The Garden Deliver Off-Kilter Punk Attitude From the Garage to the Runway to Coachella

Fletcher and Wyatt Shears of the Garden in Wyatt’s Long Beach apartment. Photo by John Gilhooley

After weeks of rain, slices of sunlight filter through the shades of Wyatt Shears’ Long Beach apartment on the first day of spring. The burst of a flashbulb and a focused camera lens capture Shears and his brother, Wyatt, staring blankly into infinity. Soft light forms a ridge against angular cheekbones, the ruffles of Wyatt’s tousled blond hair, and billowing sleeves of a blue Renaissance Faire shirt.

Fletcher’s bullet belt matches the smoldering attitude of the long, dyed-jet-black hair grazing the shoulders of his vintage silk shirt. His darker look differentiates him from his identical twin brother. However, it’s still easy for strangers to get them mixed up. “We’re pretty much used to it at this point,” Fletcher says.

“We still don’t help the situation because we’re borrowing each other’s outfits all the time,” Fletcher chimes in.

Since 2011, they have performed as the Garden, with Fletcher on drums and Wyatt on bass. While their popularity seems to grow with every click of the camera shutter, the 25-year-old brothers laugh at their fame. The Shears twins owe a lot to photos, which transformed them from an unknown garage band to a worldwide phenomenon. Conversely, photos have also allowed them to be pigeonholed, misunderstood or written off as simply a couple of pretty identical faces. So it’s fitting their current album is titled Mirror Might Steal Your Charm.

In the Garden’s case, their charm is the ability to melt your face each time they hit the stage. Their reckless abandon while performing is an extension of the punk-rock world they live in, full of androgenous crossdressing, stage-diving and carrying out face-painted court-jester antics. And now the band are prepping to play at Coachella, a major coup for any outfit that has struggled in the trenches of punk rock.

Neither of the OC siblings has attended Indio’s annual concert buffet, though. “I would’ve gone if I had a free pass or something,” Fletcher says. “The tickets are a little out of my price range.”

“I like the lineup this year,” Wyatt adds. “If I had to pick any year [to go], it probably would be this one. There are a lot of cool smaller bands I wanna see.”

Thankfully, the ’Chella gods smiled on them, offering a spot in the fine print of the lineup poster for Saturdays, April 13 and 20. The story of their success and unaffected attitudes are in line with the world’s awakening to OC’s new wave of counterculture. Much of that is owed to Burger Records, the label that helped to develop the Garden before anyone saw them as runway models or rock stars who count indie-rap god Tyler the Creator and Mac DeMarco among their biggest fans. (The latter just released a song with the Garden called “Thy Mission” before heading to the desert.)

Their fans respect them for not being the stereotypical pampered models who get everything handed to them. “We went from playing our first show in the U.K. at this little dirt lot with 100 capacity to the venue we played last year [being] sold out at a little more than 1,000,” Fletcher says. “It’s taken a while, but we’ve been able to strategically get there after four years and relentless touring. It’s been a labor of love, but it’s been cool to see it grow.”

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The Garden onstage at Garden Amp; inset: backstage with Tyler the Creator. Courtesy Dick Slaughter

The Shears twins were born in Santa Ana in 1993. They grew up in a middle-class home in Orange, where they shared the same room, as well as the same clothes and the same interest in music and sports. The tall, lanky twins were solid athletes, excelling in baseball and basketball, but hockey was the sport that stuck. In the video for their song “The Gift,” they show off their love for the ice by scoring goals and beating up on each other in pads and uniforms.

They still play in an OC pickup league a couple of nights a week when they’re off the road, with Fletcher as goalie and Wyatt as winger. “It’s, like, 80 minutes of a game where you never stop or break, so I’m still feeling the effects, and it was, like, three days ago,” Fletcher says. “Definitely more strenuous than any show.”

Their passion for contact sports is an extension of the music in their blood. Their dad, Steven, plays drums in veteran OC punk band Shattered Faith and was once a guitar tech for X. Wandering the halls at Villa Park High School, punk aggression was the soundtrack to the Shears’ lives. “It’s not all we listen to, but if you had to pick one style of music that’s in your soul, it’s that,” Fletcher says.

The relationship between hockey and hardcore punk doesn’t fit most people’s perception of the brothers, considering their penchant for avant-garde fashion and wearing modified versions of women’s clothes, which they’ve sported confidently since they were teens.

One thing the Shears didn’t pull off well was school. “I never got good grades, so I was always in a lot of trouble at home for that,” Wyatt admits. “I didn’t apply myself; I did horribly. I still to this day don’t really understand how I passed.”

At home, they cultivated a weird little world for themselves. They constantly distracted each other in their bedroom, which was piled with dusty antiques, punk records and posters. It’s in that room that they would decide to call themselves the Garden. “We just wanted a fluid name that sounded cool, and over time, we gave it meaning,” Wyatt says. “The music’s always growing and changing, kinda like a garden. We got lucky that it worked out and made sense in the long run.”

The brothers often retreated to the garage to thrash on their instruments with their buddy Rex Osterkamp in the band MHV, with Osterkamp on guitar and vocals. With their adoration of bands such as the Minutemen and Saccharine Trust, they traded in an off-kilter, funky approach to punk. MHV’s sound usually earned them some weird looks from the beer-swilling Black Flag crowd. “We’d always kinda searched for acceptance within the community of those bands, but we would never really fully get it,” Wyatt says. “I never understood why they looked down on us, but I think it was because we weren’t hard; we were goofy and a little bit off.”

Yet the rock-star potential of the Shears brothers couldn’t be denied. Burger co-founders Sean Bohrman and Lee Rickard recall the twins walking into their Fullerton record shop around the time it first opened. Back in 2009, the small storefront selling only cassettes and vinyl was barely hitting its stride. “As soon as they walked in, I was like, ‘Oh, shit, this is the next group of kids’—they were still in high school,” Borhman says, sitting with Rickard in the store’s back office, which is covered in posters and pop-art paraphernalia. A poster for MHV hangs in the bathroom. “Their friends dressed like them. It was just a group of them, [but] something set them apart. I didn’t know if they were in a band or anything, just that they were there for [an in-store] show, and I was like, ‘Woah, something is special about these guys.’”

Back then, the Shears brothers were hungry to play any time, anywhere; they mostly hung out in any all-ages spot that would have them such as Burger Records, the parking lot of the Doll Hut, or outsider art gallery AAA Electra 99—as well as sometimes sneaking onto a show at the now-defunct Avalon Bar in Costa Mesa. But their main spot was always Burger Records, where they busted their asses as though they were the Beatles in their own miniature Hamburg.

When MHV went by the wayside, the Garden took shape as a two-piece, with Wyatt singing, his animated vocals becoming an integral part of their sound. “The Garden used to be the band I would call when we had a show at 3 p.m. and it’s 2:58—like, ‘Hey, can you guys play?’” Bohrman remembers. “‘And can we use your drum set, too?’”

Early fans got a front-row seat to the evolution of one of OC’s biggest current punk bands. “We knew, with their dynamic, this yin and yang of their music was gonna be spectacular, and it was, and it is, and it will continue to be,” Rickard says as he brushes his long hair away from his glasses. “A lot of people in music or art, once they get any attention, get inflated egos, but the Garden have remained very kind and humble the whole time.”

Today, Burger is a global record brand; the shop has doubled in size and now includes a pop-up clothing store, Cowgirl Clue, which is run by Wyatt and his girlfriend, Ashley Calhoun, who christened the store after her musical moniker. They sell the kind of western and punk clothes she and the Garden wear onstage.

Since putting out the Garden’s first cassette in 2012, Burger’s catalog with the Shears extends to their pre-Garden solo side projects Enjoy (Wyatt) and Puzzle (Fletcher). With their own spins on lo-fi edge electro, punk and hip-hop, these projects put out a combined 20 albums, dwarfing the Garden’s discography.

The Garden’s official debut album, The Life and Times of a Paperclip, spanned only 19 minutes. True to the band’s Minutemen punk ethos, most of the 16 tracks lasted only a minute, sometimes seconds for beady-eyed, high-caffeinated outbursts such as “Apple” and “Vada Vada.”

The latter is a made-up term the brothers use to describe their general philosophy on life and the culture they created. “Why strive to be a part of a scene when you can create your own? Vada Vada is an alternative reality that we put ourselves into so we don’t have to fit in,” explains Fletcher.

Despite the amount of sweat and stage time that went into creating their sound, the twins couldn’t have imagined all they’d inspire simply by being seen and not heard.

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Wyatt Shears: “The music’s always growing and changing, kinda like a garden.” Photo by John Gilhooley

A massive crowd sits in a hall in Paris, France, that’s bathed in darkness and anticipation. Suddenly, a swell of guitar feedback cuts through the silence like a supersonic boom. The lights in the room burst on to the Brit-pop drumbeat of Ty Segall’s “It #3.” Across the room, Wyatt appears. Dressed like a punk-rock assassin, he takes a deep breath and steps onto a black runway. Cameras flash as he strikes a pose as the first model to walk during Yves Saint Laurent’s (YSL) autumn/winter 2013 menswear show. Thirteen minutes later, Fletcher closes the show in a Dalmatian fur coat. That show, put on by famed designer Hedi Slimane, was one of the most anticipated moments in fashion. And the Shears, the only models there from Orange County, were at the center of it.

Their arrival in the modeling world was surreal from the start. It began after Burger Records booked the Garden to open for the Abigails at the Echoplex in 2013. Film director Patrick O’Dell was in the crowd, and he was fascinated by the Shears’ look, so he reached out to Slimane.

After the gig, the band received a mysterious email from YSL, for which Slimane was the creative director at the time, asking the brothers to model for the designer’s debut for the brand in Paris. The message included a contract for them to sign.

Nobody in their family knew what to make of it at first. “We knew so little about modeling that we thought it was like a sex-trafficking thing, so we had our old manager look at it for us,” Wyatt says. “It was literally [the manager], me and our mom looking at the contract, figuring out what it was.”

The opportunity turned out to be huge. Slimane and YSL couldn’t get enough of the Shears.

Charmed by the brothers’ natural look, Slimane dubbed them his new muses. The brothers were part of several campaigns for the designer label, walked in its shows and had their faces plastered on posters. The hoopla cultivated their mystique and earned them minor celebrity status back home. They were booked to model in shows all over Europe, including gigs with brands such as Ugg and Hugo Boss. As the only Americans in the bunch, the Shears twins stuck out in the modeling scene.

Slimane made their personal style, including their penchant for homemade punk fashion, the look of the year in 2013. YSL was inspired by some of the thrift-store clothes the Shears brothers wore; reportedly, a replica of a dangly key earring that Wyatt wore religiously sold for about $700.

“I remember, two years later, when we did our last runway with [YSL], it was all about beach; surf; Orange County, California—and all these kids from OC were a part of it,” Fletcher says.

However, the Garden weren’t even close to the lifestyle of the celebrity beach kids who could afford to spend thousands of dollars on designer punk chic. They were part of the Fullerton/Orange DIY scene that remains on the outskirts of the stereotypical OC bubble.

In 2014, thanks to a bad contract they’d signed during their time in Europe, the Shears were forced to put their modeling opportunities on hold for a year. Though the Garden were becoming a well-known band, it wasn’t enough to sustain them abroad the way modeling had. When the runway gigs dried up, the brothers had to return home.

But by then their photos had made the rounds across the internet and social media, and venues that were once empty when they turned on their amps were humming with curious crowds as the Shears continued churning out new music at breakneck speed.

At one of those post-modeling shows, they say, the twins remember seeing a girl in the front row at the Burger Records shop crying as if she were at a Michael Jackson concert. They were marketed as poster twins for some version of the swanky California cool lifestyle, and Vice and GQ were trying to land interviews. For them, it was fun while it lasted.

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Fletcher Shears: “Why strive to be a part of a scene when you can create your own?” Photo by John Gilhooley

Of all the jobs they could have applied for when they returned to the U.S., the Shears decided to remain in the fashion industry . . . kinda. For more than a year, they worked in the stockroom of the Banana Republic in South Coast Plaza from 3 a.m. to noon. Working graveyard in a warehouse and off-loading trucks was a far cry from the runways of Paris. At the time their YSL modeling campaign posters came out, their shitty car could barely get them to their mall job.

“I think that was one of the weirdest moments of my life,” Fletcher remembers. “Waking up and loading boxes off this big truck, kinda just slaving away while your picture was up in the mall, and you probably look like you’re this rich guy living this fancy life.”

Sometimes they would mess with people at South Coast Plaza by walking out during their lunch breaks and taking photos in front of their posters to see if people would recognize them.

When the Shears brothers weren’t working, they were crisscrossing the country in a beat-up Ford Bronco while on tour with bands including fellow Orange Countians Cosmonauts. They were used to sleeping in the back seat, covering up the gear to protect it from rain dripping in through a window that wouldn’t roll all the way up, and begging for a place to stay after a 3 a.m. show in another state.

But people were coming to see their wild spaz-outs on display. They were hyper and playful with the crowd, launching themselves onto the stage and engaging in a dual Tasmanian devil-like assault. In keeping with the court jester theme on many of their releases, the Garden would paint their faces to make them look even more distinct. Maybe it’s harder to be bummed about being broke when you’re dressed up like a clown.

Months later, the booking manager who’d gotten Fletcher on a European tour with Cosmonauts landed the band gigs overseas. The shows were small and DIY, but that was enough motivation for the Shears to scrape together what little money they had and quit their jobs at the mall. “I remember telling everyone at Banana Republic we were gonna go do this European tour. . . . ‘If I don’t come back, it means things are going good!’” Wyatt says with a smile.

By 2015, the band were finally doing well, touring constantly in support of their sophomore album, Haha. The 35-minute LP was loaded with crunchy bass lines, odd samples and jet-fueled drumbeats, forming a bubbling cauldron of M.I.A., Devo, Atari Teenage Riot and the Prodigy. Songs such as album opener “All Smiles Over Here :)” and the punky piano-rock single “Egg” honed in on slick production and pop sensibilities. Thanks to the production chops of Rob Schnapf (known for co-founding Bong Load Custom Records and his work with Beck and Elliott Smith), it all manages to sound completely serious in its lack of seriousness.

A friend of Brett Gurewitz of Epitaph, Schnapf sent him the record to see if he’d dig it. Gurewitz offered the band a record deal and rereleased Haha on that label.

Their sound also earned them a very dedicated fan in Tyler the Creator, who saw the Garden’s show at LA’s Teragram Ballroom. The polarizing founder of Odd Future even memorized their lyrics and shouted them out on songs such as “Ain’t Got Time” (“I’mma keep sporting/All smiles over here/Shout out to the Garden”). For a while, Tyler posted the song “All Smiles Over Here :)” in his Twitter bio, and he shows up at their gigs whenever possible, including driving to Santa Barbara twice to see the Garden and coming to OC with Mac DeMarco to see the band’s set last year at the opening concert for Garden Amp in Garden Grove.

“I remember being in high school and listening to Tyler the Creator,” Fletcher says. “I never would’ve thought way down the line that he would be so into our shit that he was screaming it out at shows. . . . He was just stoked on the music and is genuinely a fan, so whatever he does with the music is sick.”

The band continue touring relentlessly, regardless of how much music they’re releasing at any given time.They barely had time to squeeze out Mirror Might Steal Your Charm. They say the main goal they have this year is to record an album while abstaining from touring post-Coachella. “At this point, the Garden will forever be us two,” Wyatt says. “If we stop doing it at some point, I’d like to look back and go, ‘Wow, we did that—just you and I.’”

One Reply to “The Garden Deliver Off-Kilter Punk Attitude From the Garage to the Runway to Coachella”

  1. theyre honestly so inspiring and have changed my life for the better. its good that theyve stayed humble and refuse to conform, even though theyre growing. mad respect.

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