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BIG TREE | The Angelica Interview

Since 2008, Big Tree has been continuously evolving as one of the most inspiring and delicious indie groups in the New York City region. Frontwoman, singer, and keyboardist, Kaila McIntyre-Bader, hit the college campus scene with songs reveling in the simplicity of such things as snow and a little brother.

From her friendship with her surrounding music community, Big Tree developed into a quintet. With their debut full-length self-titled album, Big Tree went on several successful mini tours, converting audiences immediately.

With their fan base hooked for life on infectious hooks and melodies, Kaila’s jazzy rock voice, and the band’s incredible ability to fill your ears with ecstasy, Big Tree has since undergone a line-up change and also purchased a grease van.

Now, Kaila, bassist Luke Bace, drummer Colin Fahrner, guitarist Dan Pirello, and harmonizer/smiler Madeleine Miller-Bottome have packed up and left New York for the Bay Area. Before planning a fall tour, Big Tree takes a moment to touch base with Angelica-Music.

Big Tree Interview ~ Angelica-Music

First off, I know for a time there was a split of half the group in college and the other half hung around Brooklyn. Was that separation difficult, and was the group only waiting for the semester to end to move to the Bay Area?

Luke Bace: We didn’t feel very separated because we rehearsed weekly and hung out quite frequently. It was really great to have Colin and Luke still in college because that meant the band could access the college’s resources, namely, a free rehearsal space! But having members in school while others were out was definitely a source of frustration because we could only book tours during school vacations, and sometimes that didn’t line up with people’s schedules. But hey, that’s life right? One big scheduling sechuan.

What sparked the move across the country? I know Kaila’s from California; what about the others?

LB: Colin and Madeleine happen to have grown up just a few blocks from each other in Albany, CA., so 3/5 of Big Tree is Bay Area based. We didn’t feel like we had our roots too firmly planted in NY, so leaving wasn’t hard. And the west coast just seemed like the logical place to go. We had a bunch of great shows in Cali during our tour in June of 2009 so we already had good feelings about our music in CA. And we all have places to stay here that are essentially free. It makes being in a band a little easier when you don’t have to pay rent.

New York has a pretty wonderful music scene receptive to young groups. Are you worried about losing that support and moving away from the artistic friends you’ve made in New York?

LB: Well, John, I wish I/we had gotten that same impression of New York during our stay there. New York is definitely an epicenter of music making from jazz to noise to indie and folk. But there’s SO much good music in NY that its hard to distinguish one band from the rest. I wouldn’t be surprised if Brooklyn alone had the highest number of people in bands per capita. We didn’t really feel like we were a part of any community in NY. Sarah Lawrence {college} was a different story, but in the city, we felt like a small fish in a big pond. Its our hope that the support we got in NY will stay strong as we intend to come back often. And the friends, artists, musicians, etc. that we have gotten to know will always be our friends. Space and time won’t change that!

Colin Fahrner: Amen.

Big Tree has semi-recently undergone a line-up change, though seamlessly because the band charisma remains at a high level. How has the change affected the sound of the group or the on-stage dynamic?

LB: It's hard to tell because, being so involved in the music-making process, an objective perspective is hard to come by. The sound has definitely evolved but yet it still retains the Big Treeness... technically speaking, some of the vocal harmonies on the new tunes are different because Madeleine has a higher range that enables her to harmonize above Kaila, as opposed to below. That gives a different aural balance to the music. Danny has a different range of musical influences that he’s bringing in which is new and exciting. Perhaps we are jamming a little more too?

The onstage dynamic must be different because we are a different group of people. Madeleine can’t not dance while singing so that’s probably nice to look at. We all get along even after spending the day in the van together so our dynamic on and offstage is purdy fun lovin'.

CF: Yeah, it’s a different thing, but it’s good. We’re having hella fun, and that’s what it’s all about, man...

Big Tree’s been touring in a grease van paid for by supportive fans. I know several other groups touring with grease vans, and they caused them nothing but trouble, and yet it seems like your van is doing well. Tell me about the grease car concept and the decision to invest in one.

LB: When our lineup changed, the van we toured in went with it. It was clear to us that if we didn’t have a van to tour in, the band couldn’t continue in the manner we wanted it to. So Kaila brought up kickstarter.com as an idea to raise funds for a new van. While we were brainstorming Danny brought up the idea of a grease van, and we all instantly took to the idea. A blogger once illuminated the contradictory fact that we claim to love nature yet drive around in a gas guzzling van. That criticism was indeed true. It's hard not to shit on the environment in this day and age but there are many things one can do to avoid it, they just take work. So we pitched the Kickstarter project to raise funds to buy a used diesel van and convert it. Much to our amazement, our fans, friends, and family pledged all the necessary funds!!!

We got the van converted and took it on the road a month later. Frankly, it did cause us nothing but trouble. But most of those troubles were actually a result of it being a 10 year old used van, not the grease system. We only had one MAJOR problem with the grease system, (diesel filling up our veggie tank, OH NO). Although every time we had to filter grease in a parking lot or change an oil filter, it was somewhat of a debacle. We are now WAY more educated about mechanics than we were 3 months ago and the feeling of being able to find fuel in a dumpster is pretty surreal. We clocked in about 5,000 miles on grease during this tour and saved over $1,000 in the process! We definitely want to keep doing it, learning from the last tour to make it better on the next one. We will never take filling up at a gas station for granted again!

As the music industry devolves and is succeed by “do-it-yourself” artists, the idea of releasing more EPs and less full-length albums grows in popularity. The idea is, of course, to keep fans captivated. With the release of the three-song EP Home (Here) have you bought in to this idea? Have MP3s won the war on music and do you plan on releasing more EPs?

LB: The release of this EP was somewhat unintentional. We recorded 4 songs last summer in the Bay Area with the intention of using them as demos of our new material. We eventually realized that they sounded great and we should put them out. So Tom and Spaceman Sound mixed and mastered 3 of the tracks and we went about putting out a short EP. We are definitely album people, so we probably won’t continually release EPs, but this seemed like the right thing to do at the time since our full length was over a year old and people wanted to hear new songs. We have done the DIY thing since the beginning and we think its awesome that the ‘devolution of the music industry’ has lead to a simultaneous democratization. However, doing it DIY is a ton of work and takes away from what we love to do: make music! So we are holding out on our second full length until we find a label to put out a sweet LP!

Big Tree Interview ~ Angelica-Music

Who does the cover art for your albums and how do I get in touch with them?

LB: The great and masterful Matt Alie did the artwork for the full-length and EP. Check him out. He really captures the emotion and sensitivity of the music in a special way. And he’s a dollface!

I don’t think the effort a band puts in to advertising, tour managing, doing myspace, Facebook, and Website upkeep, recording, and touring can be overstated. Big Tree works especially hard to make it as artists, and yet gives so much back to their fans. It’s a full-time job, but you are all also looking for “real” jobs. What’s that like?

LB: It sucks! We wish we didn’t have to get “real” jobs because to us our real job is to play music. And I think we all feel that it is just a matter of time until music can be our job as well as our passion. But like you say, you have to work double time in the beginning and that can be really hard. At the same time I’m super grateful that we are able to pursue being in a band to this extent because if it were a different era, this might not be possible. The internet really has revolutionized the world of music for smaller bands and its a tool that has helped us get ourselves out there. Working “real” jobs gives us the energy, desire, and content that fuels our musical endeavors.

I think of you guys so much as an autumnal band, playing in the Teahaus with the wind biting our cheeks and a little whiskey in our cups, all the leaves changing colors. It’s difficult to see the band as particularly Californian. I am, however, looking forward to the evolution. How has the Big Tree sound evolved?

LB: Thats funny. We’ve always thought of ourselves as more of a Californian sound than East Coast. But hey, we’re not trying to start a new east-west beef here. We’ve got enough love to spread around! Like I said before, I’m not sure how the sound has evolved. Our new material is distinct but also hails back to Kaila’s EP days. Many of the new songs are about the hard times resulting from living in NY so I can only imagine that the content will change when we settle into Cali. Since we’ve moved to the Bay we haven’t been playing because we’ve got to get those “real” jobs and get our proverbial shit together. So time will only tell how the sound will change. Having Kaila write the songs means that we have a coherent sound by nature and at the same time are constantly evolving as the five of us as musicians absorb new music and soundscapes.

CF: We started in NY, but none of us are actually from there, so California seemed like a good place to relocate. We’ll give it a try and see how things go. The only thing we’re not gonna do is stop making music!

What fears and hopes do you have for the next few months during Big Trees big move?

LB: No fears at all! Only hopes! We hope that California will continue to embrace us with open arms. We hope that the Bay Area will be a supportive new home. We hope to get jobs. We hope to get a record label. We hope that the oil stops gushing into the gulf and all the conflicts in the world will end. We hope that there isn’t a major earthquake on the San Andreas fault. We hope that everyone in the world is happy and that they come to our shows!

C: Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Make sure to check out their new EP and website for upcoming dates.

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