Interview: Tree No Leaves

Tree No Leaves has long been a vehicle of experimentation ever-evolving. With a sharp command for the ambient, Leaves’ twenty-plus releases are steeped in psychadelia, practiced in the art of looping, and dabble in dub and funk. The band’s 2013 release Blind Tigers exploded in a blues-infused thunder, bellowing vocals flanked by bigger hooks, and Leaves has never sounded fuller. We talk to Tree No Leaves about their improvisational background, finding a voice in songwriting over the past five years, and projects they have in the works.

Select interviews will be printed in the Premium Guide Book along with CD samplers of  Brite artists as a reward to Kickstarter backers. // Interview by Nikki Delamotte

“When things change and your perspective of the world around you changes, sometimes it makes you feel that you have something to say and for the first time I felt like I had a voice and had something to say.” — Dustin Galish

This year you released FOXRUN, a cassette of experimental, loop-based tracks, and later Blind Tigers, a more psych-tinged, straight-forward rock EP. What drives that more experimental side of Tree No Leaves? How do you continue to incorporate that into your work?

The experimental and looping side of Tree No Leaves was really the driving force behind the origins of the band and it still continues today in the sense that most of the songs that we recorded for Blind Tigers, and also the more rock oriented songs that we play live, were spawned from experimenting with different sonic riffs and building them into multiple layered loops. Once the loop is created you can then deconstruct the parts out to begin to piece a song into a more traditional rock composition. The band is currently working on another recording project that we are looking to release early next year that incorporates a lot of the experimental side that we dove into on FOXRUN. The release will be heavily sample-based but will include only samples that the band has recorded ourselves. Much of the source material will be derived from a collection of improvisational jams that we have multi-tracked out and lots of other sonic ideas that never found a home.

 The last evolution of your line-up has Tree No Leaves expanded into a four piece. How did the new line-up come to be and how has being a quartet affected your sound and writing?

The band has existed as a solo project of mine at times and has also included nearly a dozen other members since it start in 2007. The project began as a duo, moved to a trio, and now is performing as a quartet. This has lent itself to Tree No Leaves sound changing a lot over the years which has created a really diverse catalog of songs and recordings.

During all of 2012 and half of 2013 the band was performing again as a duo, which included myself and Jay Schneider. We both were looping heavily and playing multiple instruments. We created some really interesting live music with the looping and sampling, but we ended up starting to rely too much on technology and we really wanted to move back into being a “band” and not two dudes staring at computer screens and effects pedals.

Soon afterwards I met up with Josh Waterfield after responding to a Toledo City Paper ad that he posted, that included influences of krautrock, dub, and experimental, which is rare! We then spoke shortly about wanting to work together and the rest is history.  I then contacted an old friend of mine Calvin Cordy and told him we were looking for a lead guitarist for the band. I always felt Calvin was one of the most creative and best psych rock guitarist that I had heard locally and he had some amazing ambient guitar chops.

We’ve been performing and writing as a quartet but we’ve also recently had some more changes in that Jay Schneider has gone to school full time to pursue a degree in recording, so we are currently working with Travis Aukerman, who is a great drummer from Toledo. Change is inevitable and this bands ability to adapt is something I’m very proud of and our performance at Brite Winter will be our first with this lineup.

You’ve said in a past interview Tree No Leaves was instrumental-based until two years into making music. Vocals and lyricism are more prominent than ever on Blind Tigers. Can you tell us a little about the songwriting on this last release?

I can be fairly straight forward in saying that I went through some heavy emotional circumstances over the last two years with former and current members of the band. The emotions and severe change during that time brought a voice to the band lyrically that was not there for me previously. I used to tell myself and others that I didn’t know if I would or even could ever write lyrics about relationships and certainly not a love song, but when things change and your perspective of the world around you changes, sometimes it makes you feel that you have something to say and for the first time I felt like I had a voice and had something to say.

I still love instrumental music but in many ways I consider myself more of a storyteller than a musician. Finally finding a voice has changed the songwriting, in my opinion, for the better because there is a story to tell and it’s a story that I want to share. I find myself drawn to music now more than ever that isn’t afraid to expose itself to the audience lyrically and I find that to be an exciting and scary place but one that is a catalyst for some great creation.

What’s your favorite material to play live?

We currently have been working on a nine to ten song setlist for the band’s live performances that we really enjoy playing and have been fine-tuning to make more of a seamless experience. Keeping the attention of your audience at all times is important and takes a lot of work. The songs we are playing incorporate all of the elements of the band that have existed over the last five years – looping, psych, ambient, funk, and dub — and involves some reimagining of old material. We have been playing out in support of our latest release Blind Tigers and our set is a healthy dose of that record, which we are very proud of.

What’s your favorite thing about playing in Cleveland?

My favorite thing about playing and being from Cleveland is that there is a feeling when I come back that the city is starting to see all of the positives of supporting and building communities to help support the arts. Cleveland seemingly to me, especially growing up in the 80s and 90s, was a sports town. There was always such a sense of pride, support, and awareness of the sports teams but I believe it started to make the city bitter because of its lack of success with its sports teams. It’s excited to see that the city is starting to identify itself as a hub for the arts and Brite Winter Fest and Ingenuity are amazing aspects of this transformation. Tree No Leaves is really excited to give back to this idea and express our art for those in a city that we have been inspired by.

Find Tree No Leaves at their official websites and keep up with them on Facebook.