If Detroit, Michigan gave us the automobile, then Akron, Ohio gave us the tire. At one point, home to B.F. Goodrich, Firestone, General Tire, and Goodyear, the Rubber City played a large part in the advance of the auto industry. Times have changed, but Akronites continue to move forward with their intrepid spirit. This is particularly true for acclaimed instrumentalists If These Trees Could Talk, whose wondrous, coruscating sounds have captured not only legions of adoring fans, but also the attention of celebrated chef Chris Santos, who in turn played the group for friend and Metal Blade label guru Brian Slagel.
“Santos played some of our stuff to Brian Slagel,” says guitarist Mike Socrates in slight disbelief. “Slagel sent us a tweet, and after a couple of months of back and forth, we were on Metal Blade! Still crazy to think back to that, but that’s how it went down.“
As part of inking a deal with Metal Blade, debut full-length Above the Earth, Below the Sky (2009) and its lauded successor Red Forest (2012) were re-issued, allowing new fans to encounter If These Trees Could Talk‘s sonic splendor without having to resort to aftermarket prices. And although Above the Earth, Below the Sky and Red Forest have sold over 30,000 copies prior to landing on Metal Blade, the Ohioans are looking to expand the footprint of the band. This includes the continuation of the organic growth strategies they’ve employed since forming in 2005, leveraging Metal Blade’s marketing resources, and more licensing of songs to game and television studios.
“We always love hearing how people interpret our music,” Socrates reveals. “One of the great things about being an instrumental band is that it breaks down the language barrier that some bands can have. It reaches across so many lines and evokes so many different feelings that it means something different to everyone. To us, that is one of the single greatest things about what we do. We don’t interpret the music to the fans. They interpret it back to us.“
Fans will get another chance to absorb and personalize If These Trees Could Talk with new album, The Bones of a Dying World. Unlike previous albums, this time the musical direction was set up by guitarist Cody Kelly and drummer Zack Kelly. According to Socrates, the duo acted as the creative force behind If These Trees Could Talk on The Bones of a Dying World, starting with the rhythms. Songs like “Solstice”, “After the Smoke Clears”, and “The Giving Tree” originated with the Kelly brothers, but they were refined with the knowhow of the rest of the band.
“Our lead guitar player [Cody Kelly] has a true ear for guitar melody over top of the groove,” says Socrates. “In a way, ‘The Bones of a Dying World’ was definitely cut from the same cloth, but in a more progressive fashion,” says Socrates. “We feel this album ‘steps up the sound’ in a way that could only come after ‘Red Forest’ and not before. The songs were constructed in a much more deliberate and cautious approach. A lot of time was spent on small parts and transitions in order to maximize the full effect of the song as a whole. In a way, we feel like this is the perfect continuation from ‘Red Forest’. The dynamics and the flow just feel like a perfect next step to the story of us.“
That story has its source in uncertain times. For the better part of a year and a half, If These Trees Could Talk were in the studio working on The Bones of a Dying World. Holed up with producer and engineer Zack Kelly at NE Meadow Studios, the recording process was laborious but productive. The prolonged session, however, eventually came to an end, and If These Trees Could Talk hired Alan Douches (Mono, Tombs) at West West Side Music to master the 9-song masterpiece.
“We’ve always recorded internally with our drummer Zack,” Socrates notes. “Since the first EP [‘If These Trees Could Talk’, 2006], Zack has always been instrumental is capturing the sound that we strive for. He took great care to not use overdubs or samples on any of the drums to keep the natural feel alive as much as possible. We even worked up a mix where the drums were sampled and tossed it aside. We don’t want to lose the natural feel of the band to technology if we don’t have to.“
Even though The Bones of a Dying World took four years to make, it sounds fresh and exciting. Songs like contemplative “The Here and Hereafter”, the picturesque “Swallowing Teeth”, the rocker “Earth Crawler”, the progressive “Berlin”, and the seven-minute nostalgia bomb “One Sky Above Us” are new ground for If These Trees Could Talk. Individually or as sets of music, the Akronites’ new songs contain an indomitable spirit for adventure, where they effortlessly project awe, hope, or longing – without lyrics or vocals. Combine the mysterious, desolate cover art – based on photographs taken in Iceland – of Charlie Wagers, and The Bones of a Dying World was certainly worth the half-decade wait.
“We put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into this,” smiles Socrates. “So, we hope the listeners can feel that and respond in kind.“