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Probably the first time that I first heard of Garlic was about 2 years ago. At the time the band had been going for about a year. but they could not have predicted what was waiting ahead for them. The band, which consists of Mike Wyzgowski (guitar, vocals), Sandra Yee (drums), Dominic Smith (bass), Jo Hillyer (keyboards), and Marcus McCarroll (steel guitar), have since met with a lot of success. The first music that Garlic released, 3 self-financed 7" singles, was good enough to earn them a gig supporting New Order. A year later they attracted the attention of the well established London-based record label Bella Union who released their debut album, 'The Murky World of Seats'. 2003 saw the band playing South By South West , probably the United States' biggest alternative music festival, alongside the Coral, Jetscreamer, Polyphonic Spree and many other great bands.
The music world is perhaps not so blind that it doesn't occasionally appreciate good music, but ,having said that though, Garlic have worked very hard to get this far and are far from slowing down yet if at all. The band have just put out their second album 'Jam Sabbatical', again on Bella Union, which the Independent called "a bright outing, spiced by British eccentricity". They have often been compared to Pavement although as they say that they can't really see that connection themselves. Their music combines together raw guitars and rich keyboards, but they can be unpredictable as well, and also play lots of slower and calmer tunes.
While the band now has 5 members, it originally had just 2. "Dominic and me had another band " recalls Mike , sitting with me and the rest of the band at a table in the Unicorn pub in North London on a rainy Sunday morning. "We only did a few London gigs but not much more than that. Then we decided to do it properly. We got Sandra to play guitar and advertised for a singer because I didn’t really want to sing. We got about 20 tapes but nothing that we wanted. We wanted someone who sung a bit like Lou Reed, but we were getting all these heavy metal and and country singers. We booked some studio time but we still didn’t have a singer, so I just ended up doing it by default and we carried on like that."
"I met Sandra at New Year’s Eve party" continues Jo. "They happened to be looking for a keyboard player at the time and that's when I joined."
Later on Sandra switched from bass to drums. "We had this drummer that was a pain in the arse " explains Mike and laughs. "Then Sandra said she could play drums, so we got another guitarist and that was Richard and then Marcus also joined. And that was that."
Garlic released their first two 7" singles 'Slave To The Summer Sun'' and 'The Murky World of Seats' in 2000, and followed this with a third single 'Not Over Yet' in 2001. The latter was the single of the week in the Independent and all 3 of them earned favourable reviews. "When you are doing it yourself", explains Mike, "you need to be quite quick. You don’t want to spend too much time on it or too much money, but to do what you want when you want. You don’t have to have some release schedule. You just decide when you want to put it on or when it’s ready. That’s the benefit when you do it yourself. Then you hit a brick wall…"
Garlic's first major success was supporting New Order at the Brixton Academy in September of 2001. "That was great especially as we were still only on our own label and to get a support like that that was just great" enthuses Jo.
"Yeah and then the next day we were back to our jobs" adds Dominic laughing.
Brixton Academy has a capacity of 4,500 people so for a band that are used to playing venues for 200 to 300 people it must have been a big change. "It seems even bigger when it's empty" admits Mike.
"When were sound checking it sounded bad because the venue was empty and the sound was just bouncing off the walls" says Jo. "We thought it was awful. But by the time we came on it was half full and sounded great." Mike later reveals that there is a chance that Garlic will play with New Order again next year, which will definitely be something to look forward to.
In 2002 Garlic finally released their debut album 'The Murky World of Seats' on Bella Union. This collaboration came about come about by lucky chance when Sandra and Jo literally bumped into Simon Raymonde, the co-owner of Bella Union. at the BBC where Garlic was doing a session. "Yeah, the guys went in to play and Sandra and me stayed outside and talked to Simon who was there because he is a friend of the presenter. And the next thing we knew was we were being given the chance to release our music on Bella Union."
We are now nearly up to date, but let's not forget the South By South West (SXSW) music festival, which Garlic played earlier this year. The festival takes place in Texas in Austin in March every year. The music festival is actually only one part of the whole event and runs along a film and an interactive festival.. Over the 5 days that the festival is on there is the opportunity to see many bands from all over the world. There is no doubt about the quality of the music and its amount . Perhaps the only down side is that there is just so much happening at one time that you you can also miss out.
"It was great! ' Jo says. "You usually play in one of the bars, .but they keep all the windows open so you can hear it outside in the streets and people dance to the music and you can hear their reaction. I think the only criticism about it is that there is so much stuff on that you can’t see all you want and that it gets so busy that a lot of people can’t always get in to the bars."
Garlic's second album 'Jam Sabbatical' came out in September this year. The 10 track album has been received well. Reviews have compared the band to the Pixies, Neil Young, Lou Reed and again Pavement.
One song, 'Waverley', especially attracted my attention. The song has quite a fast rhythm and sounds quite positive despite its subject matter . "As you might know Waverley is a bridge in Edinburgh" says Mike, who comes from Scotland originally. " It's the bridge at the train station and people sometimes commit suicide by jumping off it, which probably sounds a bit disturbing" He adds, laughing.
There is also a song called 'Stenhousemuir of Love' which is named after the Scottish Football club. "They never win anything" admits Mike in his Scottish accent . "But it's also about people who sometimes just go along to the games and nothing ever happens."
The artwork of the album features 5 animals (a lion, a giraffe, a crocodile, x and x) all coloured in with green or brown colours. The artwork was done by Mike.
"That was just a scribble I did" he says modestly.
"No one liked it and then Rich said ‘Go and get a life, you sad bastard’" says Dominic with laughter. "And then Mike called me up later saying ‘Have you still got that picture ?’ which was quite funny."
The artwork of the first album 'The Murky World of Seats' features an animal as well. It has a man with a horse's head sitting in an electric chair with people around it and is brown and white in colour. "Simon’s (Simon Raymonde) wife sent us some stuff and it was just a picture of a guy in an electric chair" recalls Mike. "We just thought it would be funny if we stuck a head of a horse on it. I think it’s just brilliant and we will never top it."
I ask what the title of the album,'"Jam Sabbatical', means and the band look a bit taken aback. "I have this friend" explains Mike while Jo looks at him concerned. "And his wife was having her period. And he just said she was on Jam Sabbatical and we just started laughing."
"But there is also a slightly less revolting meaning to it. We do a lot of jamming as well and it also means a break from jamming" adds Jo.
The band has already started writing and composing music for the 3rd Garlic album. "Hopefully next year we will start recording it" reveals Mike. "We are also hoping to play the South By South West again. It’s quite hard when you are self-financed. but we now know what we are doing and it’s got a lot easier."
On top of that if their support gig with New Order works out as well, then Garlic have another busy but hopefully also successful year ahead of them.
Commenting On: Interview - Garlic
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Garlic have now released acclaimed two albums through Bella Union, the latest of which is 'Jam Sabbatical'. They talk to Olga Sladeckova about playing support to New Order at Brixton Academy, and their unconventional use of sleeve imagery
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