7 Questions with Zack Kelly of If These Trees Could Talk

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by Ryan Meehan

Akron, Ohio post-rock outfit If These Trees Could Talk was properly formed in 2005 and has grown tremendously since their humble origins in Zack Kelly’s basement as an instrumental project in college. They released their first EP in 2006 and their first full-length, “Above the Earth, Below the Sky,” in 2009. Both were released independently, with vinyl released via The Mylene Sheath. Those laid the groundwork for their breakout 2012 release, “Red Forest.”  “Red Forest” was independently released by If These Trees Could Talk in March of 2012 (Science of Silence pressed the vinyl). The nine song, 48-minute long album was self produced and engineered/mixed by Zack Kelly and Rick Fuller throughout much of 2011 at NE Meadow Studios in Bath, OH. Will Putney mastered the album and Charlie Wagers (The Fray, Me Without You, Caspian) of Three Bears Design was at the helm for art direction and design. This album was followed by a three week sold out European tour in 2012, as well as a flurry of licensing music for games and film. Music from the band’s catalog has been heard in Sony PS3 titles, and on NBC, MTV, VH1, the NFL, in videos for Vans, and for projects on the Sundance Film Festival. “Red Forest” quietly became a smashing success. Cumulatively, the band has sold over 20,000 copies, with 3,000 on vinyl alone across all of their albums.  As 2014 progressed, If These Trees Could Talk began work on their third full-length album. It was around that time that the band was approached by Metal Blade Records and signed with the label. Their independent and entirely self-motivated approach to their music and art will not change, however. Recording for the album will take place throughout the winter of 2014/2015 at their studio in Ohio for release in 2015. Drummer Zack Kelly will produce – he has produced each of the band’s previous albums, with engineering and mixing assistance by Rick Fuller. To begin 2015, Metal Blade has re-issued both “Above the Earth, Below the Sky” and “Red Forest” on CD – both of which are currently out of print!  We are extremely excited to have drummer Zack Kelly as our guest today in 7 questions. 

RM: Would you put your music into the “Shoegazing” category of metal (or post-metal) that a lot of journalists have used to refer to bands like Deafheaven due to the spacious nature of the songs that you write? If you had to best describe what If These Trees Could Talk in three words what would they be?

ZK:  A non-lyrical exploration of emotion.

RM: Do you feel that because you are a band which plays instrumental music that there is more pressure on you guys to create those extra melodies and harmonies that a vocalist would usually bring to the table; or can it be a blessing because it allows you more opportunities within the landscape to really let the guitars take the listener to the places you want them to go?

ZK:  What I like about our genre of music is that there are no rules. We are free to phrase songs however we want, extending parts to make them extra dramatic, have intense parts to make you feel uneasy. So I guess the answer is that it’s a blessing because it does allow us to build the landscape however we like without upsetting the listener. I feel a lot of music now days has instant gratification where if you don’t have the hook or chorus in the first 30 seconds you’re going to lose people’s interest. Whereas with our listeners that’s not what they expect, they expect to be surprised.

RM: Other than the fact that both records are out of print, what were some of the other reasons the band and Metal Blade decided to re-issue “Above the Earth, Below the Sky” and “Red Forest”? Were these particular records remastered or remixed in any way before their release? If so, what were some of the changes that were made to the original recording?

ZK:  The artwork for “Above the Earth, Below the Sky” is different on this CD pressing, besides that nothing else has changed. We felt it was important to be fully on board with the Metal Blade family by having a back catalog of our music on the label. Those two albums have been out for a while so it’s nice to breathe new life into them.

RM: How are the rehearsals for the new album coming along? What’s your favorite track out of all of the new songs the band is currently working on?

ZK:  Sessions for the new album are coming very well. We still have a lot of things we need to flush out but we are close. We have been doing a lot of writing in the studio which means some songs will probably not be rehearsed until after the album is ready. I enjoy the little things that come out of studio work, stuff that you don’t necessarily come up with when you try to write songs as a full band. There are three or four tracks on the new album that really standout as powerhouse songs which I can’t wait to get on disk.

RM: What is the current studio setup that you are going to use for the production of the new record; and what is your “go-to” overhead mic for your kit?

ZK:  When it comes to demoing tracks in my studio I usually don’t go all out. I have a set of Audix drum mics that I use for drums, but when it comes to the album my man Rick Fuller brings his arsenal of microphones. He has been a great asset to the Trees ever since our collaboration on Red forest and I am trying to talk him into being our live sound tech when we tour.

RM: When you find yourself as the producer of a project in which you are also playing drums, do you ever feel as if there are some points where your opinion may have a stronger influence than other members of the band on how those songs should be constructed because the finished product has your name on it? Do you ever feel that the other members of the band at times may back off from sharing their opinion with regards to song structure due to the fact that they are trusting of your good judgment as not just a drummer but a producer as well?

ZK:  People don’t realize that not only am I a drummer I also play guitar too. So a lot of the structure from the songs comes from the guitar riffs themselves. I like to start with the rhythm part even if it’s just one guitar and bass then add the drums. From there we like to add the other two guitars to almost complement or sing-along with the rhythm parts. Just because I’m the producer doesn’t mean that the other guys don’t throw their flavor or add parts as the song builds. I think that’s what makes us have the sound that we do, I just try to build a nice emotional setting for the lead guitar to paint over top of.

RM: What’s the most significant difference between the way your drum and cymbal setup looks and feels today and the way it looked and felt when you did the first EP back in 2006?

ZK:  My drum and cymbal set up has been the same for many years now. I use 3 Paiste 2002 cymbals up top, a Paiste sound formula hi hat and ride. I usually only use one rack Tom and one floor Tom, but for this album I am adding an extra rack Tom because there are a few drum rolls that require that extra tom.

RM: How closely do your live performances resemble the music that you put together in the studio? Is one of your goals to create some sort of differentiation between the two so that fans get a completely different experience when they see you on stage performing?

ZK:  We feel it is very important to not overstep our boundaries on the studio album as far as parts we can’t play on stage. We try to bring the exact sound to the stage that the album has. If anything I try to capture the raw power we bring to our live show and try to capture that sound in the studio.

RM: What’s up next for the band in the remainder of 2015 and beyond? Anything big in the works that we should know about?

ZK:  Right now our main priority is finishing this album and having it ready by the end of the year to be released. We would also love to get some live dates in some spots that we’ve never been especially the West Coast. We are also trying to keep our content up by having merchandise, T-shirts and whatnot, vinyls, live videos and possibly pulling some old audio out of our vault for people to take a listen.

Official Website:  http://www.ifthesetreescouldtalk.com/

ITTCT on Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/treescouldtalk

ITTCT on Twitter:  https://twitter.com/treescouldtalk

Once again thanks for visiting First Order Historians and enjoying more of the internet’s finest in user generated content.

Meehan

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