Establishing the aesthetic of the video included incorporating a setting emphasizing the epic nature of "Excavate," which sounds like a charred rumination on life -- like most of UTR's earnest "Death and Other Forms of Relaxation." Beginning with highlighting singer and guitarist Tawaine Noah's soulful warble, light is used to emphasize the song's growing intensity. As each instrument was commencing, the player was asked to turn on the light source closest to them, revealing the nearly 20 musicians packing themselves into the corner stage right at 2720.
Appearing synonymous with the song, the lights matched the atmosphere perfectly. Plummeting into a crescendo three minutes in, all lamps are lit. Quickening their pace, the musicians suddenly break off from the sound and playing ceases. Unplugging the lights as the song is concluding, the experience leaves Noah reiterating the opening line, "The clouds are close today," when the song ends in total darkness.
Having such a large number of musicians play to the band's vision was arduous. After four hours of hard work, the band and their extended musical family were exhausted. Applauding each other after the last take, many appearing fatigued but jovial, the attendance, once in the double digits, narrowed itself down to just Union Tree Review. Wrangling all six members was impossible, as kilt-wearing bassist Tyler (just Tyler, no last name required) was sneaking out the front door of 2720 before being interviewed. And who could blame him? With the night running on like a marathon, it was shocking the band had the energy for questions.
Meeting in 2720's empty second floor were Tawaine Noah, drummer Matt Strom, lead guitarist Jordan Howe, trumpet and keys player Pat Swan and violist Jenn Rudisill. Sweating and running on beer-fueled adrenaline, the rambunctious group sat down with Show Me Shows for a chat. Bearing much of the same enduring energy of the video, the group gamely discussed the video's treatment and more.
"It's not a pop song, it doesn't have a traditional form to it," stated Strom, perching on a chair with a seat modeled after an olive. "So it's kind of a challenge to come up with a way to make that interesting. The treatment was intent on creating a very exact visual representation of the song." During the shoot, with the lights becoming a plot device, the aural aesthetic became harmonious with the visual. Noting the growing role of lighting throughout the video, Strom added, "That's the way the song feels. It starts small and it slowly expands and you slowly incorporate more elements." Reflecting on the final product, the visual counterpart melding with the epic sound of "Excavate," Swan concluded, "It became far more than we could ever have imagined."
Seeing the band coalesce live is equally unimaginable. And their ability to play together lends itself to their writing and recording process. Beginning with Noah's notes, the band expounds upon an idea, collaborating until they have something tangible. Explains Noah, "I'll write a song and bring it to the band [and say], ‘Can we please make this better?'" Swan continues, "And we'll expand on that thought." However, the band noted the transforming elements of a song once it becomes a staple of their live show.
"It's so weird how the parts change after recording. It feels right at the time, then you play that song live so many times it's like, 'You know what would really sound good…'" states Noah. Playing their parts in different ways live allows for a creative extension of their recording process. Completing a song does not happen for the band until they have been playing it live for some time.
"We can play it live and have it be a really good song," says Howe, "but in six more months, in four more months, that song is going to actually be done." The instant feedback from an audience helps in this evolution. "We'll use the audience's energy to feel out where the song is going," explains Strom. Expounding on the effect of an audience, Howe offers, "Live, you just get that raw emotion that's like, 'This is actually better right now.' And with a song like 'Excavate,' which sounds cool on the record, playing it live is an extra step up."
Once the interview is over, Noah, Howe and Swan send themselves barreling around 2720's upstairs galley space wailing incoherent thoughts on their actions, sprinting full-tilt with their arms spread out wide.
Union Tree Review might elude most standard genre descriptions -- as being nominated into a different category for Riverfront Times's music showcase three years running proves -- but with the night rolling on and eyelids beginning to droop, it was easy to dub their youthful energy as everlasting. The kind of energy that will serve them well when they play the Pageant on April 29 as the opening act for Portugal. the Man.
Video: Jarred Gastreich for Show Me Shows
Sound: R&R Music Labs
Writer: Blair Stiles