Climbing Trees released one of the most impressive albums of 2013 with their debut “Hebron”. We were keen to include the band in one of our gigs and we are pleased to announce that they will be appearing with Kizzy Crawford at Chapter Arts Centre 11th April. Ahead of that we thought we should find out more about this promising new band.
The band formed back in 2011 and according to your Facebook profile it was a love of the Small Faces and Nick Drake. That seems a slightly unusual combination. Tell us how you met and decided to form the band. You are also part of the ‘Cymrucana’ scene. Please explain!
Our original line-up came together in the summer of 2011 after getting to know each other through playing gigs and jam nights in Pontypridd at places like Globetrotters Bar and Clwb y Bont. Ponty’s a pretty tight-knit scene, where everyone knows everyone, so it didn’t take long for us to decide a band would be a good idea. For the first few months we were churning out indie music which we enjoyed at the time, but looking back it wasn’t really us. A bit of a member reshuffle eventually led to a complete change in sound, which was when Climbing Trees was born.
The Small Faces and Nick Drake are influences, but then again so are Mogwai and the Super Furries. To list all of our influences would be akin to reading every number in the phone directory, there are literally too many to mention - The great thing about this band is that each member was coming from a different place musically, where we started introducing one another to different bands and artists, and I think this is reflected in what is now our signature sound. Before long we were being asked by local press and just people in general how we’d describe our music, which at the time was a vague mixture of folk, country and Americana. None of these seemed to accurately define us though, so ‘Cymrucana’ was originally a tongue-in-cheek comment that became our standard response to the question, and a way of defining the band without really saying anything at all. The truth is that the ‘Cymrucana’ scene consists solely of Climbing Trees. We’re quite open to other bands and artists joining us though, if they so wish…
Your debut album “Hebron” was released last year. The recording lasted the best part of a year. Can you tell us about the recording process and whether you entered the studio with finished arrangements and all the parts in mind or did things develop in the studio?
Hebron was a great record to be a part of for everyone involved. Although the recording spanned nine months or so from start to finish, we actually recorded the whole album in three visits to Mwnci Studios in Carmarthenshire – which, for those who are yet to discover it, is in the middle of nowhere – and lived there as a band for roughly a week at a time. I think this is where we truly began to feel like an actual band for the first time.
At that point we hadn’t really spent a great amount of time with one another outside of music – we were only really all in the same room when we were rehearsing or playing gigs. Now all of a sudden we were with each other twenty-four-seven, cooking together, sleeping in an old chicken shack, writing and drinking ’til the wee hours, and really getting to know each other for the first time. That first week we spent in Mwnci felt magical, almost, and I think of the half a dozen or so tracks that we recorded that week, probably two or three at most existed beforehand. The rest were either written or developed considerably in the studio, and it really felt like our surroundings and the atmosphere as a whole greatly affected the music that we produced there.
The album was produced by Jethro Chaplin who has an impressive CV having worked with the likes of Colorama, Catrin Finch and Paper Aeroplanes. What was he like to work with and what was his relationship with the band in the studio?
It was great to work with Jethro – we really can’t praise him enough. We had no idea who he’d worked with when we came across Mwnci Studios, and just liked the idea of recording an album in the middle of nowhere with a man who lives in the middle of nowhere and could quite possibly be on the verge of madness. He did a great job though, and he’s just one of those people that you feel, once you start chatting to him, that you’ve known for years. I think we ended up having him on tambourine on one or two of the tracks in the end, so he’s an honourary Tree.
Your songs are credited as being by the band as a whole. How do you go about writing songs? Is it through jamming musical ideas or does one of you bring in a melody that you work on together??
I think, with regards to the first album, individually we all had a lot of ideas that we wanted to realise. Generally one of us would come into practice with the bear bones of a track and it would be chopped, changed and arranged until gradually it became a ‘Climbing Trees’ song and we’d forgotten who’d had the original idea in the first place. There are a few songs on that album, or at least snippets of songs, that in their original format pre-dated Climbing Trees as a band, yet listening to them now they are undoubtedly ‘Climbing Trees’ songs, and something that we’ve created together. Listening to the rough demos of most of the tracks, it’s interesting to hear how much they grew from the initial idea to what eventually ended up on the album.
The album is self-released. How have you found the experience of doing it yourself and what has the reaction been from the press, fans, radio etc?
Speaking on a personal level, releasing Hebron independently has been one of the toughest yet most satisfying things I’ve done to date. When we recorded the first tracks in May 2012 we were originally intending to make an EP, just something to sell at gigs and maybe get played on local radio now and again. As we developed as a band and started writing more together, we came to the conclusion that we might as well go all out and make an album. I think the idea of being in complete control and making the album we wanted to make really appealed to us, and so the project was funded from savings and whatever we could scrape together, from recording, mixing and mastering to the eventual printing and pressing of the album. When the box of a thousand CDs arrived in August 2013, we felt like we’d really achieved something, whereas in reality I suppose we’d achieved very little. The tough work starts when you have to convince the rest of the world outside of the band bubble that you’ve created some sort of masterpiece, and luckily a lot of people seem to have listened to or bought the record and fallen in love with it – masterpiece or not! We’ve also had great support throughout the Welsh press, and the likes of BBC Radio Wales in particular, but we’re under no illusions that there’s a long way to go until we get to where we want to be. Which is eventual world domination, of course
Hebron is a very impressive debut. Have you got plans and material emerging for the follow up?
Hebron was a learning process for us as a band, and our sound was constantly developing throughout the writing and recording of the album, which is reflected in the diversity of genres featured on the album. There can’t be many debut albums that range from gospel to prog, or from country to a solo piano instrumental, but that’s just what came out at the time. I think with our new material there’ll be more of a focus on one ‘sound’, which is perhaps heavier than people would expect after listening to the first album, but it’ll still be undeniably a Climbing Trees record.
Your harmonies are pretty special. When you first sang together was there one of those moments, as experienced by Crosby, Stills & Nash, when it just clicked and sounded amazing or did it require more fine tuning and practise?
Our memories are pretty skewed in the sense that we’d probably like to recollect that we all sat around and immediately started harmonising with one another. And that’s probably how the scene will pan out in some future low-budget film about the band. In reality though, we’ve probably had to work on our harmonies as much as any other aspect of a song – and sometimes that includes knowing when not to harmonise. Certain songs benefited from a four or five-part harmony (‘Burning Candle’ being an obvious example), whereas a song like ‘Gone To Sea’ could only ever work with the lone vocal taking precedence.
You are a pretty formidable live band. What do you like most about performing in front of an audience?
I’ve always enjoyed performing live more than any other aspect of music. As a band we enjoy writing together, we enjoy rehearsing, and I think we’ve learnt to love recording just as much, but nothing beats the thrill of playing live, whether it’s a coffee shop with twenty-five people crammed in or a sold-out theatre (and we’ve been fortunate enough to experience both ends of the spectrum!). One of the most exciting things about music is the ability to create something in a room with your friends and then transfer that to a live setting where an audience can enjoy it as much as you do, and we’re lucky enough to have people that care about our music and that are eager to hear our new material, which we’re extremely grateful for.
Tell us about your plans for the rest of 2014.
We’ll be back in the studio around Easter time starting work on the next release, and there are also a couple of videos in the pipeline. We’ve been lying low and writing our new material over the last few months, ready for a busy spring and summer of gigs and festival appearances where we’ll be debuting some of these new tracks as well as playing the majority of Hebron to new fans with fresh ears. After that we might round the year off with a shot at Christmas No.1. We’ll see how things pan out…
Tickets for the show at Chapter with Kizzy Crawford on Friday 11th April are available here: