When asked what draws him to making lyricless music, David Joseph of the instrumental project Held By Trees explains, “If you remove words and human voices, you remove a whole layer of what a listener is processing…if you allow the music to do the communicating, I believe it reaches a different part of us.”
Perhaps the “part of us” that Joseph speaks of is our true self unaugmented by the verbal expressions and influences of others’ emotions – free to feel, interpret, and take away what we will…but mostly free.
On the heels of their critically acclaimed debut album Solace, Held By Trees has returned to provide listeners with even more musical freedom in the form of two new ambient EPs: Solace ~ Live at Real World and Eventide – a chronological tribute to the transition from daylight to darkness.
As its title suggests, Solace ~ Live at Real World – five live tracks from Solace – was recorded in the “Big Room” at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios (UK) and boasts a six-piece band including three of the Talk Talk/Mark Hollis alumni that contributed to the OG, Hollis-stimulated iteration (Robbie McIntosh, Laurence Pendrous, and Andy Panayi). Eventide, on the other hand, is an entirely new – yet equally inspired – collection tracked live at Real World Studios and later layered in America and Canada.
Set to release this year via InnerSleeve.com on Sound Canyon Records, the twin EPs will present on separate CDs and as two sides of one vinyl pressing with a palpably fresh intensity and a highly skilled yet sprawling sound.
Ahead of the EPs’ debut, SPIN spoke with Joseph about the recording process, which song – despite the band’s devotion to the project – proved most difficult to make happen, and how the band’s mimicry of the natural world pushed the EPs forward…
SPIN: Why were the three remaining songs from Solace not chosen for the live EP?
David Joseph: The three we didn’t record were extremely improvised one-off moments that feel like they should be left alone and not replicated. They are far less structured, and very free-flowing in the moments they were recorded. The five we did record (“In The Trees,” “Rain After Sun,” “Mysterium,” “The Tree Of Life,” and “The New Earth”) have more of a traditional song-based arrangement and therefore lend themselves better to reinterpretation.
Why is the second EP titled Eventide, and what do music and the transition from daylight to darkness have in common? Or, rather, how does Held By Trees use music to embody that transition?
I’ve always found the journey from daylight to darkness an inspiration. Years ago I was in a band called Bosh and did an EP called The Gloaming Hour which loosely covered a similar theme, but I felt I wanted to return to this idea and make a suite of music into a short concept record. One of the Bosh songs, “Grow Dark,” is reinterpreted which works really well as an instrumental.
The suite begins very bright and sunny with an improvisation called “Pure Sunlight” and then a joyful, upbeat number called “The Golden Hour” – certainly the most happy-sounding music we’ve recorded yet!
Then we move briefly through that time just after the sun goes down with “The Blue Hour” before we settle into the oncoming night with “Grow Dark” and then finally into the darkness with a sultry jazz-inflected piece called “Nightfall.”
The band really understood the moods I was looking for, and we mixed with Phill Brown in such a way that it feels like music that drifts gently – nothing jarring or claustrophobic. All of us love the natural world and feel drawn to trying to align with the poetry of its rhythms. The daily dance of light, colour, sun, moon and stars is effortlessly beautiful and a constant source of wonder to me.
Solace undoubtedly harkens back to the seminal recordings of Mark Hollis and Talk Talk, and the live recordings are sure to do the same (perhaps on an even grander scale). Is Eventide also inspired by Mark Hollis and Talk Talk and, if so, how does it accomplish the task? If not, and if anyone, who is Eventide’s sound inspired by?
Yes, Eventide retains a connection to Hollis and Talk Talk, not just with the musicians and engineers involved, but with its emphasis on improvisation. Musically I think it’s less obviously like Spirit of Eden, with more influence coming from Van Morrison’s ‘80s output like Beautiful Vision and Inarticulate Speech of the Heart. Also John Martyn’s One World album. There are still echoes of Pink Floyd and Dire Straits in terms of lead instruments and solos over big-sounding, melodic backdrops. There’s also a bit of Paul Simon in some of the sense of groove, I think, too.
How did Peter Grabriel’s Real World Studios lend to the recording experience? Why did you select that studio in particular?
The thing with the Big Room at Real World is that it is easy to get a six-piece band, plus label guys, a manager, and engineers in there and working comfortably. I am a huge admirer of Peter and I love a lot of records made there. Working there is certainly a dream come true for me. It has a certain “sound” which works for the way in which we wanted to make the music: playing together in the same room.
Hardest track to record? What’s your favorite track on each EP?
In my opinion, the hardest one to record and get right is “Mysterium,” which is also the case live on stage, because of the restraint needed to keep it minimal and as spacious as possible. It really asks us all to hold back a lot and that’s hard when the adrenaline is pumping in a live context.
For me, my favorite from Solace would be “The Tree of Life,” just because we got an even bigger sound than the original version and it has been great having Robbie take on Tim Renwick’s guitar parts and bring his own flavor to the piece. I think my favorite from Eventide would have to be “Pure Sunlight” just because it’s so improvised and captures the essence of what we are about as a group.
Set to release on August 11th via InnerSleeve.com on Sound Canyon Records, the twin EPs will present on separate CDs and as two sides of one vinyl pressing with a palpably fresh intensity and a highly skilled yet sprawling sound. Pre-order the album here