Trees’ new project goes for a less dense sound

Feb. 27, 2014 @ 10:10 AM

For Lost in the Trees’ new recording “Past Life,” composer and singer Ari Picker wanted the sound “to feel like a band versus an ensemble.” For the band’s previous recordings “All Alone in an Empty House” (2008) and “A Church that Fits Our Needs” (2012), Picker would write the parts for a strings section, but for “Past Life,” he wanted a sound he calls less dense. On the new recording, a single guitar sound or synthesizer performs the same function as strings, brass and winds.

Local audiences will get to listen to what Picker is thinking Friday when this Chapel Hill-based group performs music from “Past Life” and other recordings at Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro.
The compositions on “Past Life” still have string and horn arrangements, and voices are arranged in such a way as to sound choral. Picker cites the song “Lady in White” as one example of the more minimalist approach to arrangements. (The tune has a strings section, but Picker’s vocals at times are accompanied exclusively by drums or keyoard.) The title song also shows a predominance of electric guitar, with strong drum rhythms. Picker and Lost in the Trees keyboard player and vocalist Emma Nadeau co-wrote the piece “Excos,” a collaboration that “is something new for me.”  The tune begins with what sounds like vocal echoes before the keyboards and cymbals come in. Pickler sings, but at one moment we hear piano and percussion exclusively, with brief notes from what sounds like trumpet and sax. All of the tunes on “Past Life” are well-crafted, with beautiful, sometimes ethereal, sometimes even melancholy, melodies.
Picker studied film composition at Berklee College of Music in Boston. The previous recordings were “in tandem with my time at Berklee,” when he was trying to incorporate classical Western music influences into his work, he said. For “Past Life,” rather than write out every part and then rehearse, Picker said he did demos of the tunes, then asked the band members to contribute in a more collective process.
While he is proud of the previous records, the compositional process can be exhausting, he said. On “Past Life,” a feeling of modern electronic music can be heard. “It certainly seeped into this record,” with the group still “retaining enough of our voice … and that was a refreshing pause from the somewhat tedious compositional world I was in. Making this record was extremely fun and freeing,” Picker said.
While “Past Life” was being mixed, Picker and Nadeau were also composing and performing music for PlayMakers Repertory Company’s production of William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” which ran in rotating repertory with Mary Zimmerman’s “Metamorphoses.” Picker described composing for PlayMakers as a great experience. “I was amazed at how efficient and professional they were with their productions. It was pretty inspiring.”
For the new recording, Lost in the Trees worked with an outside producer, Nicolas Vernhes (Animal Collective, Deerhunter) for the first time. Picker said past recordings were “a Frankenstein of home and studio recordings,” but “Past Life” is all studio, creating “a more crisp record. … Ultimately the thing that is limiting as far as being at home … is not having the correct acoustic space,” he said. “I learn so much from each record, so the next project will probably have more of a home recording element to it, but be more professional.” 

Go and Do

WHAT: Lost in the Trees, promoting the new recording “Past Life”
WHEN: Friday, 8:30 p.m.
WHERE: Cat’s Cradle, 300 E. Main St., Carrboro
ADMISSION: Tickets are $15. To purchase, call 919-967-9053 or visit