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Something With Trees – Self-Titled
Free Music Link: http://www.somethingwithtrees.com/fr_home.cfm
Notes: Download the album for free here!
At first listen, Something With Trees may sound like a soundtrack to the sixties and seventies during war times and anti-war protest. But upon further listening you’ll hear something very unique. They have a calmness about them mixed in with a little excitement about the times surrounding them. You can hear how much they love playing music with each strum of the guitar or any other instrument they pick up.
Vocalist Brian Davis has a very unique way of storytelling that sets him apart from many bands. Add in Collin Krause, Shaina Mattson, and Austin Thompson and you get something special. I got the opportunity to ask Brian about the new self-titled CD and discuss a little on how they come up with their unique sound.
Chris : I’m curious, how did you come up with the name Something With Trees?
Brian : During some of our early practices together we would have brainstorming sessions trying to come up with a band name. During one of those “sessions,” one of us said; “Hey, we should do something with trees” (as in something to do with trees), but once we heard it out loud, it had a nice ring to it and we just went with it. We all have a love of being outside and nature in general, so it just seemed like an appropriate fit. We’re almost a year into the operation and we still like it, so I think it’s here to stay.
Chris: You’ve released this album twice, the second time with an added member, Austin Thompson on drums. Did you completely re-record all the songs or did you just add his new tracks to the previous ones?
Brian : We went back and forth on whether or not we wanted to re-record with Austin, or just put him on the next album. After all, we didn’t want to make our fans buy the same songs twice. However, we recorded very early on after the band’s inception in order to have something to sell. We felt our inexperience together really showed on those first recordings. Not only were we excited to add Austin’s drums to the mix, we felt like we could each perform the songs much better since we had been playing them regularly for eight months. When we re-recorded the album, we started from scratch. Further, we also added “Streets of Paris” to the CD. It was a song that I had written after the album was made, but a ways before I started writing for the second album. We decided that it sounded more like the songs on this first CD than the new songs did, so we added it to this album. We also re-recorded because we thought it was extremely important that our CD encompass the sound we put out live –not only for fans, but for venues that we send to trying to get booked. The decision to offer digital downloads of our new recordings for free was the result of us not wanting to make fans re-buy the same songs. You can still buy a hard copy of the new album, but we are more concerned with our music getting into ears than money getting into our pockets right now. The free download is the best way we can think of doing that.
Chris : You have a unique way of telling stories with your music. Could you describe the writing process that you all go through when you create a new song.
Brian : To this point in the operation, I’m the chief songwriter of the bunch. Basically, I bring the bones of songs –lyrics, chord progression, melody– to the band and then we work out each band member’s part. Once the song is brought to the band, it becomes a very democratic process –trying to get the most from each of us, instead of limiting each person to something specific. We spend a lot of time in practice just “trying things out” on different songs. If something works, we run with it. If not, we move on to the next idea.
In terms of the songwriting itself, it’s always a challenge for me. I’m not one of those people that writes 50 songs and pulls the best 8 or 9 for an album. My process is relatively slow. I think for this album (9 songs), I only had about 11 or 12 to pull from. Usually, a song will start with something loosely life-based. For instance, “Devil in the Halls” is all about life around my college campus –the mascot is the Red Devil. Most of the time, when I roll around to a second or third verse, the song has shifted away from the subject it started on. When I stick to one aspect of one story, I have a hard time writing lyrics that don’t sound forced, so sometimes I’ll blend a few stories together. I also hit a shift in songwriting when I stopped worrying about making the songs say something profound. Instead focusing on just telling a story in a creative way. I still have plenty of growing to do in the songwriting department, but this was one of many steps for me to becoming a better songwriter.
Chris : What songs on the new album stand out for you and why?
Brian : This album is a strange beast for me because, in some cases, this is the third time I’ve recorded some of these songs. “Just the Same,” “Castle in the Sand,” “Lullaby #12,” and “Let Us Watch” were all originally released on my solo albums The Part to Play and After the War — about 8 months before Something with Trees came together, then released again on our first recordings. However, I can confidently say this batch of recordings is the best by quite a large margin in almost every way (band performance, mixing, mastering). The songs all went through a nice improvement during the process, but I was really pleased with how “Follow the Sky” and “Devil in the Halls” came out. I think “Follow the Sky” is a nice sampler song of what our band is about, while “Devil” is potentially a little more memorable. “Devil” has been the one people have been mentioning to me as a favorite. They all stand out to a degree because this is the first time I’ve heard drums behind the songs that I have written. The various types of percussion we used (cajon, snare, bass, xylophone, etc) give the drums a nice ever-changing sound, as opposed to something that was just tacked on as an afterthought. We are really excited to release our next batch of songs to everyone because they sound quite a bit different than this first set.
Chris : When I listen to your new album I immediately think of Paul Simon and Bob Dylan with a little bit of the backwoods of bluegrass mixed in. How would you describe it?
Brian : Well, our band adores Bob Dylan, so we take that as a great compliment. We have nothing against Paul Simon, either. Collin has an extensive bluegrass background, so that is definitely present in his playing style. It blends with my extensive folk/rock background and I think that is the basis from where our sound springboards. When people ask me how I would classify our sound, I usually give the general answer of folk rock– which tells very little. For me personally, I’ve been heavily influenced by Dylan, Tom Waits, Eddie Vedder, The Decemberists, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, my older brother Kevin, and The Tallest Man on Earth (among many others). While I don’t put our music on that level, those artists’ styles and tools are constantly in my mind as I try to create the music, and then each band member brings their backgrounds into their style of playing, which I think is where the genre-blending comes from. I have a hard time nailing down our sound (which I think is a good problem to have), because there are some songs where the bluegrass sound is prevalent, and others where it’s almost non-existent. At the end of the day, I guess it’s some form of folk/bluegrass hybrid, that begins to move into the indie rock category (again, worthless description) on songs like “Devil.” I had someone describe us as “post-Rock” last week, so take from that what you will.
Chris : One of the challenges for local bands is building a loyal fan base. How has that been for you guys and what are some of the struggles you’ve encountered if any?
Brian : It is extremely challenging. We have the privilege of being surrounded by supportive friends and family and have gotten some great support from the community. That being said, Peoria is a tough city to make music in. Music just isn’t towards the top of the “Things to Support” around this area, which makes it difficult to move beyond the early band stages. However, being located directly in-between Chicago and St. Louis has its advantages. Also, in the digital age we live in, where you’re ultimately making your music from is less important. It just takes a whole lot of time and hard work. It makes for a roller coaster ride, but it’s always worth it and a lot of fun along the way.
Chris : What do you want people to take away from your new album or even a live show?
Brian : We know we have a lot of growing to do yet. But we are extremely excited for where we’re at currently. When people hear our new album, we want it to get them excited for what we’re up to, and get excited for what we’re yet to do. We also want to be involved in the community. While money is a part of what musicians do, we have quite a few things higher on our list of important things. We want to be one of those bands that does the unexpected. While it’s a little ways off from where we are, should we garner any kind of significant attention, we want to never forget how we got where we are, and never stop playing small shows for people who want nothing else than just to listen to the music. When the White Stripes were together, they used to do random things quite often –showing up on a random bus and playing songs for the ten fans that had heard about it through their site. Things like that is what make the profession the fun that it is. We want to be a band like that.
Watching early videos of our live shows got us really focused on improving the overall act. The music has gotten better as we’ve played together more, but we wanted to really work on our stage presence and the entire “act,” not just the songs. At this point, we play pretty small venues, which limits what we’re able to do sometimes, but we like to be interactive and create a lot of energy in the room. Granted it’s on a significantly larger scale, I’ve always been fascinated and impressed at how much energy a band like Pearl Jam is able to create in a live setting. Whether it’s to 10 people, or 10,000, we want to be able to create an experience that will make people want to come again and feel that they are as important to the “experience” as any band is (which they are). We are always trying to make our whole act better –musically or otherwise. Hopefully, the show you see today won’t be the same as the one you see in a month from now.
Rating: 4/5 Stars!
Album Name: Something with Trees
Release Date: June, 2012
Genres: Folk Rock
Location: Peoria, IL
Band members: Brian Davis – guitar, harmonica, lead vocals; Collin Krause – mandolin, violin, vocals; Shaina Mattson – vocals; Austin Thompson – percussion
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