Umbrella Tree is a trio from Nashville, TN who banded together in the summer of 2005. (From left to right in photo) Derek Pearson plays drums, Jillian Leigh sings and tickles the keys and Zachary Gresham sings and plays guitar and bass. They have released three full-length albums along with a digital download of acoustic songs. Their music has been described as progressive rock, gothic musical theatre and bohemian bookworm pop. Scattered as those depictions may be, one adjective representing their music remains consistent: indescribable.
On August 2005, the spry trio played their very first show at The Basement on New Faces night. The tiny club underneath Grimey's Record Store filled to the brim with many supporting friends eager to hear what the three had been up to all summer. With the crowd's approval, Umbrella Tree felt motivated to play more shows and record, record, record.
Their debut-album, What Kind of Books Do You Read?, was released in Spring of 2006 not even a full year after the three members had connected. Zachary recorded the project in an attic in East Nashville with his half-inch 8-track tape machine. With only 8 tracks, the band was very limited with their arrangements. Nevertheless, they remained ambitious, recording sometimes with two to three instruments on one track. The album was then mixed by Loney Hutchins and mastered by Al Willis.
What Kind of Books Do You Read? was received well by listeners hitting the top of the best sellers list at Grimey's several times during the year. The lyrical content of the album, written by Zachary and Jillian, circles around themes such as animals, ghosts, fistfights and westerns. Whimsical and fun, this album showcases the band's musical abilities in the very simpliest form.
Not long after their first release, Umbrella Tree was knee-deep in another project.The Church and The Hospital was released in February of 2008 with an In-Store at Grimey's and a long awaited release show at Mercy Lounge. Donning all white garbs to promote the album's conceptual themes, Umbrella Tree cranked-up the theatrics by including strange performances such as a sign-language translator, a puppet-show and a tea party complete with tea-sipping grandmothers.
This album was recorded and mixed by Jeremy Ferguson at Battle Tapes Recording in East Nashville and mastered by Jim Demain at Yes Master Studios. This time Umbrella Tree decided to incorporate a myriad of other musicians besides themselves. A culmination of string and brass instruments such as harp, violin, cello, trumpet, tuba and saxophone permeated the album to create more musical depth than their last installment. And since working digitally allowed for limitless track possibilities, each song was seasoned with layers and layers of dramatic instrumentation.
The Church and The Hospital was not intended to be conceptual at the beginning. A theme magically presented itself once most of the lyrics were completed. Zachary was focused on his experience with Orthodoxy and so naturally his lyrics gravitated toward the Church while Jillian's lyrics skirted around her own experiences with hospitals. Suddenly parallels appeared between the two different settings: priests and doctors, the crucifix and the red cross, the need for healing both spiritually and physically. Thus, a concept was born. Thus, a record was born!
After the fires of The Church and The Hospital cooled down, the group decided to record a few acoustic tracks at the Prizefighter Compound. This album includes remakes of songs from previous records such as "Whitesox" which is really "Wisemen" with lyrics concerning baseball instead of war. Also a brand-spanking new song called, "Souls are Warm Like Eskimos" found itself positioned happily alongside classics such as "Donnybrook Fair" and "Nursing the Patience". Recorded and mixed by Justin Herlocker and mastered by Steve Mabee, Acoustic at the Prizefighter Compound is available free for download on Noisetrade.
In July of 2009, Umbrella Tree released The Letter C and hosted a music video showcase at Mercy Lounge which included the premiere of their own epic 16 video DVD. The album was recorded at the Scoliosis the Studio by none other than Zachary Gresham, who had increased his engineering capabilities significantly since 2005. Also, Derek Pearson got his hands dirty with this one by filming, editing and directing each song's original music videos. Mixed by Jeremy Ferguson and mastered by Jim Demain, The Letter C was destined to be a great sounding record.
Jillian Leigh - VOX, keyboard
Zachary Grehsam - Guitar, VOX
Ryan LaFave - Bass
Derek Pearson - Drums
'What Kind of Books Do You Read?' - 2006. Studio album.
'The Church & The Hospital' - 2008. Studio album.
'Acoustic at the Prizefighter Compound' - 2008. Download only acoustic set.
'The Letter C' - 2009. Studio album and album-length DVD.
Umbrella Tree - To The Memory of a Once Great Man (2012)
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This seems to happen a lot with bands I enjoy, but for whatever reason don't manage to keep up with ...This seems to happen a lot with bands I enjoy, but for whatever reason don't manage to keep up with as daily or even weekly as I might want to. Despite "like" ing them on Facebook. But their Kickstarter Campaign isn't too far away from becoming a success in that they have $875 and only need $1000, and they have still almost 2 weeks left.
Umbrella Tree are a band I want to say someone recommended to me on the Sound Opinions forum like 2 or 3 years ago. Likely 2009, but I'm not certain.
edit; yeah early in 2009. In my rateyourmusic.com review of their last record, I wrote this:
ooh..not at all disappointed on 1st impression here. They share qualities with some of the Indie/Psych-Pop bands like The Jealous Girlfriends and The Ebb and Flow, as well as the epic piano-driven nature at times of Wolf Parade. But not having it become too lengthly..much like a group like Big Fresh. Less-is-more. Gonna have to spend a lot more time with it, but I enjoyed more or less the whole thing. The piano and male/female vocal arrangements worked really well. 70/100
And since then, I have become more familiar with them, one thing being Timbre I believe played on one or maybe both of their albums.
But at any case, I'm definitely curious about this new record of theirs, even though I haven't really listened to their music in probably over a year. Given this new record is coming next year, but also next week potentially for the kickstarter pledges, it probably wouldn't be a bad idea to revisit their other albums soon.
Umbrella Tree Spotlight
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There's a little three-piece band in Nashville called Umbrella Tree, and they are good. They are ...There's a little three-piece band in Nashville called Umbrella Tree, and they are good.
They are currently working on their fourth album, which is titled To The Memory Of A Once Great Man. "It is all about Napoleon," front man Zack Gresham told me. "Lots of 505 through a Space Echo. Pretty effin cool."
I highly recommend this band. Their albums are always well crafted, and their live performances are authentic and genuine. One gets the feeling that Umbrella Tree embodies the spirit of the late 1800s, the style and grandeur of the early part of the 1900s and the technology of the modern age.
What's more, Zack tells me that, "since the new stuff is so beat-y and dance-y, we will be posting the vocals and solos and such for remixers and their ilk to download."
Albums, What Kind Of Books Do You Read and The Letter C, released in 2006 and 2009 respectively, are also outstanding. Check them out before their new album drops this summer.
Their website, www.umbrellatreeband.com, is up and running, but the official launch date is set for the near future. Go ahead, click on it. You'll like them.
Umbrella Tree, "The Letter C"
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The term “progressive rock” is little more than a witless oxymoron these days. After all, didn’t roc...The term “progressive rock” is little more than a witless oxymoron these days. After all, didn’t rock n’ roll spend some fifty years labeled as a progressive form of music before someone decided that we needed to divvy it up into nit-picky sub-breeds? Anything that was rock should, by nature, have been progressive. But that’s hardly the case in today’s market. Some rock music is nostalgic. Some is experimental. Some is classic. And, of course, some is just plain crap.
What, then, legitimately falls into the category of progressive rock in the music world of 2009? Enter Umbrella Tree and their latest album, The Letter C. The two-man-one-woman band from Nashville deliver a refreshing and—dare I say—reformed concoction of eclectic tunes, finding roots in Decemberists-style gothic lyrics driven by a sound not unlike Arcade Fire with hints of The Deadly Syndrome. Their sound is nothing if not complex and, though complexity itself doesn’t necessarily have much to do with quality, Umbrella Tree seamlessly bridges the gap between the two.
There isn’t a single track on The Letter C that sounds like the next, yet each song is very distinctly Umbrella Tree. From the climactic build-up of “Show and Tell” to the eerie theme of what we’ll call the “Periscope Trilogy” to the flawless vocal tradeoffs and harmonies between band members Zachary Gresham and Jillian Leigh, this record redefines track diversity. Yet with consistent use of minor keys, spectral synthesizers, and bizarre lyrical storylines, the musical assortments still fit snugly into a single sixteen-track package. Throw in phrase changes, the rock equivalent of song “movements,” and the occasional blending of one track to the next, and Umbrella Tree has very nearly, though most likely unintentionally, created something of a mini-rock opera.
Despite The Letter C‘s concept-album ambitions, the scattered lyrics keep it from quite making the cut. Each song tells its own offbeat story, and though the “Periscope Trilogy” takes occasional pains to tie them together, they ultimately stand alone. The opening track, for example, tells the captivating story of a king who grows increasingly paranoid of his subjects, while “Uncle William” spins the tale of a man who used to talk to gods until receiving a head injury that caused him to lose his religion. The only apparent common threads being those of psychosis and nonsense. There’s a bit more realism in songs like “I Wish I Was But I Regret To Inform You”—the familiar, sad tale of unrequited love, retold with a sweetness that thankfully transcends cliché—and the heart-wrenching laments “Samuel Crawford’s Widow” and “Letter To Mary,” both of which exhibit perfect blends of funereal poetry with aching melodies.
The only questionable thing about Umbrella Tree and their latest release is: why haven’t more people heard of them? One possibility is that their label, which they appear to have founded themselves, doesn’t offer much in the way of band promotion. Or it could be that their band’s official website doesn’t even show up in a Google search of “Umbrella Tree.” Of course, it’s always possible that the band just doesn’t want to be bigger than they are, although it would be a travesty for such unique musicianship to be confined only to word of mouth and the few reviews that still exist in internet archives.
No matter the reasons for the band’s tragic lack of publicity, one thing remains certain: if there can be any definition at all to the genre of prog-rock, then Umbrella Tree must join the greats at the top of that list. Contemporary artists who are not only willing to push the boundaries, but to gleefully leap over them, laying down quality, honest music—even if a little weird—are few and far between. If what we all used to know and love as rock n’ roll is ever going to dig itself out of the drudgery it so often finds itself stuck in today, if there is to continue to be any progression at all, we can anticipate with much joy that Umbrella Tree will also continue to be one of the key players.
Umbrella Tree, ever vivid and quirky, offer a world of new sounds—and sights—on The Letter C
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Listening to Umbrella Tree is a commitment with no easy outs. That's partially because singer/guitar...Listening to Umbrella Tree is a commitment with no easy outs. That's partially because singer/guitarist Zachary Gresham, singer/keyboardist Jillian Leigh and drummer Derek Pearson completely give themselves over to their live performances—Gresham acting the part of the wiry, animated ringmaster, Leigh the mysterious, girlish coquette and Pearson the focused brute with the precise touch.
And the other reason? The three of them never, ever break character or signal that they're being ironic. That would let audience members off the hook, and give them the smug satisfaction of being in on the joke—if it were a joke.
"We're not interested in being ironic," Gresham says. "If ironic things occur within a more sincere context, then that's fine. But irony just for its own sake...I mean, it's poison. If [the band] is successful in seeming consistent, it's because when we're performing and we're doing big things...we're trying to be caricatures of ourselves and not really trying to put on a different character.... The point is I don't feel like it's put-on."
Various aspects of Umbrella Tree—from stage costumes to their detailed, meandering songs—suggest the way children, left to their own devices on a rainy day, engross themselves in fantastically imaginative worlds. Everyone else only discovers how fun the make-believe game—or the band's music—is by forgetting themselves and playing along.
Not that Gresham, Leigh and Pearson write juvenile fare. For every halfway silly song ("Souls Are Warm Like Eskimos") there's an expletive ("fuck," for example, in "Spit Like a Soldier"), a nuanced character sketch ("Uncle William") or a song that brings fears to life ("Child Bride").
In the four years that the band has been playing shows around Nashville and releasing albums on local indie Cephalopod (What Kind of Books Do You Read? in 2006 and The Church and the Hospital in 2008), they've offered something different and engaging from every angle.
"You're playing and you know that 50 percent of the people watching you are people you know personally—or more than 50 percent," Gresham says. "There's a tendency to go up in your blue jeans and your T-shirt and play a show for your friends, even if you're doing very good things. And this is not to knock that, because...many of my favorite bands in Nashville go up in their jeans and T-shirts and do it, and they kill me. But we didn't want to do that because we...all feel like a performance is a separate entity from a recording. And if you can make a really fun performance happen, then you're really embracing the fact that you are a visual artist when you're onstage."
Umbrella Tree's new album, The Letter C, expands mightily on the visual aspect of what they do. It's a CD and DVD: 16 tracks of shape-shifting, literary-minded—and thoroughly arresting—indie prog-rock, and a video for each and every one, all directed by Pearson.
The music videos don't feature anything as mainstream as the band members playing their instruments, which isn't surprising given how little they're invested in "making it" commercially. "You can't bank on that, you know," says Gresham. "And that's very liberating not to bank on it.... Then it becomes an art project, very explicitly an art project. And then you really can go as crazy as you want."
Tree Tops - Local trio Umbrella Tree’s sophomore album wows
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Umbrella Tree’s sophomore album The Church & The Hospital opens with a scream—literally. A unison ho...Umbrella Tree’s sophomore album The Church & The Hospital opens with a scream—literally. A unison howl prefaces a crash of music. Never a band to allow their audience to get too comfortable, this local threesome mixes moments of alarming beauty with calculated, cacophonous noise. And here the palette has grown even richer—the louds are even louder and the pretty parts often transcendently beautiful.
The source of that powerful dichotomy is the relationship between the band’s two singers: keyboardist Jillian Lee and guitarist Zachary Gresham. The petite blonde and the tall bearded guy in suspenders are an odd pair, visually and vocally. Lee has a sweet, exquisitely controlled vocal instrument, while Gresham’s appeal lies in his expressive, shrill warble. Together, they interweave tricky harmonies and call-and-response chants—the musical equivalent of good cop-bad cop.
Last year’s debut What Kind of Books Do You Read? announced the trio as a force on the local rock scene. With their first full-length, they had what any up-and-coming band would kill for: a clearly defined, unique sensibility. On Church, recorded at Battletapes in East Nashville, engineer Jeremy Ferguson brings the band’s complex ambitions to life. Connecting such disparate ideas may seem like a quixotic task, but the proficient playing and the tight production make it work. It’s particularly impressive given the brevity of the songs—nearly half come in at under three minutes, yet they’re anything but lean.
This is partially due to the band’s literary, quirky breed of rock, rife with motifs and recurring images: churches, hospitals and ailments of all sorts. Here, the “church” influence is not only ideological but sonic, with echoes in the singing, harmonies and gothic instrumentation. On the bridge of “Make Me a Priest,” we get a cappella in what sounds like Latin, and on “The Monk & The Nun,” Gresham promises, “I am using my in-church voice.”
But this latest record also brings some refreshing new tricks to the table. Intermixed with the classical instruments and nostalgic sounds are meticulously employed electronic elements. On the stunning instrumental “Jellyfish Evaporate,” the momentous, swelling opening is speckled with barely audible electronic bleeps—the kind that, if you’re listening while driving, might make you check your blind spot for a nearby reversing semi on first listen—that gradually overtake and eventually dominate. The song opens with the hum of church bells and closes with a robot chorus—a triumph of technology over beauty.
Lee’s “A Horse That Will Come When I Whistle” was What Kind of Books Do You Read’s iconic track—a deliciously coy performance. She made the song’s opening question—which became the album’s title—simultaneously sinister and sexy, and even precocious. Here, her creepy closer “The Youngest Apple” has a similar elusiveness. But instead of subversive sensuality, this tale of an unwanted baby sister’s death has the ambiguous charm of a gothic orphanage bedtime story. Other highlights include the dynamic “1054” (the swirling organ toward the end is the album’s most smile-inducing moment) and “Smells/Bells,” the longest track at five minutes, and one of the strongest showcases for the leading duo’s wonderful harmonies.
More than once, The Church & The Hospital made me think of author Ray Bradbury—master of understatement hidden in opulence. Like that craftsman, this band’s talent lies in indulgence, in packing as much information and as many ideas as possible into a tight, polished space. In their temerity, they find great power. A song in German? Why not? Another in French? Sure! Best local release of 2008 to date? Most definitely.
Debut Album - What Kind of Books Do You Read?
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In less than a year, Nashville trio Umbrella Tree formed, wrote a truckload of tunes, made an album ...In less than a year, Nashville trio Umbrella Tree formed, wrote a truckload of tunes, made an album and proceeded to make an immediate impact on Nashville's live music scene, all without much fanfare or any real association with any other established local acts.
How did they do it? For starters, they have some really good songs, but just as important has been their ability to stand out from the crowd by standing apart.
Their music doesn't really fall into any of the popular indie rock subsets in town, or fit in with the more alt-rock aspects of Nashville's non-country music scene, or even any of the other current styles sweeping international indie-dom. After listening to the band's debut disc, What Kind Of Books Do You Read? we've found that the easiest mathematical path to get to Umbrella Tree's unique sound is The Pixies + Jeff Buckley + The Decemberists + Dresden Dolls = Umbrella Tree.
From The Pixies, Umbrella Tree borrowed the weird, ecstatic male vocal versus cool, disaffected female vocal combination and the famous Boston band's notorious disconnectedness from local trends. From Buckley, the group received the gift of speaker-bending dynamics without ever resorting to heavy metal power chord posturing. Like The Decemberists, Umbrella Tree foregoes self-indulgent soul-baring in favor of fable-like storytelling and strange odes to Western movies and Sasquatch.
But the band Umbrella Tree is arguably most similar to in this musical equation is current Spin-approved buzz band Dresden Dolls, whose obsession with Edward Gorey-like gothic imagery and early-century entertainment reflects Umbrella Tree's own bent toward circus freak show sounds, albeit in a much more rock 'n' roll context.
All these influences add up to an album whose compositional conflicts are ultimately cohesive and whose multiple musical allusions never result in the band bowing to any single one of them.
Three Ways to Kill an Emperor
The Bird & The Fish
Samuel Crawford's Widow
Claire in Cairo
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