With all that's going on in their lives, it's no surprise that Tree Blood might look a bit tired over breakfast. The members of the noise-punk trio remain chipper despite being sleep deprived, as we gather to talk shop in their Minneapolis practice space. They've been putting the finishing touches on their brand new record, I Am a Disgusting Pig, and business has been good at Dead Media, the Seward-neighborhood record store that the band co-owns together.
From the outset, the group -- guitarists/vocalists Colin Wilkinson and Simon Brooks and drummer Walker Neudorff -- have specialized in cassette tapes from the fringes, stocking the shelves with punk, indie, and DIY releases similar to their own sound, while emphasizing homegrown artists. Lately, the scene's been giving back.
"We had our first profit month last month!" Wilkinson exclaims proudly, pounding the table. "But you know, we're only five months in. I think what we've accomplished so far has been astounding."
Even if they're still working soul-sucking bar-back jobs to finance it, these Tree Blood kids are the scruffy, red-eyed face of the American Dream in 2015. In addition to their Dead Media venture, the boys are also investing in their practice space, building a bonafide studio in the guts of an old warehouse basement. Working with a tight-knit collective of bands like Oliver Quincy, Jaeyden James & the Hunger, and Cool Dog, Tree Blood have helped rehab the space, dubbed L9 by the tenants.
"It's more of a cooperative now, rather than some dude's business," explains Brooks amid the sheetrock dust floating in the air at L9. "There are four of us on the lease, and then everybody is chipping in rent and taking a more active role."
In Brooks's case, that role involves being the studio's primary engineer and gear supplier, assisting the handful of bands that are part of L9's orbit with record production. All three members of the band have poured more time and money into the space than they can really afford, but they succeeded in transforming L9 into the perfect nest for recording their new album.
The trio's pulverizing, feedback-laced songs were written with a grimy basement show audience in mind, and as a result, the band puts a premium on intensity and volume. At the time of Pig's tracking, the studio more closely resembled the stark basement venues that the band feels comfortable in. But after several bouts of no-frills recording in their practice space, the group was ready to give a more hi-fi approach a try.
"Initially, we were using amp cabs and blankets and stuff and building a little tiny room for the drums, and isolating the guitars to get a really dry sound," Brooks says, describing his techniques as an engineer. "I spent four hours carefully putting blankets on mic stands and stuff. But right when we went to hit record, the tape machine broke, so we dropped that idea."[page]
The breakdown turned out to be a serendipitous development, forcing them into a spare approach featuring just a few microphones aiming to capture the untamed power of their stage show. The result is a 10-track album that was recorded live in two takes, one for each side, lending the songs a restless, careening quality.
Opening cut "Lean" finishes with a squall of sustained feedback from Brooks and Wilkinson, but instead of fading to silence, Neudorff is already clicking off the four-count to the robotic, post-punk groove of "Black Hole."
"Live shows are a really good representation of any band," says Wilkinson of the record's feel, which closely mirrors the band's frantic live show. "Most people, you have 10 minutes to get their attention, and then you get them or you lose some."
Tree Blood's savage immediacy as a live band comes through full-bore on Pig's 20-minute run time. Neudorff abuses his cocktail drum kit from the standing position like a berserk Slim Jim Phantom, while Wilkinson and Brooks take turns tearing their vocal cords to confetti to be heard above the din.
In contrast to their affable, low-key personalities, Tree Blood's lyrics are misanthropic and caustic, railing against daily frustrations and heartbreak with a dark eye turned inward. The record vacillates wildly from monstrous Earth A.D. sludge on "Shame" to Butthole Surfers noise bombs, with seemingly random flare-ups of '90s college-rock melodicism during the radio-ready intro riff of "I Tried."
It's a sound that Tree Blood have perfected over the last year. Most of the tracks were demoed by the band on a series of self-released, numerically titled tapes during 2014, lending the eventual product a compilation-as-album character reminiscent of Fugazi's 13 Songs. Matt Linden, founder of local boutique label Forged Artifacts, was lured in by those demos and enthusiastically agreed to put Pig out on cassette, and thanks to their entrepreneurial efforts, Tree Blood know just the place in town to sell it.
"There's amazing tape culture in this town," says Brooks with a smile, "Seeing that place filled with people, I just get so giddy."
Tree plays an I Am A Disgusting Pig release show with Cool Dog, VATS, and Pale Spectre on Friday, April 10, at the Eagles Club 34.
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