Who Are…Lost in the Trees
Some indie rockers simply accent their songs with strings and horns, but Lost in the Trees's symphonic elements — along with frontman Ari Picker's acoustic guitar — serve as the foundation for the folk collective's second release, All Alone in an Empty House. Re-released by ANTI- with the vocals and nearly all the instrumentals re-recorded, Empty House is at times haunting, majestic, delicate, overwhelming and celebratory. With the whole work revolving mostly around Picker's family's painful past, it's one of the year's most emotionally and musically powerful releases.
The project came about a few years ago when Picker left the experimental pop/rock band the Never to study film composition at Berklee School of Music (he has 12 credits left). He wanted to escape from being in a band, but still make music. After realizing he didn't want to follow the traditional path to becoming a film composer, Picker took his newfound love for classical music and incorporated it into a project that's still part pop, but far from the traditional sense. Empty House follows a natural progression from the group's first recording, 2007's Time Taunts Me EP: Where Time fused electronic elements with orchestral passages, Empty House is built more organically, and this rerecording especially is cleaner and more confident.
eMusic's Laura Leebove spoke with Picker about piano lessons, Wes Anderson and the challenge of sharing family issues with the world.
On his not-so-traditional childhood piano lessons:
I would follow my friends to their piano lessons. I could never get them, we couldn't afford them…I loved that elemental feeling you get when you hear a chord played on the piano when I was kid, so I would go to my buddies' piano lessons and sit in the room and listen and try to play the piano after they were done. And I think I got a piano as a teenager, somebody gave it to me and said, “If you can move it, you can have it.”
On his parents, in regards to his intensely personal music:
I think both my parents had a negative reaction to it at first, but once I explained what the whole project was, which is supposed to be this therapeutic, hopeful thing, [and I wanted to] create another plane for all that stuff that happened to exist on, so you could have a more objective view of it. It was supposed to be a productive thing, so I think initially maybe [they were] not so happy, but as they learned about the album, they grew to appreciate what it was about. But it kinda goes back and forth, and in some of the press I've done, I've not done a great job of explaining myself, or phrases get put out of context…It'll either focus too much on the negative stuff and not enough on the positive, healing aspect of the record, and it becomes one-sided, or it makes me sound angry or juvenile, or like an angry teenager, and clearly it's not supposed to be that…I think it connected my parents in a positive way. Maybe not them as individuals, but they were able to look at their past together, maybe, in a different way. So overall I think it had a positive effect on them. But I'm kinda 50/50 on how to share it with the world but not betray or hurt them, either.
On moving away from straightforward pop rock:
With [my former band] the Never, we were a pop band, and we tried to bring experimental elements to it, but we kind of leaned toward being kind of a pop/rock band, and I really wanted to get away from that with Lost in the Trees. I actually started really disliking what I had been doing in the past, so that pushed me farther and farther away from it, which led me to do Empty House. I continue to move farther and farther away from normal, straightforward pop music. I still love pop music, I just don't feel like writing it right now. I guess I just lost interest in doing it. As far as the voice goes…I'm still trying to figure out the best way to use my voice and Lost is certainly a more ambitious stab at that. I feel like I'm getting better as time goes on, which is good.
On the Zombies and Wes Anderson:
I think several artists have [combined rock, pop and classical music] really well, like Colin Bluntstone from the Zombies. He did an album called One Year, where he sings along with string trios and string quartets, and I think as far as combining well written classical, it almost has this modern flair to it, with singer/songwriter stuff, that's awesome. That's a great record to listen to. I think Wes Anderson, his film score soundtracks — obviously it's a compilation of different artists, but for me those are really inspiring because hearing the Royal Tenenbaums soundtrack, [Lost in the Trees'] Time Taunts Me, I pretty much just modeled after that record. All right, so I'm gonna have this instrumental thing here, and I'm gonna have more of a folk song here and I'll have this upbeat kind of electronic thing here. So those were a really big influence on me, just hearing that music next to each other felt really natural.
On the band's preferred live setting:
We sound best if we're completely unplugged. We start amplifying ourselves and it becomes hard to play, especially because none of our instruments have frets on them. My guitar is the only instrument that has frets, and tuning ourselves is a nightmare sometimes. I think a small, acoustic setting is always the most fun, for me. Someplace that we just mic the vocals and that's it. I think I have more fun playing for 10-20 people than I do being rushed on to a stage of hundreds of people.