Music fans are familiar with the issues band face on their first album.
They may have a lifetime to write it, but they don’t have any such luxury when it comes to recording it. Sometimes they may have trouble transferring the ferocity of their live act to tape, or perhaps they can’t even find the right character fit when selecting a producer. Or simply, there may be no money left in the label’s budget.
In Treeboy And Arc’s case, the pandemic brought about a rare opportunity for a band in their position: scrap the whole thing. Formed on the back of a teenage friendship between bassist James Kay and guitarist George Townsend, the group expanded to eventually become a quintet and, by 2019, had recorded a debut album to be released the following year.
However, life had other plans and the album sat on the shelf gathering dust until they decided it wasn’t reflective of where they were now. Bravely, they opted to start from nothing once restrictions had lifted.
With Natural Habitat arriving this week, Live4ever met with Townsend and synth player Sam Robinson to discuss their past and their future.
How did the band come about?
George: Me and Jim went to school together at Leeds College of Music and that was the earliest iteration of what this band is now I suppose.
Then the year after we met Isaac (Turner, drummer) and Ben (Morgan, guitarist) and the year after that we met Sam. We’ve been in this format for 5/6 years or something, adding people over time.
When we started, we just wanted to play shows and make music that sounded like what was coming out and we really enjoyed. There wasn’t really a game plan. There never has been, it’s just been about making the music we like, playing shows and getting to travel a bit.
We were listening to bands like Pre-Occupations, who still are a massive influence on us, but when we were starting out were big. Bands like Eagulls were knocking around Leeds at that time, they were a huge influence and then a lot of 80’s acts like Siouxsie & the Banshees, The Cure and Joy Division, who were always cliched influences but you can’t ignore them.
What does the band name refer to?
George: Do you know what, we’ve been asked this question a million times and we’ve given a different story each time. It’s basically a bit of nonsense that’s been in existence a long time!
How does the songwriting process work?
Sam: It’s very collaborative. We’re now writing a new thing again – maybe album 2 or whatever’s next – and it is super-collaborative. Someone comes in with one type of idea, whether that’s a bass line that’s 5 seconds long, and we can work around that and see where we can progress it to and whether it’s going to work as a full song or not.
At first, a lot of our writing starts as a 10-minute prog jam where we loop one idea over and over again and see if anything cool comes out of it. Then we refine it down to what we want it to sound like and less proggy!
George: We find ourselves having to go back through what we’ve got. We’ll overplay for 10 minutes and then take stuff out. Rather than add stuff in, we take stuff and eventually we’ve got a song that we all like.
What happened with the abandoned first album?
George: We recorded it late 2018. We’d been playing a lot more shows and written a lot more songs and were absolutely desperate to get something out into the world. We had this grand idea of an album where everything flowed into each other as one piece. We managed to write and record it and then having sat on it over the whole period of COVID…
Sam: It was finished by the end of 2019, and then in January/February we were trying to figure out how we were going to release it.
George: We were speaking to people, building a bit of a team who were saying they thought we could carry on and do it, and then two weeks later we couldn’t. I think it was probably a good thing that we were afforded that time to sit on it and think, ‘Is this the most accurate representation of what we want to sound like or are we just rushing it?’.
Sam: It was a cool idea, in theory. All of Side A was 5 songs as one, and all of Side B was another song. Every song had an interlude which joined things together. In principle it was a cool idea but it ended up sounding a bit intense. It was constant tension and no release and draining to listen to.
6, 9 months down the line, still in lockdown and having not released it, I think we then listened back and decided that we could do it better. And there was a couple of songs on there that we weren’t sure were good enough and by that point we’d started doing bits and bobs of new songs, sending demos across to each other during lockdown. So, we decided to do something else.
The people who we work with understand what we’re trying to do and that we’re quite a picky band, hence why it’s taken us 5/6 years to get to releasing an album.
George: We’re on own worst critics anyway, so even if you were to sit and analyse the album we’ve got now, we’d say we didn’t like it. I don’t think the first album even really feels like us anymore.
Tell us about Natural Habitat.
Sam: First we picked out what albums from the first one we were going to keep. I think 5 of them. We reworked them slightly, or there was elements in some of them that we didn’t like but, by and large, they stayed the same at first.
Then we wrote a bunch of new songs and we went into the studio with (producer) Matt Peel, who’s recorded loads of stuff we really like, and worked on these 9 songs alongside him. On the previous album we spent four days in the studio whereas on this one we spent 10/11 days in the end.
We tried to go into it with the idea of trying any suggestion and see if it worked or not. If it didn’t work, cool, at least we tried. There was a lot of experimentation in the studio with Matt which helped form it into one bigger piece. It was strange rewriting songs we’d been playing for 5 years, but it was interesting.
Which song underwent the biggest change?
George: Human Catastrophe, for me. The lyrics and structure stayed the same, but the four of us sound a lot happier and brighter. It’s more energetic and it’s taken on a darker, more brooding tone which is massively to its benefit.
Sam: On the first one we were all really excited to be recording the first album and there was an element of excitement to record it, especially all in one take.
Then after sitting back and analysing it when we went into the second one we were a lot more cautious. ‘Let’s make sure we do this right this time.’ We sent Matt a load of demos and tunes before we went in to record it, he asked for some reference of inspiration – production-wise – not necessarily the songs, but the production of the album. He pointed out that everything we’d said sounded a lot darker and a lot harsher. A bit more moody, I suppose. That was something we were keen to capture.
What did Matt Peel bring to the recording sessions?
George: Having heard the previous album as well he had a list of things that he thought didn’t work. I guess it was not only having that external opinion, but also someone to say what’s gone wrong straight away before you even start recording.
He’s got a set idea of what it should sound like it. He’s the sort of producer who would be able to tell you, ‘that part doesn’t work’, but not in a controlling way.
He’ll always say, ‘if you think I’m wrong, tell me’, but coming at it from a point where we’re trying to be more open to everything, a lot of the time he was right and you could hear exactly what he was going for.
How has the music industry changed since early 2020?
Sam: We did our first run of shows in Europe last October. We just about broke even or made a loss, but it was fun. We would love to go back but that side of touring has got a lot more difficult and expensive. But at the same time, when it comes to things like vinyl delays, we’re a band who want to do things our way.
We don’t really like compromising on elements like that so sometimes we’re happy to wait that extra bit and make sure it’s right before we do it. Otherwise, it’s going to impact it’s longevity. Saying that, we’ve worked with Press On Vinyl and they’ve been great and had a relatively good timespan. It’s not as delayed as a lot of the pressing plants that are based in mainland Europe, so that’s a great thing for the north east and the UK. It’s a cool thing to see and it’s helping a lot of northern bands.
What does the rest of the year hold in store for Treeboy And Arc?
Sam: We’ve got a few bits throughout summer. We’ve got Blue Dot and a handful of dates in August with Bodega and the Bug Club, then we’re doing our own headline tour in October.
Treeboy And Arc will release Natural Habitat on July 7th.