It’s widely understood that the surroundings that an artist finds themselves immersed within can greatly influence their art - be it intentionally forefront or subliminally subconscious. One such band who have taken great inspiration from their surroundings are the uprising South Coast collective Winter Gardens. Providing an absolutely gorgeous homegrown sound that merges hues of shoegaze, dream pop, post-punk and ethereal synth, the band’s output is a translucent mirage of sonic colour inspired by the rolling greens and shimmering blues of the South Downes.
Formed of Ananda Howard, (Vocals, Synths, Percussion) Matt Squires, (Guitars), Alex Robinson (Drums) and Jamie Windless (Guitars, Synths, Programming), Winter Gardens encapsulate the soothing solace that natural beauty provides, something highlighted wonderfully with their recent debut Tapestry. However, despite the group’s work ringing in both clarity and bliss, the origins of the band can be traced back to the displacement Jamie found himself experiencing when co-fronting the now defunct mathcore trio Let’s Talk Daggers.
“The band started as a project built from music I had been writing in addition alongside the band I was in at the time”, states Windless. “I was frustrated with mathy punk being my only artistic expression and didn't really listen to many artists or music in the similar vein. It was a scene I wasn't particularly fond of & decided to pursue these sounds I had so long desired, reeling back the overdrives, drenching in the reverbs, tapping those delays and getting wavy with a Boss Super Chorus. I wanted a project where I had more control and felt more at ease. I quickly got my best mate who had sold all his gear as he was "never playing in a band again" to get on board a repurchase a bass, Alex I had also known for years and shared the same bill with numerous times and Ananda was the missing piece of the puzzle - we had met while playing a few function gigs together, something neither us really wanted to do, but found mutual appreciation of similar artists such as Ariel Pink, Joni Mitchell, Pavo Pavo, New Order, Lemon Jelly and Cocteau Twins. Then we began writing”
“I can confidently say our surroundings heavily influenced the more delicate and ethereal side of our writing,” Continues Windless. “The South Downes and Coast are a mere twenty minutes away, so it's rather easy to find a solitary moment of nature and peace. With so many overwhelming parts of this competitive and polarised society we all seem to thrive in, these moments are needed more than ever, It can be rather difficult to feel inspired with the pressures, worries and expectations of modern life.”
The band also take subtle influence from the often unseen parts of the South Coast. Apart from it’s bedazzling beauty, the area is also host to crippling poverty, horrific crime and socio-economic neglect. It’s often a topic glazed over, with many from outside the area just ignorantly perceiving the coast as sprawling havens of golden sands and tourist hotspots. The writings and work of front woman Howard within Tapestry document this, albeit in a more open and ambiguous fashion that allows listeners to imprint their own interruption. But regardless, growing up witnessing poverty and distress first hand moulded the group’s worldview and ideological ethos whilst allowing them truly appreciate life even throughout difficult circumstances.
“To a degree, yes,” states Windless when asked if growing up in an area of poverty inspired the sound and ethos of the band. “I grew up and live in a small market town and spent the best part of my childhood life on a Council Estate, don't get me wrong, I have a very loving family…I but also had stabbings, muggings and murders on my doorstep. It made me appreciate every little part of life and to feel grateful for everything I had, living in the West and having food and a roof over my head, early years of my life we had very little money, it was inspiring to see my Dad work from the very bottom, day in, day out to support his family, an admirable pursuit. Ananda was actually homeless for a small part of her childhood, coming from a family of seven with a single mother was a challenging time that encouraged her to truly appreciate everything she had from sharing sparse meals, hand-me-down clothes & distressing situations. Poverty is a huge problem on a global scale, as well as localised within my own community, this has encouraged me to volunteer for charity 'W.U.T.H' (Warming Up The Homeless). I've been part of the team for over three years now, we started with a team of around six - we now function with a team of well over thirty and are now a registered charity working five nights a week! This inspires me weekly and shows what you can achieve if you all pull together with the same compassionate intention.”
"We all adore the textures, emotion and escapism shoegaze brings, but organically kick it up a gear with a rupture of energy, the passion mutually thrives."
Despite the band as a unit coming together only just recently, a part of the band’s dynamic has been long established. Guitarists Jamie and Matt have enjoyed a long lasting friendship, being almost kindred spirits since the halcyon days of youth. However, prior to this to this project, the two musicians played together sparingly. Whilst Windless found himself lost amongst the chaos and melee of incendiary punk, Squires was preoccupied working on the different end of the alternative music spectrum, creating material that was a solid contrast to Let’s Talk Daggers. It was recently with the inception of Winter Gardens that the two artists managed to collaborate artistically. Despite Tapestry and the output of Winter Gardens showcasing the two musicians chemistry and creative interplay, the two individuals still hold different tastes amongst their deeply held shared interests.
"Matt and I have always had a mutual admiration for the more punky/darker side of music as well as a huge love for Pop, Dance music and early 2000's Garage, both partial to a bit of Craig David which I think is clear in the music,” laughs Windless. “We obviously have conflicting tastes too, I don't think Matt appreciates 70's Jazz Fusion the way I do... I have fond memories of us on a School Trip when we were twelve years old sharing headphones listening to Nirvana on a tape player, a defining moment of our childhood...These moments have shaped who we are now and how we perceive & appreciate music & sounds, we all (as a band) adore the textures, emotion and escapism shoegaze brings, but organically kick it up a gear with a rupture of energy, the passion mutually thrives. It's also important to not take ourselves too seriously, we have a good old bloody laugh while we are at it.”
To return to Winter Gardens’ debut Tapestry, despite the group’s collective relish of shoegaze and societally aware punk, one major aspect of the EP’s sound that may be unprecedented to some is the heavy inclusion of synthetic electronic textures. Throughout the record, shimmering and translucently immersive synths gently flow and glide, adding efferently pleasant fluidity to the grounded and contemplative shoegaze and dream pop that forms the EP. Such silky textures embellish the post punk sway of ‘Wonders Bleak’ and serves as the bioluminescent glow of the glorious instrumental ‘Laminar Flow Pt.1’. Whereas the inclusion of such electronic textures has long held a prominent place within the annuls of post punk and dream pop, Winter Gardens take synth orientation inspiration from the legendary work of transgender synth pioneer Wendy Carlos. Famed for her work on soundtracking legendary films such as A Clockwork Orange, The Shining, Tron and her own expensive discography, Carlos revolutionised how many perceive, approach and engage the synth.
“Wendy (born Walter) encountered many social issues during her early life as a young man with gender dysphoria, trying to make her way in the music industry during the 1960's wasn't a particularly welcome ease," Explains Windless. "After taking hormone replacement she still found herself sticking on fake sideburns just to appease her piers and the expectation on what a young man or woman 'should be'.Her struggle and musical persistence is a story of sincere inspiration which echoes throughout her dark, ambient, experimental and often fulhorn music, the Clockwork Orange OST is one that has always lingered with me, she revolutionised the synthesiser and took music to a whole new level of experimentation, soundscaping and dark desire.”
"As a young musician you make poor decisions and blundering mistakes. The label is here to reduce those mistakes and guide artists along the right path."
With Winter Gardens’ debut EP out now and alluring all those experience it, Tapestry stands not only as a fantastic introduction to a band hosting a plethora of impassioned creativity and intertwined chemistry but as a testament to the group’s work ethic. Such a sense is wholly palatable within the record, but what solidifies their work ethic to a higher degree is the fact that Tapestry is released on the group’s own label, Austerity. Founded as a platform to release the record, the label now boasts an increasing list of talent and stands as a socially-conscious organisation that holds suitability and ethics at the core of it’s ethos. All records released under the Austerity banner are pressed within one of the world’s most eco-friendly plants and wherever possible only fair trade, recycled or organic materials are used. Of course, such ethical practices do result in slimmer profits but such an approach in our current environment – in every sense of the word – is crucial, as Windless explains.
“From day one the label had the intention to create a fair platform built on solid identity and design. As a young musician you make poor decisions and blundering mistakes. The label is here to reduce those mistakes and guide artists along the right path, a path that's tailored to their vision, everything we have learnt has evolved in the most organic way, we are all on the ball with latest releases and new music just excites us more than ever. I wanted to incorporate our own ethics into the label, we don't go for cheaper options just to make profit, but make sure companies we affiliate with and use are sustainable and fair. We use only fair trade and organic cotton for apparel, recycled plastic and card for our cassettes and we are proud to use the most eco pressing plant in the world (DeepGrooves). Artists are well and truly looked after at our gigs, That sometimes means we don't break even because we've spent money on making sure every band on the bill has a fair abundance of food and drink on their rider (whether you're an opening band or headliner, it's all equal). We add intricate touches to ensure what we are selling is a superior product and won't slap a huge unjustly price tag on it to make a few extra quid. I like to think we go the extra mile and artists are and will be proud to affiliate with Austerity.”
Both the sounds of Austerity Records and Winter Gardens as a whole shine with compassion, inclusiveness and inspirational creativity. As the year granulates onwards and as the music industry continues to buck with questionable actions and practices, the actions and sounds of Winter Gardens prove there is still authentic experimentation and ingenuity to be found amongst the tiresome and mundane.