EMOT on Trees & Claws and DIY cassettes
EMOT sounds like wordplay with a secret meaning, but it really is just a talented group of musicians from St. Paul getting ready to release the secret Trees & Claws EP on cassette.
On their new release, lead singer, Matt Leavitt's vocals really shine through. It's a particularly cozy dream in which you find yourself wandering in a foggy, vast landscape. In short: brilliant.
Gimme Noise sat down with Dan Chroma and Matt Leavitt to talk about the EP release before the show at Hell's Kitchen.
Band Members: Dan Choma, Justin Hartke, Matt Leavitt, Robert Mulrennan
What's the meaning behind the name Trees & Claws?
Matt: Trees & Claws was pulled out of the lyrics to the lead track on the EP, "Lifting Off." It seems to suggest dichotomy; things that arise from the same well, but yet remain distinct & divided. I became interested in that imagery, and it appears in some form on all of the tracks -- on a subconscious level in retrospect.
I tend to take a more veiled approach to lyric writing that references specific details of events but leaves the events ambiguous. I have tremendous respect for songwriters who can convey thoughts & circumstances in a more direct way but that approach, thus far, has not really worked for me.
"Lifting Off" kind of addresses that frustration as well. On a larger level though, I can connect with the lyrical approach of writers like Tim Rutili, Richard Buckner & Mark Hollis; lyrics that hold tremendous emotional weight but remain like a mystery to be slowly revealed. They bypass the conscious mind to some degree.
A secret cassette...sounds like something out of a spy movie. Who came up with the idea to release on cassette?
Matt: As far as the cassette goes we had this collection of songs that fit surprisingly well together and no home for them. When Dan started up the cassette label it seemed like an ideal medium to convey the song's mindset and sonic environment.
Dan: I really fell in love/obsession with cassettes as a medium for a label this last year. The rest of the band was open and understanding as I came in to rehearsals spewing my excitement like a broken teenage record.
I think the analog resurgence is a natural correction to the depreciation of music that has happened with the rise of MP3s being the dominant medium of our generation. I collect lots of music that I don't ever get a chance to absorb but I think that's pretty common for folks growing up in the shadow of Napster. We begin to listen to music like we surf the Internet, and that doesn't usually allow the time for art to sink in and move you. The music starts to fit into the space between kitten videos and Angry Birds.
What do you think of the resurgence of vinyl and cassette sales?
Dan: Vinyl and cassette have been a way for musicians and artists to kindly say to the listener, "I know there are lots of kittens on the Internet, but what do you say you turn off that machine for a while and listen to this? We put a lot of time into it, and we really hope it moves you." It expects more of the listener, but the rewards are exponential.
How has the sound and music evolved since the release of the last album, Make You Electric?
Matt: These songs are a logical extension of ground we explored on Make You Electric. The instrumentation is similar but some of the songs are a bit leaner. As time goes on we're listening to each other more and exploring what each person brings to the table. That process is still very exciting to me and I feel like there is much more for us to explore and yet have a musical home at the same time.
Dan: I think of this cassette as an extension of our last record, it's similar in tone, but releasing it on tape allows up to include some songs that work best when experienced in a specific order.
How did you come to work with Run Ruby Red Records?
Dan: Run Ruby Red Records is a label I started this year to release mainly cassettes. There is a cacophony of different labels and bands in the Twin Cities, so I wanted to do something different and intriguing. Plus, as I researched the medium of cassettes, I fell in love with them. There is something very romantic about them, how they change with time, how your favorite cassettes start to warble and warp. They're an analog medium like vinyl, only much more portable and accessible.
The band seems to very much be a DIY project. Do you enjoy a more hands-on approach to this side of the business?
Dan: With this EP and our previous record, we have been really blessed to work with the guys over at Shock and Audio, so technically this wouldn't be a purely DIY project. We were able to treat this project and our last record with the creative freedom that one treats a DIY project, we took our time, we tried every idea that came into our heads, and each of our voices were heard.
Dan: I don't think DIY is a new thing to the music industry, but rather something that has existed in the underground (especially with tapes) for a long time. DIY has recently taken the spotlight as major labels became almost entirely irrelevant to independent music when Clear Channel took over the radio with The Digital Millennium Copyright Act. People have been making records on their own terms far before 1998, (look at Ani DiFranco) and now that the big four aren't making sales, the folks that have been self-funding releases not only look smart, but clairvoyant.
That said, I don't necessarily think DIYers are rogue geniuses, and there still is a strong place for the record label in today's industry. Their purpose has just evolved into musicians taking ownership over their own art by pooling their collective markets into a "brand" they can share.
It is beneficial to be social, especially when your music isn't hook heavy candy pop. Look over at the resurgent local Crushkill Records or Brooklyn's Northern Spy Records for examples. These labels are less about funding, and more about being a collective that is better than its individual parts. It's like DIY has evolved from Do It Yourself to Do It Ourselves, and I can really stand behind that concept as an effective and healthy way to collaborate.
Matt: Agreed, it encourages the growth of many people and many projects besides your own which is a benefit to all involved.
You all play in a lot of other bands and projects. What does everyone bring to the table musically, and how do you find the time for EMOT?
Matt: I feel like this band has both a very workman-like attitude and a no-limits approach to making songs & albums and those two elements are in a constant ebb & flow. We try to be purposeful about arrangements but some of the stronger material, in my opinion, came from rehearsal improvisation that we then developed further. I think I've learned to leave the door open for different musical directions and I trust these guys' instincts. I'll often come with some demos, but I've loosened my grip on what the ending should be. I think our musical tastes and personalities are such that we're able to entertain most ideas and still be able to listen as objectively as possible. No one is fighting to have their arena solo moment, and that attitude fits the character of the songs we write.
It'd always be great to have more time to write & explore new live possibilities but Dan, Bobby, and Justin bring in ideas and inspiration from those different bands which, in my opinion, makes them more versatile & stronger musicians. We're all committed to this project so we find time to do it. We're already preparing to do another batch of recording sessions in the late spring/summer of 2012.
Dan: Like any labor of love, we fit in rehearsals where we can and try to get as much work done as possible when the opportunity arises. For example, we used to rehearse at 11 p.m. on Wednesday nights when we all had to work in the morning. We all made a collective choice that this is something we love to do, so we show up and do it.
Personally speaking, Justin, Matt, and Bobby are awesome at bringing something exciting to the table any time we rehearse or get together, and that spark enables me to say, "Okay, I'm going to be wrecked tomorrow morning after we rehearse into the night, but that sample, that slide guitar line, and that bass run make it totally worth it."
What can we expect at the EP release show?
We're sharing the bill with three awesome bands: Very Small Animal, Mona, and the Further Adjustments. They're all really great. Music starts at 10pm at Hell's Kitchen Underground.
EMOT will release Trees & Claws at Hell's Kitchen with Mona, Very Small Animal, and the Further Adjustments on Thursday, March 27, 2012.
21+, $5, 9 pm
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.