Although some folks can’t see the forest for the trees, rockers Between the Trees seem to see both the big picture and the smaller parts of their career choice. With their CD, Spain releasing on August 14, songwriter Ryan Kirkland talks about the songs, the show, and their positive attitude.
Angela Thor – Where did the name Between the Trees come from?
Ryan Kirkland – It’s a thought our drummer Josh [Butler] came up with that there’s a beginning and end to everyone’s story and we figured one tree represents a beginning and one tree represents an end and the time between those trees is the time you have to do something while you’re on earth and this is what we’re doing.
AT – Kind of the alpha and omega.
RK – Yeah, a little bit.
AT – Your writing style; do you think of yourself as a storyteller or is it more like emotional therapy?
RK – I’ve tried writing stories; I’ve written some story songs. I don’t know if Between the Trees stuff comes off in the same way in story-type songs. I just write very literal, very spoon fed, I guess, is the best way to put it. I’m a simple guy and so I write in a simple way that I think gets picked up by a lot of people who think the same way I do. It just comes across very easy and very easy to digest.
AT – How would you describe your sound to someone who has never heard it before?
RK – We usually just call it pop rock, which is very simple. We don’t like to pigeonhole ourselves; put ourselves in a specific genre. I guess it’s technically like The Fray and some other bands we’ve been compared to are titled under, so I guess it works.
AT – Do you have a favorite type of venue?
RK – Our favorite type of venues are ones that have good sound systems and good monitors; that’s all it takes.
AT – Are your concerts high energy?
RK – Yeah, we really put on a very high-energy, intense show. I like to make my set lists kind of based upon just an overall, not speed but, that sort of feeling. Come out of the gate with some high energy stuff then slowly take you, if you were to actually look at the BPMs of our songs they slowly get slower. You slowly work into the more ballad songs then bring it up and end on a high note.
AT – Do you have a preconcert prep or superstition?
RK – We don’t have anything that’s too superstitious. We like to kind of get in the mood. We’ll all stretch and jump around; just kind of do that sort of feel backstage before going out onstage. That’s about it though.
AT – Do you change your set each night?
RK – We usually try to stick close to the same set list but it depends on time restraints or if we’re feeling like the crowd is maybe an older crowd or a younger crowd we might throw in higher stuff or lower stuff.
AT – Is it just the three of you on the road or do you have any backup musicians?
RK – We have a hire-on musician that plays guitar with us.
AT – You’ve said that when writing the songs for “Spain” you were influenced by the music you were listening to at that time. What type of music are you listening to now?
RK – Lately we’ve been listening to a lot of Ryan Adams and a lot of, not southern but not exactly country, it’s just a little more folk, a little more rockabilly. Lately our CD players are just loaded up with Ryan Adams, The Band, things like that.
AT – What attracts you to those artists?
RK – I don’t know. I guess the real genuine quality. I guess we relate with people who seem they’re very down-to-earth. Even if they’re touring in a bus, 300 shows a year, they seem like they would be perfectly fine just sitting around jamming.
AT – “We Can Try” has been mentioned as a band favorite. Does it sum up where you think the band is right now?
RK – Yeah; we went ahead and made the verses a little vague so they could appeal to a larger audience, but we definitely wrote the chorus as kind of a statement of where we stand and where we are. There are a couple tracks on the album that are just about, there’s this road we’re on, and it’s tough; different places, different faces, the line “we can try to stand up” applies to the band, but we keep moving.
AT – Did you always want this life?
RK – Probably from the age of 12, 13, when I first started playing music I’ve known this is what I’m supposed to do. I know the other guys feel the same way.
AT – The one song that really stood out to me was “Scarecrow.” Would you tell me more about that one?
RK – I wrote that song in LA with Steve Bertrand. He’s a great writer out in LA that I had the pleasure of writing with and he and I met early in the morning. The first part of the meeting, we had some coffee and stuff and just kind of chatted about each other’s past and we started trying to write off of some ideas I had for the record. I said “I’m really not feeling it. Let’s try to write something from scratch.” And he was like “well, not totally from scratch but I have this one line, ‘Oh scarecrow, it ain’t so bad’,” which is the first line of the song and I just immediately was just kind of pulled to that line of the scarecrow. So we started to look at what had gotten into both of us and the kind of images we both pulled from that and the song started taking the shape of how we, as people, we seem to point the finger and not pay attention to the fingers that are pointing back at us. So we decided to write the song from the perspective of how we look at the outside world, and everyone is empty inside and doesn’t have much going on. The song kind of developed to find that the person that’s looking at the scarecrow is actually looking at himself and finding that sort of, that state of loneliness, that almost give-up state where you kind of say “maybe this is all wrong.” You feel out of place’ you kind of lose your thought of purpose; that kind of place. I take a lot of our songs and we write from that perspective but I like to put the hope in there that we can change it; give an outlook that changes, like you would in a movie. But with this song I really wanted to sit in that lost feeling and to allow the rest of the record to give you those other places of hope. With this song I wanted to, Steve and I both agreed to kind of stay in that place of lost or that place where you lose hope, because I feel like, we have so many songs on the first record and this record that do have the hope aspect, do have the happy ending that I just felt that maybe sometimes, people don’t want to hear that everything is okay. Maybe sometimes they just want something they can relate to.
AT – Does that happen often? You hear one line and it takes you on the road to a new song?
RK – Oh yeah, that’s generally all it takes. Even if, me and my girlfriend, we’re doing a writing thing where we invite people over and we write songs to sell; write for movies stuff like that. Yeah, for me, it’s always been, it doesn’t have to be my stories, my emotions. I tend to adapt to a person’s story pretty quickly so if I can even just talk to a person who knows what they want to write about, or whatever, I usually can pick out one or two words in the phrasing they use and immediately develop that into something that pulls at their, not heartstrings, but pulls at their, what they’re known for, what they’re feeling.
AT – For the music that goes with those words, do you do it collaboratively with the other guys or do you have a melody in mind and you start from there?
RK – Everything comes down to melody for me. I usually am writing music and melodies prior to any lyrics. There’s the occasional time where I’ll have the phrase or I’ll have the line that I want to write the song around, but I don’t actually put any lyrics down. I kind of go off of emotion; that’s where melodies usually come from. I’ll know what kind of state I want the song to start in so I’ll write chords and write rhythms with Josh that sort of match that emotional state that I’m wanting to start the song out in. I know where I want it to go so that I’ll just hum or sing things that don’t actually make sense lyrically, but melodically, they do for me, and I’ll just find out where I want that to take me. Once I’ve got that pretty much nailed down, I’ll start to feel out where I want to fit those specific phrases and I’ll kind of write around that.