Spencer the Gardener is a potent ensemble.
Always ready for fun times and incredible live shows.
Music Style Pop/Rock
Musical Influences Violent Femmes, Cake, Latin Playboy's
Similar Artists Cake, Jane's Addiction, B-52's, They Might Be Giants.
Lulu, if you don't know, is neither a racy woman nor a messy dog. Lulu - Run Away with Lulu, to be exact - is the latest album of Spencer's longtime, come-and-go Santa Barbara-based band Spencer the Gardener. Filled with genre-bending songs melding salsa, new wave, mariachi, jazz, pop, rock, and surf 'n' sunshine - all stamped with Spencer's trademark helium-esque vocals - Lulu marks the band's fourth album and the first since splitting up back in 1998. Spencer the Gardener is once again mowing through California's do-it-yourself music scene.
That's the scene the band almost took over in the early 1990s, when they were touring from San Diego to Tahoe, with big-time sellouts at Slim's in San Francisco along the way. Two albums - The Boy with Two Big Heads and Happiness Comes to My House - garnered enough praise for record labels to take note. But then they crashed, literally, into an oncoming driver who was doing 80 miles per hour on the wrong side of the road near Riverside. Every bone in Spencer's face was broken, the drummer was nearly killed, and the other band members sustained injuries as well.
'Life is filled with ups and downs and everyone tells you that and you say, "Whatever." Well, I never set out to prove that, but I've done a pretty good job.'
- Spencer Barnitz
But no worries, they were playing shows again by 1994, and even released Kiss Me in the Deep Blue Sea. Times weren't the same, understandably, and by 1998, Spencer the Gardener was no more. "People say, and they're right, that your own enthusiasm can take you far," reminisced Spencer over an American Spirit cigarette last week in his apartment, which overlooks the roof of Jimmy's Oriental Gardens, where I first crossed paths with him in 2000. "But my enthusiasm was gone at a certain point because I stopped being able to see the light at the end of the tunnel."
Not that the music stopped. Spencer the Gardener cohorts Nate Birkey (trumpet), John Schnackenberg (sax), Cougar Estrada (percussion and keys), Brett Larsen (accordion), and Gary Sangenitto (bass) kept playing in their various bands, often together in the Wedding Band, which Spencer formed as a bar band in 1984, predating the Gardener formation by five years.
But it wasn't until last year, when Cougar - of the famous Estrada brothers, who now play with Los Lobos - kept bugging Spencer to get the Gardener going again. "Cougar was the biggest motivating factor," said Spencer, reminding, "It's his band too." They had numerous cups of coffee in Camarillo, where Cougar lives, and started laying down tunes in Cougar's garage. When it started sounding good, the old band mates were called, and Lulu - written/produced by Spencer and co-produced by Cougar - was born.
The album is like diving into Spencer's mind: It represents a truly authentic California music. He's surfed his whole life, he sang in Spanish as a kid, and he's lived through what he calls the "Golden State of mind." The name Lulu is a word from the hipster 1940s, meaning something that's real good or cool. Run Away with Lulu, then - which incidentally is a song written in 1996 by Spencer and Birkey that's not on this album - isn't about escaping. Instead, Spencer explained, "It's like having everything work out in the best way possible." And things working out is exactly what Spencer hopes to have this album do, crossing his fingers that it doesn't become a colorful coaster and rather sells more than 10,000 copies. Toss in some touring and it's clear California hasn't seen the last of these dudes.
Having been in the biz for more than 20 years, Spencer's seen most of what the musical life can bring. "Life is filled with ups and downs and everyone tells you that and you say, 'Whatever,'" he said. "Well, I never set out to prove that, but I've done a pretty good job."
And now? Will this be an up or a down?
"We did this one for the same reasons we did the first one," Spencer said, referring to his enthusiasm and creative urges. "And I like the CD. Anything that happens now is good."
Spencer Barnitz - vocals & guitar
Nate Birkey - trumpet
John Schnackenberg - saxophone
Brett Larsen - accordion
Gary Sangenitto - bass guitar
Cougar Estrada - drums, percussion, keyboards, piano, whistles & sings
We would like to thank our friends, family and musical peers, who have and continue to inspire us to move forward and create!
Join our mailing list at www.spencerthegardener.com
Santa Barbara, Ca - USA