Sunday, 14 May 2017

An Interview with Sam Hart from ELEPHANT TREE

The story of Elephant Tree (UK) started in around 2013, when four young gentlemen from London made up their minds to create a stoner doom band. Jack Townley took the responsibility for guitars and vocals, Sam Hart took percussion, Riley MacIntyre discovered his talent in singing and playing sitar, and Peter Holland took the role of bass player and vocalist (as he was already doing the same in another band: Trippy Wicked & the Cosmic Children of the Knight).

Their version of doom stoner is dark, deep and natural in wide sense. Slow flow of spleen takes you off and plunge in aphotic world of strange trees and thick riffs. Elephant Tree released their sophomore album April 2016, so I’ve decided to ask them if new material is already in progress. Sam replied to my request, and the result of our conversation is right before you now.

Hello Sam! How are you? What’s going on in the shadows of Elephant Tree?

Hi Aleks! I’m good thanks, as are the rest of the guys. We’ve just been in the studio again recently preparing some final touches to our track for the Planet Of Doom film. Can’t wait to get it sent over and see the finished thing!

Planet of Doom? I heard something about few months ago… It’s some DIY fantastic movie about doom music?

Yeah, that’s right. The guy running it is David Paul Seymour, who some people will immediately recognize as the creator of some of the best album covers in the scene. It’s going to be this awesome collective of artists and bands telling a story through music and artwork. You can hit up more details over here .

Well, I didn’t prepare and don’t know how you did figure out the band’s name. So can you enlighten me – what did you put in the image of Elephant Tree?

It’s actually a bit of an anticlimactic story really. We were trying to figure out a good band name that hadn’t already been used and didn’t sound too cheesy, so we decided to try looking at book titles. I just googled ‘fucked up books’ and there it was on the list at number 53 or something. The Elephant Tree by R. D. Ronald. We didn’t even look what it was about before deciding to stick with it. I think I’m the only one in the band who’s read it. It’s not too bad actually…

Your debut record “Theia” was released in 2014, and even for the first record you chosen James Plotkin to do mastering of your material. Was it a part of your plan? How did you see Elephant Tree’s right sound back then?

When we first decided to record we had no money, had only played a few gigs, and were working on the songs still. We decided that the sound we wanted to go for was a raw ‘rough and ready’ kind of sound. Basically to reflect that we were fairly new and also because we were all broke! We ended up getting into Sam Thredder’s (Slabdragger) studio. It’s this cool tiny set up he has in his attic that we barely all fitted into at the same time. Sam’s great at working with new bands and had us re-working and tweaking the tracks as we went along. I think as a band we learnt a lot over that weekend about how we wanted to progress and build for the next album. Sam suggested we ask James to master the album and put us in contact. He just seems to have the talent to make anything sound crushingly heavy.

Was it expensive to record the first album?

Theia wasn’t expensive at all really. Sam understands the struggle of new bands trying to get recorded so sorted us out with a really good offer. To be honest though, it wasn’t really about the money at that point, more about getting someone who would understand the genre.

Elephant Tree - Attack of the Altaica

I guess that it was good for the band that you found Magnetic Eye Records pretty soon and they released the album both as CD and vinyl. Consider promotion side… does it change situation that you’re based in UK and the label is from USA?

It does get difficult sometimes. I think the hardest thing is us being able to show the guys what we’re working on and work on ideas for promotions, because of the time difference and not being able to be there in person. The distance and time gap also means it takes a while to get replies and organize things, but they do get sorted in the end.

The sophomore album shows natural development of the band though core components of the debut album are on their places. How would you determine direction in which the band moved from “Theia” to “Elephant Tree”?

We had more time together as people. After a while you get to really know your band mates and the things that make them tick while playing live or recording. Also going on tour helps you develop. Just spending time and listening to each other’s favorite tracks helps understand what elements each of you want to bring into our own music. I know my drumming skills developed a lot and Jack and Pete both honed their tones and styles into something that just felt comfortable and right.

Riley was the one who made bigger suggestions of change. He really stepped back from the writing and live performances to focus on his career working at The Church Studios so the rest of us had to re-group and come up with a set of new material that didn’t rely heavily on Riley’s live involvement. Then we took it into the studio and he either loved it or told us that it needed to change. It helps having someone who isn’t married to the ideas you come up with when a riff gets played for the very first time. It also helps if that person is certified ‘exceptional talent’ as well…

Speaking about you “had more time together” – do you mean drinking and smoking? Some of your songs have thick psychedelic vibe; so do substances help sometimes?

I mean just generally hanging out. I don’t know where this whole ‘oh yeah we’re really cool because we always hang out and smoke weed all the time’ image comes from. I think it’s more closely associated with the states where it’s generally a bit more accepted. We just go get trashed in Wetherspoons.

(NOTE – Wetherspoons is a UK chain of Pubs and Bars around the UK)
Your material is balanced combination of different sonic experiments: doom elements, a bit of psychedelic and post influences. How did you invent this blend?

It really came out of each of us liking a wide variety of music. We all listen to a lot of different genres, for instance, Jack listens to a lot of folk music and Gary Newman, which means one day he might come in and say ‘It’d be cool to do a weird thing with sung choral harmonies over a distorted synth’. Then we work on making that work with whatever me and Pete have brought in before taking it to Riley and asking him to make it happen in the studio.

Was this formula calculated? How did you get that this sort of vocals work well with such music? And sitar, how did you decided to leave it amongst your tools?

It’s not calculated at all. We just try make things interesting. There are a lot of good Doom/Stoner/whatever metal bands out there now, and they all do what they do very well, but we just decided that we’d rather be a bit different and make something we found interesting. The sitar came about because Riley brought it with him to his first band practice and we all felt bad about telling him to take it home again. It looked quite heavy.

Another feature of Elephant Tree is deep melancholic mood, some sort of spleen, what kind of emotions do you tend to put in your songs?

We try to mix it up a bit. It’s quite difficult sometimes to not come across as a miserable bastard, as the genre tends to lend its self towards the gloomy side of life. I guess that’s why they call it Doom and not Rainbow metal…

You have a pair of good poetic finding on the second album, what can you tell about songs like “Aphotic Blues” and “Surma”?

As with most of our songs, the musical content comes first and then we play around with a theme that we think would fit the mood of the music. Playing around with melody ideas for a while usually brings some lyrical ideas and then we run with that. I don’t like to give too much away about the themes of our songs really as it’s better if everyone has their own interpretations, some interesting and some hilarious.

The second Elephant Tree’s album was released almost one year ago, can you already tell something about new material?

We are in the stage of writing new tracks at the moment and aren’t far off having a few finished musically already. Its never healthy to set a stern time limit on things as we want to work on stuff until we feel we’ve done the best we can with it, but we have set a goal of having a new release recorded before the year is out.

How do you see band's prospects consider further sonic development? Do you have an ultimate goal?

There is no plan or ultimate goal really, just to keep experimenting. We all have different ideas but at the same time we aren’t afraid to tell someone the noise they are making is shit.

Is it necessary to experiment further? I’m meaning that the second album is just really damn good one, I wonder that else could be added to such stuff…

We are looking at always changing what we do to keep it fresh for the fans and us. Playing the same style of stuff over and over takes it’s toll and when it no longer becomes fun then that’s it, the effort drops and the music suffers. That’s not to say we’ll be going drastically different, Jack can always release his K-Pop tracks as a solo project.

You're from London, and local rock scene is just huge. How did you find your own place there? Is it easy to find venue for Elephant Tree's live practices?

Having Pete in the band helps with this. He’s a bit of a celebrity on the scene, so he knows loads of the other bands and people involved in putting on shows. There’s also an amazing community vibe that goes on. Bands message other bands and get each other shows and generally just help each other out. There are very few ‘big egos’ which helps.

You mean that Pete is famous dude because of Trippy Wicked & the Cosmic Children of the Knight, right? How do they gain the recognition? And why didn’t Pete share this secret with you still?

Pete is just known for being Pete. Trippy are doing really well but he’s always at gigs and just seems to know everyone. There really wasn’t any secret to tell, he’s like magnet when it comes to attracting conversations in bars.

How often do you receive feedback from people? Is it enough intensive to motivate you move further?

Honestly, not as much as you would imagine. People will come up after shows and we get a lot of reviews but not many people will tell you when they have an issue with a song or there’s something they didn’t like. None of it really changes our views on things anyway, for me personally it’s a bonus that people dig what we do, I mainly do it because it’s something I enjoy.

Okay, Sam, then I hope that this interview will help us to spread the word about Elephant Tree further and you find more careful listeners through it. Let’s sum up – what’s band’s general sacred message?

“Where’s the Spoons?”

Words by Aleks Evdokimov and Sam Hart