner to learn a little more about the band. We chatted about their hometown of Danville, California, the goofiness of Ben Folds, celebrity doppelgangers, a particularly inspiring mysterious-hippie-kindergarten teacher, and the ups and downs of going on the road. An amicable and friendly-faced guy, Michael was easy to talk to and made the band’s catchy music all the more likeable. If you haven’t read the review of their UCLA performance yet, go here to get a feel for their sound and set.
Claire Gallagher: What are your names and what instruments do you play?
Michael Garner: I’m Michael, I play keys and sing. Dan plays the guitar and sings. Matt plays percussion and sings.
CG: Where’re you guys from?
MG: Danville, California. It’s in Northern California—East Bay.
CG: Did you all grow up there?
MG: Matt grew up, like, 20 or 30 minutes away. We kinda identify Danville as the home base even though we didn’t meet until [we went to] UCLA.
CG: So, how did the band come together?
MG: We met in…Dan and I were auditioning for an a capella group, Awaken A Capella, and Matt was actually a judge in the group—he was already in the group, he was the beatboxer—so Dan and I were at the audition. It was pretty intimidating. There were a lot of really good singers and really good-looking people [laughs]. We ended up making it (they took a bunch of people that year, so I attribute it to that…) and then we started playing music together outside of the a capella group and jamming in my dorm room. I was an RA (Resident Assistant) at the time, but I definitely made a lot of noise.
CG: Where’d you live?
MG: Reiber [Hall].
MG: So, Dan and I actually had a couple classes together so he would come over and we’d, like, try to write papers but would instead end up making music. And then, eventually, we performed in Spring Sing, just Dan and I, and a bunch of things at UCLA, and eventually Matty joined the band and made it into a real band.
CG: Cool. So, who are some of your biggest musical influences?
MG: Mine personally?
CG: Ya, or you guys as a band.
MG: I think harmony-wise we’re really inspired by Guster, by Simon and Garfunkel. Not just your basic harmony…kind of like dueling melodies. Modern bands that I’m really into right now, that are inspiring? I like Band of Horses a lot, um, Vampire Weekend. There’s this band, actually—one of the guys went to UCLA and I’m friends with him—he’s in this great band called Local Natives. Death Cab [for Cutie]’s always a big inspiration for us in writing, you know, lyrically, and also for guitar lines and stuff. Um, Ben Folds is a huge influence.
CG: You did a tour with him, right?
MG: Ya, totally a dream come true.
CG: Is he, like, super goofy?
MG: [laughs] Yeah. He’s really smart and witty and doesn’t care if you don’t get it, kind of…he’s really funny. But ya, he kind of just does his thing and I don’t think he’s ever really been like, ‘what would the audience like?’ You know, it’s just him and he played a different set every night on tour. It was really cool.
CG: [laughs] That’s awesome. Any influences outside of music? People, literature, art, film?
MG: Oh, wow. That’s a good question.
MG: Um…any influences…um…I think we’re all inspired by different things, art and non-art, all the same. In songwriting and in every day we’re constantly incorporating things that we come across. Like, okay, we saw this movie, and the feeling of that scene is how I want this song to be. You know, just how I felt when I watched this. It’ll even go as far as like watching a scene and then going back to that movie while writing.
CG: Like trying to recreate it…the mood of it?
MG: Yeah, almost like we’re doing music for that scene. But, it’s hard for me to think of like, oh, this is a thing that’s inspiring.
CG: More like random specifics?
MG: Yeah, it’s like…everyday life.
MG: Yeah. But if I think of something…that’s a good question. I should have an answer for that.
CG: Did growing up in Danville influence your guys’ music at all?
MG: I mean, maybe…probably. It was sort of a bubble of a suburb. I think we all came across music in a very different way. My family is musical, and my brothers were in this band when they were super young. And I learned everything from my brother, David, who’s in a band called the Davey G Project. He’s killer on piano and vocals, so I learned it all from him. I know that Dan didn’t pick up the guitar until college. He always sang in choir in like high school and all that, but he didn’t really start playing until midway through college and actually getting good at it. Matty I think played in band…like, trumpet and saxophone and all that stuff…and drums. But ya, growing up in Danville…I would guess that pop became a big part of our lives because usually the suburbs are exposed to pop music and singer-songwriters like John Mayer and that kind of stuff, which is great.
MG: Yeah, definitely. [Laughs] We all have our musical tastes, but I like pop music, and we [Lady Danville] are pop, so that’s definitely had an influence. I think we try to draw a little outside of pop—a little left of center—and maybe it’s not even intentional. It just that our aesthetic tends to not be just like…one genre. So I think growing up in Danville gave us those…pop chops [laughs], if you will.
CG: Well played.
CG: So what bands do you think you sound like?
MG: Well I mentioned Guster. I think if you had to choose only one band, that would be the closest, even though no one likes to do that. But, we take a lot of influences, and anyone that says they’re 100% unique is lying, unless you’re, you know, a genre-changer. Like, Radiohead was like that. There was nothing like that before Radiohead. Now there’s a ton of s*** like that. But ya, we’ve taken from Ben Folds and Guster and Death Cab, you know? And now we’re taking from Vampire Weekend a little bit ‘cause that’s the new thing that I like. Any of the bands I said, I think we sound like.
CG: Yeah, for sure. Any particularly incongruent comparisons people have given you as to what you might sound like?
MG: [Exhales loudly] I’m sure…’cause people say the most random crap [laughs]. Uhh, s***, I wish I could remember. [Pauses] Umm…[Laughs]I’m just trying to think…It’s funny ‘cause people only know like this sliver of music—‘cause, you know, it’s just the music they listen to. Then they think someone sounds like that…but…this is not as much a musical thing so much as it is a physical thing. I thought it was pretty funny; someone said I looked like Ashton Kutcher? I was like… ‘No I don’t!’ [Laughs]
CG: I feel like there are a lot better of people you could compare yourself to…
MG: Like Tony Danza!
CG: Yeah, maybe!
MG: I got that a lot when I was a waiter in college—how I paid my way through school. A lot of people say I look like Tony Danza. But, musically I can’t remember anything where I was like ‘what the…’ Usually, if it’s something that’s that off, I don’t know them [the band], you know?
CG: Yeah, definitely. What do you think you’d be doing if you weren’t in a band right now, and what did you want to be as a kid?
MG: As a kid I wanted to be an astronomer, and then an archaeologist. I was always into sciences as a young kid. Then, growing up I got more into social sciences, and in college I was starting to think, “Okay, I wanna, like, change the world.” So, actually, right out of college I started working in education, and I actually still do. We have jobs, at least part time.
CG: Is it temporary, or…
MG: Yeah, yeah. My boss knows that I’m trying to, like…I work from the road. I work part time hours. But, ya, I work for a charter school management organization. But, I may not even have been doing that either, ‘cause I was going to go to law school and then I was like, ‘Hold on, I wanna try music for a little first.’ So I put that on hold—but I probably would’ve gone that route. So, maybe education law, or like international human rights.
CG: So what did you major in?
MG: I majored in Sociology and Poli-Sci. I also taught math a little bit right out of school, and then started working behind the scenes in education. And Dan works in health care; Matty was a theater student in college so he did a little acting outside of UCLA, and he’ll still do some random stuff to keep the paychecks coming in.
CG: Very cool. So, what have been a personal high and a personal low of your musical career so far?
MG: Okay. Personal high not just of my music career but probably, like, of my life was the first time we played with Ben Folds. It was…I just had this feeling like I wanted to cry the whole night…it was unreal. It happened really last minute. We found out on Saturday that he was playing the show on Monday and that we were being considered as an opener, so we were like…[makes a freaked out face]…and would, like, practice all day. Monday came around and we got to open for him in LA—‘cause he listened to some stuff and picked us, so we were like, ‘okay, he likes us.’ So we played, and we played on a song with him, and he played on a song with us, and I’ve been a huge Ben Folds fan for a while, so it was just really really cool. That was clearly the number one for myself; I can’t speak for those guys. Low? I don’t know. Once in a while you’ll…you’ll get writer’s block, which sucks, but it’s never like ‘Oh this is s****y, I don’t want to be doing this.’ But once in a while we’ll be like ‘What are we doing?’ You know? We’ll be on the road, and—this doesn’t happen now ‘cause right currently we’re playing really cool shows and are lucky to be opening for big acts that have fans—but when we weren’t opening for big acts and we were touring we didn’t really have support. We’d be playing for like 5 people—just puny. We’d drive out and not get paid. It’s weird ‘cause you can be so tired and driving all around and then you play a show and you’re looking at the people and they just don’t care and you’re like ‘Why are we doing this?’ But then, on the flip side, you could be really tired and stuff and go play a show and see people light up and you’re like, ‘Oh, okay, that’s why.’ Touring is really fun, but you get those highs and lows.
CG: So my next question is what’s the story behind your band name, and we sort of know part of that…
MG: Well, Dan and I were in a band called Mikey G and Dan from Danville, originally. Well, it was us, it wasn’t really a band, it was like ‘Oh, let’s just call it that.’
CG: Stage names.
MG: Yeah, exactly. We wrote a song for Spring Sing, specifically, and got good response so we decided—we each had written songs before so we put them together and decided to write more together. Then Matt joined the band, and we wanted to keep the band name ‘cause some people knew us and we liked it…it was…quirky. So then, we were getting interviewed, actually, and the interviewer asked when music came to be a part of our lives—the first time thinking ‘I like music.’ I was like ‘Oh, well my kindergarten teacher was a total hippie, and she brought instruments to class was like, well, you know…just a total hippie…you get the picture. And Dan was like, ‘Oh my gosh!’ (and he’s from Danville too—he’s a couple years older than me) ‘I must have had that same teacher because that’s exactly my experience, too.”
CG: And you found this out during an interview?!
MG: Yeah! And Matty—this was so serendipitous or whatever—he was like ‘That’s crazy, ‘cause my aunt is a kindergarten teacher, and she was the one that brought music into my life, too.’ So we were like, ‘Holy s***, this same woman introduced all three of us to music, and we didn’t even know each other growing up. I didn’t remember her name at the time and I remember calling her lady, so, ya. Later we found out her name was Gloria, but we kind of liked how ‘lady’ sounded. And this was before Lady Gaga and Lady Antebellum, so we were like ‘This is cool, let’s pay our respects.’ So, Lady Danville.
CG: Cool! Alright, what’s next for the band? Albums? Tours?
MG: Yeah. We’re finishing up the tour with Dashboard [Confessional] right now, which is great. We’ve done like half the tour thus far. When we’re done with that we’re coming back to record a little bit. And then we leave again mid-February to tour with Barcelona and He is We. That’s kind of a short run. Then, after that, in March we’re going to be doing SXSW. Beyond that, we don’t really have a plan.
From what I can tell, these guys are brimming with talent, and I believe they have a great mixture of quirk, people skills, accessibility, and amiability to set them apart. Their varied influences—from Simon and Garfunkel to Death Cab for Cutie—are specific, but wonderfully evident in their carefully crafted sound. All I have to say, really, is that talking to Michael and getting to see Lady Danville perform live makes me proud to be a Bruin.
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