Arbouretum interview: "I want people to be able to lose themselves in our music. Literally"

19/02/2013 @ 14:08
One of’s favorite child and mine personally, Arbouretum, with their own personality that may remind a lot but does not copy anything, are gradually winning the European audience. With a series of excellent albums that led to this year's "Coming Out Of The Fog", David Heumann is leading the band each time a step higher at least in recognition and approval. A discussion with him was a tour in the world where his inspiration is coming from and is realized in.

So, how happy are you with your new album and did it turn out the way you wanted to?
I'm very happy with it. It actually exceeded any expectations we could have had, while being a bit different than I or anyone else could have imagined it being. Each record is an adventure in a way- a journey to a place I haven't yet been to. I'll have ideas about how I might expect it to be, but the reality always differs from the ideas.

ArbouretumDo I sense a slight turn in a more songwritting direction with fewer 'jams' and 'loose' moments comparing with previous records?
Yes. Well the jams are still there, but they occupy less space as they did on the one before. It's actually been an alternating cycle over the past four studio albums - "Rites Of Uncovering" had a lot of long songs with jam parts, "Song Of The Pearl" not so much. Then "The Gathering" once again had a few long songs, and now this one has shorter songs. This has been intentional to a degree, but at the same time it's always done in the service of the songs themselves. If a song suggests lengthy improvisation, we will take it there; if not, we'll keep the song a bit shorter.

Does this also reflect in a way how these songs are played live or even how you feel like playing even some of the older songs?
Sometimes, but the live show is always a looser one. In fact it's a challenge, for me at least, to find a new way of playing the songs when we play them live. Another thing to mention about our live sets is that we mix in material from the previous albums as well. We do tour around our releases when we release them, yet at the same time the focus of our live shows is our entire catalog. This keeps things interesting for us and hopefully the audience as well. We try to never play the same set twice on a tour, and start a tour with usually at least 20 songs to alternate between.

ArbouretumYour previous album had a general theme in the lyrics. Was there a general idea or a general feeling with this one?
It was more an idea to have the songs be emotionally direct in a way that the previous album wasn't, so not really - I wouldn't say there is a theme so much as an approach.

By the way, you used to have a song covered in your previous albums and very successfully. How come you didn't this time?
It's true- we did this on our past two albums. One of the reasons we didn't this time is because before our last tour of Europe, in 2012, we came up with a tour EP called "Covered In Leaves", which had 6 cover songs on it. We figured at this point that we had pushed the cover idea as far as we wanted to take it, and to put things back into balance, we used only our own songs on "Coming Out Of The Fog".

Is this CD available also for order or was it only for the tour?
It was only for the tour, but we didn't sell them all. We sent some to Thrill Jockey for mail order and sold out right away. We have a few more and will bring the remaining copies along with us on the tour in Feb-March.

ArbouretumMake sure you come to Greece then!
I would love to try and do a separate tour of southern Europe. This one is completely booked, of course. We have also had a lot of interest in Portugal, unfortunately the offers we have gotten in Spain have not been high enough for us to afford to get to Portugal. I hope that we can get good offers for this region, and Greece as well!

I understand. How is the situation in Europe for you? it seems that, especially with some English magazines leading the way, Europe has been very supportive. And how is it for you in USA?
The situation in Europe is a much better one than the one in the USA. It seems Europeans value certain cultural forms of expression in a way that Americans don't. Another problem with touring in America is that it's so competitive- there are bands everywhere, always trying to tour. This makes each gig less of a valuable experience for people, I think. We do have good shows in certain US cities, of course. Baltimore, New York, Chicago, San Francisco ...but many of these cities are so far apart from one another, so it's hard to have a string of shows that are good on a tour. Also, the US is as big (in terms of area) as western Europe, but has much less people. So distances between shows can be much longer.

ArbouretumIs there some kind of affiliation you feel with other bands and/or scenes like some San Franciscan neo-psychedelia or americana or folk rock...
Well, sort of. With San Francisco it's more of an audience affiliation than a band one. These people have a whole history that still reverberates in the area, and it's one that we have something of a kinship toward. With other cites, we sometimes find bands whose music we relate to. So it varies depending on the place. Some areas just have a certain feeling to them that inspire us to play well without us really understanding why. Bristol, UK is one of those places.

Returning to your releases, you also had a split LP with Hush Arbors the previous year (2012). It was really amazing to me that even in this LP the songs were really good. Didn't you ever feel that you should hold on for your 'proper' releases?
Well, we could have done this, but the result would have been that we wouldn't have toured in 2012, and the new album would have a completely different feel to it. I'm glad that things turned out the way they did. Also I think that by having these two separate goals of writing songs for a split LP and writing songs for a full album, we came up with more material than we would have otherwise.

ArbouretumShould we expect maybe at some point a collection gathering your tour EPs and your split LPs (I remember at least one with Pontiak as well) for a wider release?
I certainly hope so. I'd love to have a box set.

Now please allow me to try and describe how I receive your music. Any arguments on your side are welcome. I found Arbouretum's music to be very earthly and grounded but at the same time it has an epic quality. What are the emotions you would like to create to your audience?
I want people to be able to lose themselves in our music. I mean that literally - I'd like people to come to our shows and actually forget who they are for a little while, to become fully immersed in it. For this to happen it needs to have an emotional weight as well as being mentally and sonically stimulating... I want to give people the opportunity to go on a little journey with us. And so ultimately, answering your question a little better, I'd like this experience to be a joyous one.

If you had to chose one of your songs to explain to someone who Arbouretum are and what they do, which one would it be?
I don't know, because there are at least three different kinds of Arbouretum songs. There are the ballads, like "Oceans Don't Sing", the songs that provide us opportunities for improvisation, like "The White Bird", and there are heavy rock songs like "World split Open" or “The Promise". All these types of songs are necessary to hear to understand what we do.

ArbouretumA lot of people make a connection of your music to Neil Young's days with Crazy Horse. Do you see that connection? Any (other) major influences?
Yes, Neil Young and Crazy Horse are a huge influence, especially how it relates to his pursuit of guitar tone. Other big ones are The Grateful Dead, Fairport Convention, and Lungfish (who, like ourselves, were from Baltimore).

Last question. I always had the idea that your songs are like electrified (and fuzzed out) folk songs. Does this mean that when you compose you prepare them in an acoustic form. I mean prepare them in a complete form, not a demo one. If yes, is this a road you might take some time by either rerecording some songs acoustically or making an acoustic record?
Yes, many of the ideas that end up being full songs are first put together at home on my acoustic guitar. They are usually at that point not very close to being complete- just chords and a melody. The arrangement part happens when the band gets together. Not all songs are like this, though. For example the song on our new record called "The Promise" was written mostly in collaboration between the band members. It's not based on chord changes anyway- it's more about the rhythm. Ironically, the lyrics are adapted directly from the folk tradition. Now for the second part of your question- yes, an acoustic album would be interesting to try, however every time we say this we just end up writing more electric songs, so we'll see what happens!

That's good enough for me! Anything to add?
Not really. It's beautiful outside today, I've got my Merrils on, and I'm going to head out for a walk in the woods!