Garden City makes one-take videos that are packed with honesty and heart.

Full disclosure: I met Dan and Joel (the pair behind Garden City) in college. And, like literally everyone else who was on our small Grove City campus during that time, I’ve been waiting for them to finally make more music together. They’ve been living 2,000 miles apart, in Denver and Boston, so it’s been a bit of a long time coming.

It was worth the wait.

The music these guys make together has always had a compelling feeling of truthfulness to it. Go listen to The Living Room EP, and you’ll get the idea. But the format of these songs – a one-take performance, with nothing spliced in or out – results in art that’s practically bleeding with honest emotion and life. If you can watch a performance like “Toward the Pain” without feeling a shiver of something down your spine, the odds are pretty good that you’re a robot.

To be able to co-write music like this is intriguing, because it takes an extreme level of trust to be honest before you have a polished product to show. I think that’s why so many gut-wrenchingly honest acts are solo – like Dallas Green, or Tyson Motsenbocker. It’s just hard to work through the truth of a personal experience with someone else listening as a critic.

That, to me, is what makes Garden City so special. These are co-written tracks that could only come out of deep musical trust, built up over time and then tangibly leaned into. That trust feeds music that plays to each member’s strengths: Joel’s ability to weave a narrative, Dan’s intuitive musical magic.

It’s special. It will make you feel something.

Go listen.

Here’s the most recent Garden City song, “Where You Are”. Press play, and then come back to get the story behind the song, and the story behind two friends who come together over 2,000 miles to make beautiful music.


And check out the Garden City website, here.

How did you guys meet?

Dan: My first memory of Joel was that we were playing at the apartments on campus at college, and Joel had heard me playing a song before him and came up and was like, “Ah, that was a nice hook! That was cool!”

Joel: I remember that.

Dan: And then probably about a week later, I was just feeling really emo, and I was jamming on a patio on campus. And I think Joel came up – we ended up jamming together. Ever since that day, we’ve been doing that still.

Joel: Do you remember which songs we played on the patio?

Dan: Yeah, I played you “Lonely”, and then I played this one called “Change Like Fall” that I wrote for my high school girlfriend. And then you played me “She Walks in Beauty”.

Joel: And then I think – I know this because I just listened back to this album, but we played a song that’s on OneRepublic’s first album. We were singing harmonies on it.

Dan: Right, a spontaneous jam on a weird b-side of an artist that we like. That’s what locked it in.

Joel: “All Falls Down”. That’s it.

What was the first take on something more than just jamming together?

Dan: We were playing together a lot. There was a moment, I think it was after a summer break going into Joel’s junior year, where it kind of came together. Joel had just written “Loved at All”. And Joel, I remember getting a call from you before we got to school, and you were like, “Dude, I wrote one that I really like.”

And then you came, and we were just like, “Yup!’

And then we arranged it, and made our first video, which was the “Loved at All” video. Yeah, we did it in a dorm room, and our friend had some recording software, and we put it up.

Joel: That was what launched my music career. Making that video with Dan – because I didn’t even think I wanted to be a songwriter, and then I did that with Dan, and it kind of went viral on campus, and then I was like, “Oh, I guess I’ll write more.” And then Dan and I kept writing more tunes.

After college, you kind of went your separate ways, right? Dan’s been in Blue Light Bandits, and Joel has been focusing on solo things.

Joel: Right out of college, I actually spent a summer around Worcester with BLB. And then Dan and Ethan (from Blue Light Bandits) and I recorded The Living Room EP out there, that summer.

Dan: Yeah, it was a healthy exchange. Joel played electric guitar for BLB, and Ethan and I helped create The Living Room EP with Joel. It was good.

Joel: But after that summer, they were heading back to college, and I was dating Molly at that point, so I moved to Pittsburgh the next year. I don’t know what we call that chapter, but it was basically just us kind of finding our way.

What was the impetus to you guys coming back together?

Joel: We’d kind of always kept in touch, sending each other voice memos. I have an outrageous amount of voice memos from Dan, and I’ve sent Dan the same stuff – just little riffs and melodies. That was the constant. Just sharing little musical ideas that we were pumped about, and always talking about tunes.

What was the first legitimate Garden City conversation?

Dan: Joel, what was the name we were going to go by?

Joel: Yo, we almost launched a band called The Wilberforce.

So, basically, I got an offer to open up for David Cooke – the American Idol winner  – in Pittsburgh. Dan was living in Boston at that point. And I was like, “Dan, you’ve got to come down for this gig, and we’ll launch our band.” And in the heat of a rehearsal weekend, we somehow thought Wilberforce was a good band name.

Well, I was pushing for it.

Dan: There was good reason. You were inspired, you were just going with the flow. You were like, “We’re Wilberforce!” And I was like, “That sounds like the words “Wilbur” and “force” put together.

I always pictured like a pig in a superman costume.

Joel: No, it was based on William Wilberforce, the guy who ended slavery in Britain. I was on a reading trip about him, and I was like, “This guy’s amazing!”

Anyway, I don’t know if that was the first official Garden City moment, but that was an attempt to start it, by having as high-profile a show as we had had to that point.

Was that first show the same style you’re playing now?

Dan: Yeah, we hadn’t played a big show in a while. And, it’s just basically every single time since the beginning, those first songs – that was the thing. No matter how we chose to pursue separate things, every time we came back to that it was like, “Imagine if we had this all the time!”

So, I think once we had that concert and we were preparing for the show, we got really amped up and decided we had to do something.

Did we announce we were going to call it Garden City at that show?

Joel: With David Cooke? No. I literally said, “We are Wilberforce!”

Dan: Well, we still are Wilberforce.

There are probably people out there still looking for Wilberforce.

Joel: I know, right? They’re like, “These guys never made it,” I guess.

Dan: And after the show, we just kind of got busy. Joel got married, the BLB album was happening, and then I think there were some emotions in the middle – some confusion about what we should be doing, about what we should be committing time and energy to.

Because I can be all over the place. I know I’ve gotten Joel’s hopes up at some points, and then I would black out in terms of communication and effort. But I think once we kind of talked it out and got back on the same page, we always knew we were both in. I remember calling Joel and saying, “Let’s go, right now.” We talked it out, and timestamped it – July 22nd. For whatever reason, we decided to remember that day and make it a thing.

And then, from that point, we just scheduled one trip. Joel got Zack involved in the project, which is awesome. For a videographer and photographer to want to be a part of our project – to already have a content creator before we even started – that was a blessing.

So that first trip, we just came out to make some demos to submit to a songwriting competition to win some studio time. And then on a whim we were like, “Let’s record a live version of some things, since we’ve got the cameras here and we’re all set up.”

And we recorded our first song, and it kind of redirected our whole goal for the year. We decided to one of these a month – to just keep meeting up and having this songwriting time and making a video. We decided to make a goal to do one a month for the whole year, to keep us focused on it and committed. So we made the sacrifice and committed, and it’s been awesome. It’s been incredible.

How’s the recording process work? Do you guys do multiple videos in one take? Or do you make one trip for one video, each month?

Dan: We did one at a time in the beginning, but we decided we could be more efficient with it.

Joel: Right. Every other month, we do two or three songs – or at least that’s the goal. We had to scrap one song, but for the most part, it all lined up.

Zack coming on board helped. Part of what we realized was that, anytime we talked about it, we’d both get passionate and pumped, but for some reason the enthusiasm would die. So, going into 2017, we committed to visiting each other regularly. Zack called me on a whim, and he was like, “I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing with my video company, but I want to be a part of a music project.” I’d already booked my flight to Boston, and he asked if he could come hang out and just take pictures and film whatever we ended up doing.

Dan: That added a level of legitimacy to it.

Joel: We had just been making demos all weekend, and Zack was about to leave in a few hours. He was like, “Can we just try and do a live video here?”

So we went for it. And that was the first Garden City video, “I Need You,” that still has the most views of any that we’ve put out.

Where does Garden City fit in the mix for you guys right now? Because I know you’re both focused on other projects, too. What’s the goal for Garden City?

Joel: For me it’s like 50/50. In my head – and this is even fun for Dan and I to talk about now – but, we’re going to pursue opportunities with the songs we’ve put out, and hopefully we can win some sort of contest with the stuff we’ve put out to get studio time. But at this point, we’ve committed to the year of live videos, and we’ve done that. So the next goal would be to get into a studio and then do a couple of little mini tours. But as long as we’re in different places, there’s only so much commitment you can make to it.

Dan: And what we’ve learned, really, is that we don’t have unlimited time or resources. So we set a goal, and then make it happen. We set a pretty ambitious goal to get the videos out. I don’t want to say it was a stretch, but at first we were just like, “Let’s do live videos for a year. Do you think we can do it?”

We had to buy some more expensive flights than we wanted to, and spend a little more of our own money to make it happen then we wanted to. But at the end of the day, it was something we all wanted to do and something we could do. So we ended up doing it.

So, our next goal, whether or not we get recording gifted to us or win some competition, is that we’re going to try to make an EP and get some fully produced songs, then play our first shows as Garden City.

Those are our stripped down goals. It’ll get more specific, but as far as balancing it with other projects, for me it feels like the difference between brushing your teeth and putting on deodorant. They’re both things you’ve got to do. They’re both necessary.

Do you write songs differently when you’re writing them to be recorded in the studio? As opposed to writing songs for a one-take video?

Joel: I didn’t really feel like we wrote differently. It was kind of like a creative exercise, honestly. I’m proud of us for just putting out songs that we’re not embarrassed about. The time crunch was always like, “What do we have that’s close?” And we’d rehearse it the day before, and then go track it.

Honestly, Dan-O is prolific. There are hundred of ideas that are close, that are together enough to turn into songs pretty quickly. My writing style is just way too slow. So, a lot of the times it’s been Dan who will bring in an idea, and then we’ll rehearse it until we feel good about it.

What changed is that we didn’t get the time with the song. Once we finished arranging it, we played it. And I really think that time is important. I think it’s good to let a few weeks go by, and come back to a song after you’ve first worked with it, to see if you still like it and if you think it’s still good. For the one-take videos, we couldn’t do that part of the writing process, which, in my head at least, is pretty key.

But it worked – we got the songs out there.

Dan: We just accepted the rawness of it – that this is the best we could do at this point in time, the best we could play, the best we could sing, and the best we could write it. So, instead of just picking it apart, for these videos, we just have to be able to accept where it’s at.

That’s something about music, in general, that I’ve struggled with, and I’m sure Joel has, too – trying to improve something to death rather than just letting it be what it is at its moment in time, and accepting that that’s what you were able to create, and then moving on and improving your craft. I actually think forcing our hand in that way on this project has been kind of nice in terms of generating content.

Joel: Totally agree. That’s a great point, because that’s the human element. We pick the one take to make it into the video – we don’t splice takes together.

Do you ever do multiple takes? How many times does it take you to get the one take?

Joel: I think “I Need You” took three times.

Dan: We go through and play it until we feel good about it – typically it’s three or four takes.

Joel: “Settle” took us like nine. Because Dan’s pedal was squeaking.

Dan: I couldn’t forget that. We’d get like halfway through the song, and then there’d be a huge squeak that would get in every microphone. And everyone was trying to stay calm, but we were all getting stressed – like, “What if we don’t get a good take?”

But we made it through.

How many takes did “Closer” take?

Dan: I think it was three. Our drummer was money with the kit – the retakes were never his fault. Actually, the take that we picked, I wasn’t the happiest with the musical outro, but it was the best vocal performance. But I remember liking the take before, just from a musical perspective.

That was a cool song, because we totally stepped out of our comfort zone, added a drummer, got crazy with it.

Joel: Our drummer couldn’t believe we arranged and recorded it in two hours. He was impressed with all of us.


How do you guys write together? Do you bring pretty well-formed ideas and then just get input to fine tune them, or do you co-write from scratch?

Joel: Just by the nature of being different places, we’re always bringing our own ideas to share. “Where You Are” is the one that is the most from scratch with both of us.

Dan: To make the most of everybody’s time and money, we come in with ideas.

Because Joel and I are both easily distracted by a new riff or an idea. We would totally make two half ideas before we finished one. So we’ve mostly brought our own ideas and came with things prepared, which was necessary for the situation. But for “Where You Are”, we came in and committed, and sat down for like six hours with pen and paper in silence, trying to write the lyrics. We wrote the whole song, which is pretty cool.

Joel: That was cool.

And actually, the very first song, “I Need You,” is both of us, too. I had a chorus melody, and Dan had a verse melody, and we mashed them together. And Dan had written this epic bridge – and my little chorus just fit perfectly within this bridge and verses that Dan had written.

Dan: And Joel wrote that piano riff.

Joel: No, Dan, that was you.

Dan: I think I did it really slow, and then you reformatted it or something.

Joel: I guess the point is that the writing process is different every time. But there’s the start of an idea that we bring in, just because we’re physically in different places.

Dan: We respect each other’s opinions a bunch – about the song structure, the melody, what catches us, what can be improved. That’s important – to be able to have honesty. To listen, and be like, “That’s solid, don’t change that,” or, when you hear something and you’re like, “I don’t like that,” and it’s the other person’s favorite part, you can work it out.

What happens when you disagree like that?

Dan: We kind of just paint over it. It happens a lot. I definitely like to doubt, or over-complicate things, or question words or how they sound. I think we both do the same, and we can be honest, but we can also affirm each other, even when something is uniquely ours and doesn’t sound like something the other person would write.

Joel: That was “Toward the Pain.” I wrote the whole song, and I played the bridge. And as soon as he heard the bridge, Dan was like, “Yeah, let’s try a different bridge.”

So we did, and the version now is killer. There is just a level of trust that comes with the friendship that’s there. I haven’t experienced it with other people – or, maybe it’s just because the friendships aren’t in place. I think we feel very comfortable calling an idea out if we think it could be better. But at the same time, most thoughts get aired, and that’s kind of the key.


What do you each start with when you write – lyrics or melodies? I feel like Dan starts with riffs or melodic ideas more than lyrics.

Dan: Who told you that?

Yeah, I definitely speak with music first, before finding what words relate.

How do the words come after that?

Dan: It’s kind of whatever headspace the music gets me in. Typically, it’s because I’m reflecting on something in life. I’m like, “Oh, this is my musical response to this happening.” And then sometimes you get a melody in your head and just sing whatever words come out. Sometimes they’re stupid placeholder words that are really dumb. But sometimes you’re like, “Yeah, that works. That’s exactly how I feel.” Or it can kind of steer the whole direction lyrically of a song.

I don’t really know. Sometimes it’s just kind of handed to you, sometimes I’ve got to think on it and find it. But, I know Joel’s definitely the master of writing beautiful words and then fitting them into a melody super nicely. I kind of sacrifice lyrics for melody a lot of the time.

Which do you think is more important – lyrics or melodies? Or do they just play different roles?

Dan: What do you think, Joel?

Joel: For me personally, I am not as musically-adept as Dan. So, I focus on lyrics almost out of a necessity to make my songs stand out. But I think the strengths that we each bring are part of why Garden City is a huge deal.

Because, not to dismiss any of Dan’s lyrical gifts, but Dan is musically off the charts. If I want something to be a little more palatable, I can come in and add a bit of simplicity to Dan’s musical ideas sometimes. And where I am lyrically sometimes too straightforward and leave no mystery, Dan stretches me in terms of not thinking too hard, but just using a word that has a certain sound or emotion to it.

But with the two of us, there is a unique creative gift blend.

Dan: It’s a pretty cool balance, I’d say. Joel plays slow acoustic songs. And in between he’s telling the story of the song, and he’s got everybody’s hearts in the room. He’s orating it. He’s a magician with words and storytelling. That’s his strength.

And my storytelling is more music, I guess. We just blend it together, and that’s why it works.

Joel: And I get excited because I feel like we’ve just started to tap into finding that balance. I still think people can hear who started the idea. You know? If it’s sonically a little more complex, it’s probably Dan. But if we can start to tap into both of our styles, I think it’ll be special.

So my new goal when we write is to stump Jon.

Dan: If we blend it all, everyone will be confused. I think that’s what we want.

So how did “Where You Are” come together? What was the first part to be written?

Dan: We literally constructed it together. I heard a song by The Barr Brothers. Do you ever listen to a song by another artist, and it just buds off of you and becomes another song? I don’t know how to explain it any better.

But I heard it, and I immediately just started singing another different song in my head. It’s a similar space, but different – it’s not like I’m singing my own lyrics over their song. But it’s interesting – you create another entire song out of how this song makes you feel. So we started from there, and I showed Joel the song from The Barr Brothers, and we just started to build it brick by brick.

Writing with somebody else is difficult to do, because a lot of times you need to get lost in your bad ideas and just filter through them and get rid of them. It’s tough to do that with somebody else. Because if somebody shuts down your small bad idea that maybe would have led to a good one, you might not get to where you could’ve gone.

But Joel and I just give life to all of the ideas – any ideas. If I say something, Joel’s like, “Yeah, dig deeper on that! Keep going!” He doesn’t say, “No, that’s terrible!”

So I think that’s how “Where You Are” was created – brick by brick we placed it together, and it kind of ended up as a cool, short, sincere kind of song. It’s acoustic and stripped down, it’s pretty short – I think now that you know how we created it, you’ll probably hear that as well.

Who are the biggest influences you each bring in?

Dan: I think Joel and I can each agree that our biggest musical influence has been Coldplay for a while. I don’t think Chris Martin writes the best stories, but as far as melodies – yeah.

Joel: The emotions of Coldplay are unrivaled. We got to see them live together, with Ethan in Boston, and what they were able to pull off emotionally was very impactful.

What’s your favorite Coldplay song?


Top three?

Joel: “Everything’s Not Lost.”

Dan: “Glass of Water.” But that’s too hard, dude.

Joel: I love the album-closers. On Parachutes, it’s “Everything’s Not Lost.” I love “Amsterdam” on Rush of Blood to the Head.

Dan: I love the intro on “Moving to Mars” so much. The rest of the song – eh. But the intro kills me inside. I love that so much.

Last question – what is each of your favorite songs that you’ve written, and why?

Joel: I think – and this is weird, because we’ve done so much after this – but I think “I Need You,” for me, right now.

But I would say we haven’t come close to our best song. I think we’re on level two of like, twenty. I don’t know why twenty, but yeah.

Yeah, “I Need You”. We haven’t really gotten to play it live, but the emotion that we can tap into on the bridge of that song I think could be huge. The words there are incredibly powerful.

To me, it sounds like, if that gets out there and gets recorded well, that will be a highlight of people’s concert lives. That’s a crazy sentence, but I think how powerful that bridge could be in a room full of people who know they’re missing something –

Dan: It’s definitely a musical moment where you kind of forget that you’re even playing, and you just emote.

Joel: It can go either way, because that can go cheesy sometimes. But I think, because of the bridge – I’d say that song.
Dan: Yeah, it’s super relatable. Those lyrics:

The day that I leave your side

Will be the start of a life for me

Falling short of my dreams

I won’t settle for something other than what I need

I need you

I think the bridge of that song kind of showcases what we can do, once we get this thing going and really flesh out the potential.

I’ve always been a huge fan of “Graveyard,” too. Ever since that show where everyone was singing it back to us.

Joel: That’s actually a huge benchmark of our story that we didn’t talk about.

Dan: Yeah, it was at college. We pitched it as our last show ever, because I was getting ready to go to Italy.

Joel: Dan was a junior. He was doing second semester abroad, and I was a senior, so I was going to graduate. So we put on a totally acoustic, unplugged show in the basement of a hall in this room that has amazing acoustics.

We told people the day before. And there were probably like 150 people down there, packed into this room at the last minute.

Dan: I’m pretty sure we sent an email out like four hours before the show. And people were real busy, like getting ready for finals and stuff. I remember setting up 15 chairs in the room.

But as I came in I could barely get my keys through the room because it was so packed. It was crazy.

Joel: And for us – I don’t think we had thought as seriously about playing together. But that was kind of an undeniable, spiritual experience that neither Dan nor I could have made happen by ourselves. We were part of something bigger for a moment, and it was kind of like, “All right.”

Something happened, for sure.

Dan: When a crowd of people sings back something you’ve written that emotionally rocked you in the first place, it’s just like, “What? I could do this the rest of my life.”