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Under the influence: Andrew Gardner

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Under the influence: Andrew Gardner

La Cerca's frontman and guitarist on pop sensibilty and the psychedelic impulse

  • Self-portrait: extreme close-up
    Self-portrait: extreme close-up

 Andrew Gardner is the singer and lead guitarist of local indie pop veterans, La Cerca. The band plays twice this weekend, opening for Spindrift at the Red Room on Thursday, and for Hairsprayfireandgirls at Plush on Saturday.

Gardner started playing in Tucson under the moniker Wise Folk Malcontent in the mid-90s, and the band saw several releases and lots of local acclaim.

But it was when he formed La Cerca that Gardner found his voice. Joined by Miguel Villareal on bass (who is currently on hiatus and being temporarily replaced by Mario Cordova), and a variety of drummers and other players, La Cerca released "Goodbye Phantom Engineer" in 2001. Since then, Gardner and company have recorded an unreleased album, and are prepared to record two more full-length efforts.

In addition to Cordova on bass, Bill Oberdick will play acoustic guitar and keyboards with La Cerca this week. John Metzek will play drums on Thursday, and Ernesto Gardner will take over for Saturday's set.

La Cerca, for the uninitiated, plays indie pop with a heavy layer of shoegaze and a dose of psychedelica. The result of Gardner's sense of hook and melody, their songs are infectious and feel important, anthemic.

Not that Gardner is what you would expect of an indie rock hero. He is odd and soft-spoken, and unconcerned with image and trend. He doesn't keep up on the latest; he is busy trawling the past for what he finds transcendent, and looking to the future and the frontiers for inspiration.

When did you start playing music?

I started playing guitar at about 8 or 9. I took lessons. I played an acoustic guitar, and then got an electric about a year later, an Arbor Explorer.

What were you listening to as a kid?

I was listening to The Cars, and then it probably moved towards Van Halen and Rush.

You're snickering about Rush. Why?

I'm not snickering about Rush. I like Rush, all the way into the 90s. I don't like much after that, but I respect it a lot. By the time I was 12 I started listening to The Cure.

A lot of people point to the Cure's Robert Smith as a big influence on you. Is that a fair assessment?

Possibly, yeah. I mean, we both have soft hands. I liked The Cure's atmosphere. I liked what they were doing. It's sort of this really brutal, dark music and then there's this whole jolly side to it. Robert Smith is actually very funny, and upbeat at times.

As a guitar player, what guitarists do you think directly influenced your playing?

Elliot Easton from The Cars has never played a bad guitar solo in his life. I really liked both guitar players of XTC. They really inspired me to play guitar. And Robert Smith's guitar playing is really cool. Alex Lifeson of Rush, and probably David Gilmour from Pink Floyd.

Nels Cline is one of the most amazing guitar players out there. He is pushing the envelope more than anyone else is. He's out there. He's playing in this very regular rock band [Wilco], and then he is bringing the experimental to it as well.

That would seem like a conundrum for you too, with La Cerca, in that you are interested in frontiers, but also in crafting great pop songs.

I have a desire to be experimental, but still be pop. I like things that are catchy, but I also like things that are challenging, that take you places.

It would seem like you prefer to take chances with, say, lyrics, but not with the hook. Is that fair?

I tend to write a lot about dreams. Sometimes I find myself writing music in my sleep, and then I wake up and then I have a song to work on.

Just like "Rime of the Ancient Mariner."

There's a song called "The First One" I wrote on July 1, first thing in the morning, from a dream that I had. There are some strange lyrics in there because I am plagiarizing from my own dream. That's something else that Robert Smith does, too.

What genres do you turn to when you get sick of pop and rock?

I like experimental techno and noise. Like Not Breathing, a local guy who builds machines, modular synthesizers. He turns archaic drum machines into new, fascinating machines. He has given me some mixes of bands that I have really enjoyed, like Drexciya and Doppler Effect, stuff that's a little gothic, minimal techno music. And he's shed the light on a lot of Italopop, disco and new wave from the 80s that was unknown here at the time.

Talk about the psychedelic in your music. It feels more like later, British psych-pop than a 60s Nuggets compilation sort of thing.

I am a really big fan of the "shoegaze" movement from '88 to '94. I keep going back to the band Ride, and I really like Lush a lot, too. Ride was one of the last records I listened to. They may be one of those [unconscious] La Cerca influences.

What singers do it for you, and why?

I like David Gilmour's voice. in addition to being a great guitar player, he's an amazing singer. I like that smooth sound that's going on. I really like Steve Kilbey from The Church. He's got a great baritone, and an interesting sounding voice as well.

Singing is just something I do. I liked being in choir, and all of a sudden, I realized that i had a pretty decent voice and that I should probably sing. But I didn't really want to be the center of attention.

When you write a song, does it dictate its own arrangement, or does that come from circumstance?

Quite possibly [the latter.] But I am interested in keeping things the way we are, though I am always looking for a keyboard player who can sing.

If you could have a 24-hour lockout of the studio of your choice, at any period in history, what would you choose?

Conny Plank's studio in Germany. He recorded Devo there, and a ton of others. It was this huge house, and just the way that he recorded bands, his philosophies, and his techniques of getting people to relax. Also, when they recorded, everyone stayed there, in the house, and there was a yard to go ramble around and play games. I like that idea.

Right now, it's not so much about the studio. It's more about room sounds. This next recording, we will try to record in various different rooms, that are not necessarily studios.

Who would be your dream band, alive or dead?

I don't really care, you know? I'm not really into what could be; I'm interested in what is. I mean, there's a lot of drummers out there that are great. There's a lot of studios that are great. I mean, I can't really tell you because that's not really on my mind so much.

Are you a sad-songs-when-you're-sad person, or do you use music to cheer yourself up?

For wallowing, I like those three Cure records, "Seventeen Seconds," "Pornography" and "Faith." And "The Top." It's especially dark. So yeah, I enjoy a mope here and there.

Anyone who cheers you up?

!!! are one of my favorite live bands. They have a very positive, cheery vibe to them. It's dance music, and it's interesting, sometimes psychedelic, sometimes just full-out rock. And it's clever. It's got great lyrics. It's just good music that makes you feel good. I'm all about it.

What's your favorite makeout song?

The second side of David Bowie's "Low."

Beatles or Stones?

Probably more Beatles than Stones, but there's never really been any better rock band than The Rolling Stones, whereas The Beatles are not exactly rock all the time.

Bob Dylan or Neil Young?

Well, I would have to say Neil Young, his darker 70s records, "Tonight's the Night," "on the Beach" and "Time Fades Away," as well as "Zuma." I really enjoy Dylan's 70s records, "Blood on the Tracks" to "Street Legal." So both, I grew up listening to both of those musicians.

So what happens if I make you choose? You implode?

Probably. I feel like sometimes I relate to Neil Young, but Dylan's the master.

The Factory or Factory Records?

Factory Records, for sure. Almost everything they did was interesting. I'm a big fan of New Order, possibly more so than Joy Division. "Brotherhood" is [New Order's] biggest guitar record, and I listened to that every day last year, it seemed like. There are such weird guitar sounds and that big bass whoomp. And they are halfway a dance band and halfway a rock band. A lot of people don't think of New Order as psychedelic, but it's pretty psychedelic if you ask me.


If you go

La Cerca opening for Spindrift Thursday at Red Room at Grill, 100 E. Congress St. 10 p.m. Free.

La Cerca opening for Hairsprayfireandgirls vs. The Swim Saturday at Plush, 340 E. 6th St. 9 p.m. $5 cover.

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