How did the recording process for Trees work?
ML: Robert Drake from WXPN and Kids Corner and KindieComm heard we were doing Trees and asked us to do 15 minutes at KindieComm [in 2014]. I went to Lewisburg to practice some songs with him, so it wouldn't be all be new when we got up on stage.
We left the possibility of working together on the songs on the table, but I don't write much with other people. So we were sending stuff back and forth, supporting each other's songs.
When we recorded, we brought people out of their comfort zones. That was where the fact that Dean and Billy are really good musicians helped.
BK: Yeah, that's where the collaboration came in. I'm flip, Molly's emotional. For the song "Here Come the Trees," for example, [there's a spoken-word part, and] they tried to get me to talk in just a normal voice. Molly turned off the light [in the recording studio] and just used a flashlight to help encourage me to be myself. Or on "The Dichotomous Key," which has a really fast, high-pitched part for Molly to sing.
ML: It was like we were all leaning over the same car engine. All three of us are bandleaders of our own projects, so we'd bring in our own ideas on arrangements… It was suggested that everybody should sing together, like at a funeral, for "Count Your Rings." That was weird.
BK: We were literally standing together, like at a funeral. We were so serious.
ML: There were other points where we were dancing around [Billy], on "I, Wood."
BK: While I was doing my Tom Jones impression...
ML: We were feeding off each other.
BK: The whole week was so fun. They'd be dancing around me, trying not to make the floorboards creak. It really was a three-way split.
How much did you know about trees before writing and recording the album? Did you check out a book on California? [That, readers, is a shout-out to "Coniferous Trees."]
BK: Hah! Yes, we checked out some books. Years ago, I was a birdwatcher, and so learned some about trees through that. I had a casual interest in trees, but by no means was I am expert. My songs [on the album] were more info-driven and on things that I didn't know [when I started].
ML: I don't really know much about trees -- I thought I would learn more when I started this project.
It's funny, when we announced the project, we'd get letters or posts from people who, in all seriousness, would say things like, "I'm sure you're going to do the birch."
BK: "The willow!"
ML: So on "Trees," which leads off the album, Billy gave me the more dreamy, less technical lines, which really set up the whole structure of the album… On "Coniferous Tree," his instructions when he gave me the lyrics were that I should make it as difficult as possible for him.
BK: She was supposed to be the Fozzie Bear to my Kermit
ML: So there was the script, and I was really sick that wick. We stayed with Rachel Loshak (singer and wife of Gustafer Yellowgold creator Morgan Taylor), and she took care of me and was such a mom to me and would send me with concoctions. I was in a bit of a daze. I'd kind of lost my place in some of the songs.
BK: I'd get a little frustrated with her interruptions, and then I'd remember that my instructions to her were "Try To Ruin The Song."
ML: I like to think of it as, "That's Molly, daydreaming" and there's Billy, trying to provide real information.
So what from this experience do you take away into the rest of your recording life?
BK: I want to be first and I want to be sincere? Can I? I love my studio here, working with my band, but the experience of this was one in a million. The whole week was great, Dean was on point the whole time. The takeaway was something like this might not happen again -- it was magic and creative. We talk often about working together on other things, but I don't know if we could recapture it. Even if we didn't record anything, the week was worth it.
ML: For me, it's the power of working with other people who are also writers of words, of melodies. It was kind of electric.
It had to happen fast. Sometimes there's the danger of taking a song and everybody knows it so well, it's lost that brand-new magic. I've learned that the first time you sing a song, that's the take you want. Redoing it, you can't recapture the magic, you lose touch with the magic. I'd tell Dean, "This isn't practice… let's record the vocal just in case."
BK: Half the album is probably first takes.
ML: We did one take "Angel Oak," Count Your Rings," "Acorns" -- the first takes had so much of what they had to have. We did those songs live. On "To the Woods," we learned the song together… It was so fun what I want to take away from it in [other] times is to do my best to have that live quality in recording and not get too bogged down in click tracks and having everybody taking their turn.
BK: It was really interesting have three leaders… and no fights.