The End Tree is a Vancouver-based string and vocal trio who have worked with other Vancouver groups such as Wake Owl, the Deadcoast, and Maria in the Shower, and participate regularly in Vancouver’s dance and theatre communities. They recorded their first EP Everything is strange in 2012 and are set to release a full-length album in early 2015.
Their music is difficult to define but can be called eclectic, dynamic, and rooted in vocal harmonies and poignant melodies, which range from eerie sweetness to well-calculated dissonance that is never abrasive. Their sound is all their own, and notably takes more than a few listens to figure out what its about; making the listening experience all the more worthwhile.The Vancouver based trio self proclaim a unique brand of hallucinatory, melodramatic chamber-pop, with sounds that could be a cross between the Kronos Quarter, Nick Drake, and the Dirty Projectors.
After seeing them perform at the arts wells festival in Wells B.C, Lotusland managed to sit down at le Marché St George with 2/3 members of the string trio (Martin Reisle and Elliot Vaughan) to try and unearth what the roots of their music and style might be.
How’d you get your name?
Martin: Oh the End Tree? So I used to make up stories about how we got our name but I guess I’ll actually tell you. We actually got it from a woman we were living with for a little while who loves wordplay and decided that that was our name. So we thought yeah, we like it, it’s sort of a pun that’s not funny, but it has this openness to it, and it has that double meaning like entry like doorway.
Then the final tree
Martin: Yea, the final tree. And we actually had someone once come and ask us: is it like you take the only tree that’s left and shove it up the hole in your culture? And we were like yes, that’s exactly what we meant.
And I feel that openness is like our music. In the sense that it has only a few palpable references, and rather relates to recognition centres in the brain that aren’t really tied to any physical objects. Because I believe when you’re recognizing something in music, more often than not you’re recognizing something in your spirit that you feel on a deep, non-linguistic level, which I think is a very important part of the brain to tap into, and I feel like puns, while being annoying on a certain level can also be very musical, and tap into something that’s deeper than language, which is something we like to do.
When asked about this fusion to describe their music, Martin attributed the decision to connect Nick Drake with their music because his music is ‘emotionally explorative,’ as for the Dirty Projectors and the Kronos Quartet, Martin feels that both these groups are dedicated to doing new things, so that exploration is part of what you can expect, and that you can expect that you might not be able to expect everything.
‘I definitely feel like our musical choices are inspired by trying to find new feelings, like trying to find the feelings, rather than just trying to different. And I will acknowledge that I am sort of a character who likes to be different, and that is a part of it, but I think the driving force is that pop music, which I do love, lacks an expression of the fullness of human experience.
So you write the music and the lyrics individually?
Martin: Yea that’s how we’ve approached it thus far, though that may change in the future. But up until now someone has brought the heart of a piece, or the backbone of a piece, and then either brings it in finished form (scored) that we essentially realize as written, or maybe add a few things here and there. Otherwise, more so the ones that Aidan and I will bring will be songs realized on a piano or a guitar, or just cello and voice, and then we think together about what is the best arrangement for the three of us and for these three voices and for these three string voices.
Do you notate your songs?
Martin: Some times, but often they’re just in our heads.
Especially with the songs that I’ve been writing, I like to leave room for structured improvisations that have characters and chord changes and cellular ideas that are implied, but are essentially open.
So there is a strong element of improvisation with us well.
Elliot: For those sections we find a language, or a vocabulary, sounds that we like, and that can be loose or pretty focused, and can start off wildly different each time, but settle gradually on a language that we like that suits the song.
So you don’t read on stage?
Martin: I’m very anti sheet music, unless it’s very necessary; especially for a trio show. I feel like it separates you from the audience, from the fundamentals of performance, and even if it is hampering the music a little bit, I will always choose that connection over anything else, because I think that’s what’s really happening, the music is supportive of that experience, and it creates a very particular brand of that experience, but yea that’s so important.
Yeah, when you guys are on stage you definitely have personalities that you take on, meaning you have a certain dynamic and individual style.
Elliot: I think if you decide to go on stage and entertain people, that’s already a decision to present yourself the way you’d like to appear, which could be nothing special, or you could dress like a cult marshmallow, that’s fine too. But for me the focus is to present the songs and the music. It’s the songs, and what we choose is to serve the songs, and some of are flamboyant, and some of them need us to look like idiots on stage.
Martin: I mean we do take it seriously, but if you’re going to be funny, you can’t be carried away by the humour, you have to get into the mind of the observable character that is inherently funny but doesn’t see itself as funny.
So we present characters that are objectively laughable, but even those have a heart and pathos. And I don’t think we ever present characters that we can’t identify with and embody, they are always characters that share a sort of ridiculousness that we can relate to, since we are inherently ridiculous. So I think there is an element that people can relate to, even though it’s like that’s a weird world where your daughters are teeth, and sons are nails (a lyric in one of their songs).
And I think it is a world that can be related to because we are all pretty ridiculous creatures, and we try and tame that with our relationships with other people, but a musical context is the perfect place to advertise this collective strangeness.
Was it your music that allowed you to form or was it your reaction to each other as people?
Elliot: It was both, we realized a commonality in our sense of music, and also in our observations of ourselves and other people, which comes through in our songs.
Martin: Yea we have a lot of fun just conversing with each other, because we just sort of have this penchant for existing in a place that is both serious and unserious, it takes its un-seriousness very seriously. And so we have a lot of fun just chatting and hanging out, and I think that comes through as well.
While listening to Martel, the album you did with Jay Malinowski (lead singer of Bedouin Soundclash) there are a few distinct moments when the End Tree came through, and that was cool. Could you elaborate on that?
Elliot: Well when it’s the three of us, we have a sort of penchant for the absurd, and the emotional aspects and creating ease between them, and making them the same thing, and that’s the result of us as a trio. Then you bring in someone like Jay and that’s a different collaboration, there are different feelings involved. And then Mark the producer, so you have five voices. And Jay has a strong voice, but I also thought he was a good collaborator. So it turned out not sounding anymore like the End Tree than it does like Bedouin Soundclash.
So you’d say there’s more freedom with the End Tree?
Martin: Yea the end tree is about the freedom that we have, it’s about each of us individually and the collaboration really just makes us the authors. So with the collaboration with Jay and Mark we become one voice.
When people think of a string trio, they expect the players to be virtuosic and classically trained, what are your thoughts on that?
Martin: We don’t show off our dexterity, I can’t think of a point in any song where we show off, and try and prove to the audience that we’re virtuosic.
And I’ve heard people don’t know whether to trust us, because we’re doing this thing that’s sort of out of left field, and then they connect with a song or something, and they’re like, oh okay I can trust these guys now because they are about making an emotive and strong musical statement that I can connect to, and so those things that I was bewildered by I can frame in the context of these guys taking care of me musically. And I think that’s sort of what dextrousness with your instrument allows, it gives you an authority; and I’m not sure that we assert that authority, at least not right away.
Elliot: The hardest sounds that we make aren’t showy, they don’t appear difficult per say. But the hardest stuff we do is like moving between a dissonant harmony and a conventionally sweet harmony, like moving between those and making those transitions fluid.
Could you say a little about song writing? Since your music definitely has a lyrical aspect, and you can commonly find a narrative in your lyrics.
Martin: Well what I’ve learned from the likes of E.E Cummings and Gerard Hopkins is the importance of internal meter and rhyme, and addressing oral poetry in the way that it would have perhaps existed in Ancient Greece. We do love linguistic play.
There seems to be something inherently morbid about you guys. Do you resonate with that?
Elliot: Well there’s something of teenaged angst in our music.
Martin: I’m still essentially a teenager.
Elliot: There’s nothing more honest than teenage angst, considering it’s so expressive.
When I write lyrics, the writing doesn’t need to follow any real pattern at all, meaning that I start something that is basically prose, so when you include the rhythm it’s kind of exciting, and you get this melody that goes different places.
Your lyrics often tell a story, but you also have some simpler lyrical songs like “Evil Hands”.
Martin: Yeah, Evil Hands, you come into the middle of it somewhere, you get these glimpses of what on earth this narrator might be talking about, and that’s all you’re given. And I like those types of songs because they just throw you into a feeling, which narrates more than the lyrics, and you can’t pull concrete answers from it really, but you know what’s going on.
Do you feel you as people affect the narratives of the songs?
Martin: We happen to be weird goof balls of people, but we are not putting shit on, we are just being honest. Also, the people we connect with are sort of outsiders, like artists who didn’t receive the sort of stock they should have. I feel like championing those cats is something that is really important to me.
Look out for the End Tree Thursday at 328 Powell St at 8 PM. In the new-year the End Tree is hoping to play unamplified house concerts or venues that are otherwise unclassified as venues, especially those with good acoustics. They are willing to play anywhere from Surrey, Richmond, and North Vancouver, to Gibsons or Powell River.
Click here to view the album they completed with Jay Malinowski.