Local Bowling Green band Tree No Leaves released their new album, “The Eyes of Xylem,” on Monday, March 1st. This album is a concept record, which is something the band has not done before.
“We have done some small kind of things, character-driven stuff, but never an entire album. So this was our first concept record truly,” Dustin Galish, singer, keyboardist and producer of Tree No Leaves, said in a video call.
The album was also recorded during the COVID-19 pandemic, which was also something new for the band, who in the past have recorded albums in studios.
“So this was the complete opposite, ‘cause we were really stuck in our homes. I started working on some songs and demos and we kind of realized we wanted to make a record, but not wait until after the pandemic was over. So I wrote a bunch of songs and we did the entire thing really just remotely. We recorded things from our homes, sent each other files back and forth and it was very different where we had never really played the songs together so we ended up doing the concert film,” Galish said.
Recording during the pandemic meant that communication was important in completing the album.
“I think the hardest part was never being the same room together. I think communication is really important in the band, especially when you are making a record, to understand what peoples’ issues are, how they want things to sound,” Galish said.
While making the album, they were never in the same room together. They would try to plan on getting together to mix the album, but due to the pandemic, everything would get pushed back.
“It was frustrating because I felt like we never had the time to be in the same room but I think we embraced that, we had to get good at communicating in a different way,” Galish said.
To accompany the album, the band is also releasing a comic book, a seven-inch vinyl with four of the songs on it and a concert film. The vinyl will have the songs “New Wave Cocktail,” “Eerie City,” “The Elephant in the Room” and “Visionary Canary.”
Galish described the album as a whole multimedia suite. He said the band wanted to do something that no band had really done before.
“There’s a lot of people who have put out concept records where it's just, there’s a story, you listen to it, that’s kind of the end of it, maybe there is some artwork, but that’s not really it. So we tried to do our own thing where we try to build a world and sort of write songs inside of that,” Galish said.
The band collaborated with visual artist Andy Thomas on the artwork for the comic book and the album. Galish was working with Thomas at Aardvark Screen Printing & Embroidery prior to the pandemic.
“We both lost our jobs (due to the pandemic), but actually about a month before we lost our jobs we started this idea about doing sort of a comic book-inspired album, which really all that meant was that it would be something you could hold in your hands and it would be a book and every song would have its own artwork,” Galish said.
Galish’s passion attracted Thomas to the project.
“What made me want to work on this project was the passion and pure creative drive that Dustin had for the project. When he originally pitched the idea to me, he had this long story that sounded awesome and definitely a very well-thought out plot, and it just hooked me. I had never done anything like this before, and it just seemed like an amazing challenge. I was just inspired by the drive to make something cool and unique to accompany the album,” Thomas wrote in an email.
Working with a visual artist was a new experience for Galish. He said the most interesting thing about working with visual artists was having to write songs that fit into the world that he was creating.
He was also giving feedback to Thomas about what he wanted from the visuals. He said he made a treatment, which is a loose outline of the story. He had the characters and explained who they were and what they looked like. He also wrote a short story in his head for each song and what was going on in each song.
“It was a great experience working with the band. I mostly worked with Dustin and he was a great collaborator and partner on this project. Very easy to work with. It was a bit challenging sometimes to come up with compositions that encompassed what they wanted while working within the boundaries we set for ourselves. But I really think that in the end we have a wonderful product that is the result of a really fun collaboration between friends,” Thomas wrote.
Thomas used a variety of elements for the art for the project.
“I used a variety of elements that kind of give the artwork a collaged feeling I'd say. But everything I did was very deliberate. I wanted the vibe to be just off the wall. I think I definitely came into a better understanding of how I wanted this to be visually later on. The last half is really my best work. But I love that I grew as an artist alongside the characters in the story. That being said, the imagery is still cohesive. It works all together as a collection of work,” Thomas said.
The concept of the album has to do with how people perceive the world.
“The concept of the story itself is based on really people’s perceptions of the world and how it's sort of simultaneously happening. A lot of stuff happened over the last year, The concept record doesn’t necessarily address those, anything that direct, but I think there is a lot of stuff in there that kind of tries to deal with what we were experiencing as a country and just the world over the last year. A lot of it was based on trying to have these two characters that were experiencing this story at the same time but experiencing it in a different way. So there is a lot of themes of how we could experience the same event but in a different way,” Galish said.
There is also a concert film that accompanies the album. In making the concert film, the band wanted to make sure the songs would translate to a live stage. Tree No Leaves is a live band, so making sure the songs could be played live was important.
“We wanted to make sure that these songs would translate to a live stage, so sometimes when you are making a concept album you don’t always think about how this would work on stage, so it was important to me that we could come out and play the whole album front to back, in order,” he said.
The band has never played an entire album live before, so that was another new experience for them.
The film was recorded at Howard’s in downtown Bowling Green. The building has done renovations over the last year, so the film was also a way to show off the space.
While the record is different for the band, it is still a Tree No Leaves record.
“The vibe is that it's like a movie, it's like a soundtrack, it's a concept album, but it's also just a Tree No Leaves Record, so for us it's like there’s some good pop, soul, funk stuff in there. It’s a lot of the stuff we have done in the past, but also there is a lot more electronic stuff on this record too,” Galish said.
Thomas hopes people take away how cool making art can be.
“I hope that people take away that making art with friends is the coolest thing that you can do as a human. Make art. It's so much fun. Just make it for yourself if that's what you want. Just make stuff. Dustin and I and the rest of the Tree No Leaves, used this time of COVID to just make something that we thought was awesome. We hope everyone thinks it's cool. But I'm just happy we made it,” Thomas said.
The album is currently available on streaming and the vinyl record and comic book are available on the Tree No Leaves website. On March 9, there will be a socially distanced record release show at Howard’s, where the concert film will be shown.
Andy Thomas can be found on Instagram @andoillustration.