Tree River: Journey Proud

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It’s no surprise that so many bands are singing about the pandemic. It’s permeated our lives left, right and centre for two years. However, so few capture the intimacy of life’s little moments like TREE RIVER does on their new album Time Being, their first in six years. Listening to it from start to finish is like taking a trip through the streets of Brooklyn or a stroll in the suburbs of California. Listening to it is like sipping a warm cup of coffee from the comfort of your home; it feels real. 

“It’s about rooms, it’s about doors being closed, it’s about walls and feeling a little claustrophobic,” explains Phil Cohen, cradling his new-born baby as he feeds her. “The album art is a guy in a bathtub trying to simulate some modicum of vacation or escape because so many of the lyrics are about people being trapped in rooms, trapped in hospitals, or trapped in relationships, or feeling trapped in some sort of creative stasis – it’s about pushing against these walls and fighting against the inertia that’s preventing them from feeling self-realised.”

And that’s exactly what TREE RIVER captures on Time Being. Tinkering their time-honoured emo, they pepper their songs with honey-soaked melodies and carefully-curated sing-alongs that strike a chord with anyone who’s felt a little isolated over the last two years. It’s not all doom and gloom either. Listening to Time Being is like peering into somebody’s life. They cover love as much as loss, moving across multiple emotions in single songs. And they couldn’t do it any other way. 

“A lot of these songs are about meeting someone, falling in love and committing to a relationship – they’re really about my fiancé,” smiles Trevor Friedman. “The songs are inspired by finding the person you love, committing to them, and how it’s exciting and scary, so we’ve got love and loss and death.”

“We’re trying to get all the major life cycle events, next time we’re gonna write a song about a Bar Mitzvah, we’ll get a circumcision in there somewhere!” Phil cuts in to roars of laughter. For a band who sing some serious songs, they spend a lot of time just having fun, even when they’re far apart.

Phil’s in Brooklyn, Trevor’s in California, Julie’s at work, and Zac’s on tour on a highway somewhere. But they never feel distant, always close at heart, connected by the music they’ve made. If Time Being feels like a diary of a dysfunctional, yet loving, family, that’s because it basically is. “Coming into this record, I felt like there was this connection that transcended a normal quartet you would find in New York,” beams drummer Zac, who’s presence in the band has lifted their musicality to new levels. “The two or three days we did doing drum tracks was a complete blur. I feel like I didn’t do as many takes as I’ve done in other sessions, everything just fell into place, like the puzzle just came together.”

Time Being, in many ways, is a puzzle where every piece fits perfectly. Recorded in September 2020, at the height of the pandemic with plenty of ring rust to shake off, it shouldn’t have been such smooth sailing. Few bands can have a gap of six years, some lineup changes, and live in different states and still pull it together, but few bands are as tight knit as TREE RIVER. Over time, their sound has shifted, and the writers in the room have too, so how has Time Being become their best body of work so far?

“There’s a pretty major shift in just our sound, and our energy and presence as a band. It almost seems like it’s two different bands, even though there’s been a gradual progression from one era to another,” reflects Trevor, pausing to pick at his thoughts. “There were times where we were thinking about changing our band name, because it feels like a different project. Before it was a band, it was just me writing songs and then it was Phil and I, the sound started to change, and now there’s Zac and Julie.”

Julie has played a pivotal role in evolving the TREE RIVER sound since their last studio outing. Dropping in and out of vocal harmonies like honey from a pot, she adds depth to their storytelling, morphing into characters. And on Catalyst, the spiritual sequel to 2019’s Pearl, she has her shining moment on lead vocals. It’s a moment Trevor and Phil knew needed to happen.

Trevor and I are obviously crazy psycho perfectionists, but this was a very fun experiment in terms of opening up the circle, it was like seeing what the hell happens when we open up a little bit,” admits Phil, as Trevor adds, “what I love about that song is that Julie created the voice of the character in that song, and I could’ve never written that, I could never have come up with that voice. It’s so authentic and genuine, it’s dreamy but real.”

Whilst Pearl told the point of view of the abuser in a toxic relationship, Catalyst switches sides to the one being wronged. It’s something Phil feels strongly about, and is glad Julie could morph into the part. “There’s been a lot of songs about people in shitty relationships, but I think the fact that both songs are coming at it from such a knowing perspective and self aware state of mind is what makes them different – there’s a lot more feminine energy emitting from it.”

And for Julie, how was it stepping into the limelight? “I felt a lot of pressure at first to just create something meaningful, and I’m still getting my feet wet in terms of songwriting – I was honoured that they asked me to do it, that they trusted me with that level of creative license.”

Running away with creative licence is exactly what being in TREE RIVER is all about. Comparisons to emo heavyweights OSO OSO, SAY ANYTHING, and WEATHERBOX are well-earned, yet they tend to drift from staying stuck in the mud of melancholy. Songs like Journey Proud and Laughing With lose themselves in happiness, from learning to love yourself to falling in love with someone else. And it comes from their roots.

“The music early on was kind of folky psychedelic, philosophical mystical weird stuff like that, that then translated into this more accessible pop-rock project. We don’t sing a lot about parties, and maybe we should move into that” laughs Trevor, when comparing themselves to their peers. “I’m always jealous, I’m like how are these fucking emo bands drinking so much beer and having so much fun partying, I wish I could get into that mindset.”

It’s a mindset that lends itself well to Time Being’s emotional rollercoaster. Wherever the lyrics go, the music follows, no matter how high or how low they get. It’s what makes them emo in their hearts. “The sound and dynamics tell the emotional story, and so our emo music gets really, really quiet when the narrative is saying something that is very vulnerable or sensitive or weak, and it gets really, really big when it’s some triumphant big feeling. That’s the misconception about emo music, that it’s all sad but that’s not what emo music has ever been about. It’s like blending a psychedelic narrative with emotional intensity.”

If Olympic medals were handed out for emotional intensity, TREE RIVER would take home the gold. From twisting words into rhymes through local dialects and switching up lyrics in choruses to toying with meanings in songs, there’s so much intensity to dive into. Take Patient for example. It’s brooding lo-fi dream-pop drifts between consciousness, harbouring a double meaning many fans have yet to unlock, as Trevor explains.

“I’m really proud of the song Patient, which is about becoming a therapist, because I’m in a PhD program. Everyone thinks it’s a love song, which it’s not, I mean it’s a play on the word patient because I’m singing to an actual patient of mine, hoping they will trust me enough to be their therapist, but I guess it transcends to any type of intimate relationship, which is why I think therapy is powerful, because it’s an intimate relationship.”

It’s that idea of an intimate relationship with their music that TREE RIVER, as a collective, hopes their listeners take away from Time Being. It’s the little moments they’re singing about that they hope others find comfort in. “People often ask me what I’m hoping to get out of being in a band and releasing music, and it’s clearly not money, because that’s not gonna happen anytime soon,” he states, to roars of laughter from his bandmates. “I want people to listen to it closely and really think about it.”

Time Being is out now via Big Scary Monsters.

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The post Tree River: Journey Proud appeared first on Distorted Sound Magazine.

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