The Dreaming Tree is a very talented progressive leaning alt-rock band from the UK. They have just released their first new album since 2010 entitled "Silverfade". Their song writing skills have matured as a band and it is evident on this well produced collection of songs. They had the luxury of time to write the songs and road test them live before recording them, and the result if the polished "Silverfade". The album is mostly self produced but they had it mixed by Karl Groom, who has a few gold records under his belt, and mastered by Ade Emsley of Iron Maiden fame. I recently corresponded with drummer Neil Ablard.
R.V.B. - What were your early influences and how did you get started playing the drums?
Neil - Early influences for me were probably pretty much anything my parents were playing on the record player! I was ‘lucky’ in a way, in that I grew up just before satellite and Cable TV really hit, Playstation and Xbox had yet to be invented and at the time in the UK there were literally only 5 channels on television, so my parents usually had the radio on or an old vinyl record playing. That meant a lot of Neil Diamond, Moody Blues and for reasons I still don’t quite understand, Don Williams. So I had a pretty good exposure to lots of music from a very young age. By the time I was old enough to actually make some of my own musical choices about what I was listening to, Queen was the band I got into massively. And looking back, because they as a band covered so much stylistic ground, I think that helped me subconsciously be prepared to accept and listen to lots of different styles of music.
The drums just kind of happened. I used to grab my Mum’s knitting needles as a small child and turn the dining room chairs around and whack the living daylights out of them, pretending I was in the band whilst the records were playing. It kind of suggests I was always drawn towards loud and obnoxious instruments. I actually started playing drums properly when I was about 13 through lessons at school, and that was it. I was hooked, became a total drum nerd and haven’t stopped playing since.
Neil - Funnily enough, the very first band I ever joined was a band that formed in school that was called Obstinate Fish. And they actually did all original material, no covers. I think it was best described as British Indie music, kind of like The Smiths or Oasis. The very early beginnings of The Dreaming Tree had us playing covers, and we did indeed sneak in the odd original tune that we had. We basically wanted to play gigs, and the writing process was so slow and difficult that we only had about 3 songs and needed to fill out the set. So we were either a covers band with a couple of original songs, or an original act with plenty of ‘padding out’ of the set, depending on which band member you talked to.
The setlist from those early shows reflects the varied backgrounds of each of the members, really. I recall we did Kayleigh by Marillion, The Doors’ Lover Her Madly, Faith No More’s Epic, Pearl Jam’s Even Flow, Average White Band’s Pick Up The Pieces, Sting’s 7 Days and Dave Matthews Band’s Rapunzel. Plus other stuff like James Brown, and the theme from 2001. Which was our intro song. Ah, happy days. We basically tried to phase out more of the covers when we came up with a new one of our own, but it was quite tense at one point discussing the balance of covers vs originals, I seem to recall. We finally decided that we were going to have to be a ‘proper’ band at some point, so we made the decision to just do our own stuff from then on. I don’t think we’ve publicly performed a cover song in about 10 years.
Neil - Well, there’s always going to be a bit of debate about how the band morphed into what it is, but as far as I think it goes, (and alternate versions are available, by the way…) Steve Barratt, Chris Buckler and I were together in the previous incarnation of the group, and our previous guitarist, a guy called Adam Dunn, had left the band to go to guitar school in London. Chris and I had decided to quit our jobs and go to college to do a sound engineering course, mainly to further our skills in recording our band. It was there that we met Dan Jones on the same course. He was a guitarist and had a refreshing approach to the instrument, and we all started to really get on well on the course, so it seemed like an obvious step to ask him to join, given we were guitar-less at that point. Our bass player back then was a guy called Jim Peterson, who actually answered an ad we put in the paper. It turns out he was someone from my class at school, which was one of those ‘it’s a small world!’ moments. He eventually left when he had a family and started suffering time constraints with his increasing responsibilities. Neil Simpson came in then, and he was found the same way, via the band advertising. We figured if it worked for the last bass player, try again. In fact, we think this is now the accepted format for finding bass players the world over.
The band was originally called The Manhattan Project, but years ago we thought that, whilst it was a good name, it wasn’t particularly original, and there were about a million other bands with the name too, so before we started releasing records we thought it best to change it. We had a list about a mile long of various options, taken from anywhere we found the inspiration. The Dreaming Tree is a song on a Dave Matthews Band album, and ended up being the name for a band that we mostly agreed on. Not because we had a particular link to the title, we just liked the way it sounded. Plus, it didn’t really tie us in to any particular style. It could be any type of music, and we quite liked that. If you’ve been living in a hole for years, you could still guess what kind of tunes a band called Metallica or Iron Maiden will play. Not so much The Dreaming Tree. At least that was what we thought at the time.
Neil - Pretty much both, I think. There’s usually a riff, or a chord progression that we’ll have kicking around. Then we’ve always kind of all been involved in forming the song and arrangements from that point, changing anything and everything until we hit on something we like. It’s always been very collaborative. We’ve never really had anyone come in with a complete song demoed out saying ‘it goes like this’. Although we are starting to experiment with different ways of writing, just to see if we can optimize our individual time, as well as to see if it generates anything new and different. We’re lucky in that we’re not really interested in standing still as a band, and so new stuff and methods are always welcome, and we’re all pretty open to trying them out.
R.V.B. - Was there any difference in approach from recording the earlier albums "Grafting Lines and Spreading Rumours and Progress Has No Patients" to "Silverfade", or is it just a natural musical maturing process.
Neil - Interesting question. Thinking about it, I would say it’s been more of a maturing process. Each time we’ve kind of known what we were shooting for, it’s just that each time our corresponding skills have improved more and so the end result is probably closer to what we hoped it would be. I don’t think we’ve ever consciously decided to change our style just to be different. We’ve used a similar process each time for the actual recording, and it’s nice to hear a definite step forward each time in the quality of what we’ve put out.
R.V.B. - Silverfade has very nice production and songwriting... How long did take to complete this project. Who else was involved in making this record?
Neil - I can’t even remember when this was started! The songs come first, and we’ve had these for quite a number of years in some cases. The one advantage to not being a huge band on the usual recording/touring/writing treadmill is that we had the chance to write the songs and properly road test them by playing them live well before we recorded them, so by that stage they’ve usually been tightened up and honed to a high standard already, with plenty of the fat trimmed off, so to speak. The actual recording was then done over a number of months. We tracked the drums in a studio called Sinewave, that’s near where we live, and then guitars, bass and keys were added at our own Treehouse studio with us doing all the engineering as well as the playing. Vocals were added at The Treehouse and also parts at Sinewave Studios. That seems like not a lot, but it took over a year to get that far, as people’s lives and commitments and jobs get in the way of being able to devote as much time as we’d like to it in an ideal world. Plus, doing it entirely yourself is satisfying, but very hard, time consuming work. We added a few guest musicians, Reuben Archer from NWOBHM band Stampede, Becky Downes, who’s a great upcoming Blues singer in the UK, and Nigel Beer on trumpet. Because every rock band needs a bit of trumpet. From there, we sent the tracks to be mixed by Karl Groom, who’s a producer/engineer we worked with on Progress Has No Patience. He’s a better mixer than us, plus getting some fresh experienced ears onto a project is always a bonus, as by this point it gets difficult to see the wood for the trees if you’ve been doing the session for months.He’s also got bona fide gold records from his work with Dragonforce and Threshold, so as far as we’re concerned he’s much further up the music food chain than we are. We finally got the album mastered by Ade Emsley, who’s the chap responsible for doing all the recent iTunes remastering for Iron Maiden. So our new joke is to say “Our mastering dude? Oh yeah, he does Iron Maiden as well…”
Neil - That’s a lyric in one of the songs. Chris has a certain lyrical style that sometimes the rest of us don’t quite necessarily follow verbatim, so I’m going to sound ignorant now and say that I can’t really tell you the significance of the lyric within the context of the song. But in terms of the album, we were kicking around several names and ideas and ended up doing our usual democratic process and seeing which title would work best via band vote. And Silverfade won. It also kept up our ‘rule’ of not naming the album after a particular song.
R.V.B. - What were some of the more memorable shows that you have played?
Neil - We’ve been quite lucky to have played quite a few decent shows. There’s a place in Southampton called The Hobbit that’s always been a really good gig for us, and we’ve been going there a number of years now. It’s actually a really small room where the band plays, but the atmosphere and variety of people you get there usually make it a different experience every time. It’s not normally a crowd that comes specifically to see us, either, as it’s an open bar kind of place. So those shows are always eye-opening. We also played a festival in Germany that was set up by a band called Arilyn, who we know and are friends with. That was a great show in a field in the middle of Germany with a whole bunch of German people going crazy. And they didn’t really know the songs, either, which made it all the more inspiring to see them so into it. We’ve played everywhere we could, from tiny pubs up to festivals, and most shows have something about them that’s memorable. I think if you get to the stage where you’re just going out, plastering on that fake smile and plowing through the set one more time, it’s probably time to call it a day and go back to the day job.
R.V.B. - What are your plans to support the new album?
Neil - Well, we’ve managed to get a great distribution deal with QEDG/Cherry Red as the label this time around, so we’re finally able to get the album into shops and retail outlets on a much bigger scale than we had previously. Plus, we also have some PR heavyweights working at getting a bit more press and coverage in the media, so that’s all cool too. Now we’re in the process of booking some shows and getting out there to play live again and hopefully show a whole new bunch of people how well we can play the music. We’ve currently got trips to Germany and Belgium lined up, as well as some nationwide UK shows. We’re taking the approach that it’s been so long since the last album, we probably need to build some grassroots support again, as most folks who came to see us on the back of the last tour have probably passed on by now. There can be only one AC/DC, and its not us.
R.V.B. - Who came up with the funny bio's on the blog lol? Good sense of humor.
Neil - Ah, the bios. Sorry. That was me. We have always had an approach with this band that has been “We’re very serious at not taking ourselves too seriously.” We each work hard at our instruments, craft the songs as best we can, try to be as professional as we can be in our dealings with the industry and venues, and try and make sure that every time we play, we play to the best of our abilities and present the music as best we can. But then, at the end of the day, we’re also not surgeons or firemen. What we’re doing isn’t saving lives or solving world hunger. So to be incredibly serious on stage seems ridiculous to us. Don’t get up and mess around, of course. But by the same token, we’re just playing some songs, so it should be fun! And that attitude kind of crept in to the biographies.
Interview conducted by Robert von Bernewitz
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