2017 is a big year for Of Tree. The Kansas City-based indie folk trio recently released a five-song EP (Sorry, We're Chosen) leading up to their full-length debut coming in May, and both releases are comprised of music that's been incubating for the past seven years. The result is music that's "moody, orchestral, full of beautiful strings," with elements of gothic folk and stripped down Americana. We are fortunate to share an interview with the band's co-songwriter, vocalist and violinist Laurel Morgan, along with her book and movie recommendations. Enjoy!
Please introduce yourselves. Who does what? Where do you live?
We are Of Tree, made up of Laurel Morgan, Benjamin Parks, and John Bersuch. We are a three piece band that writes folk influenced music with an electronic element. Laurel and Ben write an equal amount of songs. Laurel does a lot of string looping and layering in addition to vocals. Ben sings, plays bass, guitar, bowed guitar, and the Abelton Push. John Bersuch is the newest addition to the band. He adds drum parts and sub bass when we've completed songs. All three of us live in Kansas City and have known each other for ten years. We've played together in other projects but now that we are older and wiser we have become very serious and focused with this particular project.
Tell us about the origins of Of Tree. How would you describe your music for new listeners?
Of Tree was formed when myself (Laurel) and Benjamin decided to collaborate on each others' music. As a married couple we had to really work on how to separate out our personal relationship from what we were trying to create. It took a while to learn how to work together in a sensitive musical way, but now we are each others favorite musicians to play with. Our music is moody, orchestral, full of beautiful strings, dynamic and somewhat mournful. However, we do try to create pop hooks in each of our songs.
You’re currently recording a new album. What has this process been like? What have you been learning about how best to record your music?
We just finished an EP of older songs from previous musical incarnations, but now we are getting ready to record our new stuff in April. We are currently deciding which studio and engineer to work with and whether or not we want to record in Kansas City or get out of town and get everything tracked in a short amount of time. As a string player I have to take into account the physical demands of my instrument so I am thinking its going to be a slower process than I want.
Describe your songwriting process in terms of collaboration, creative stumbling blocks and inspiration.
Ben and I usually write song ideas separately and then flesh them out together. Ben is a painter and a member of rock duo The Slights and I am a full time musician both classically and with my other group The Wires. We try to prioritize Of Tree. So far things have gone very smoothly. The addition of John Bersuch has been a wonderful way to tie a bow on our music. Of course, we wish we could do this project full time and perhaps we will someday.
What most inspires you about music in Kansas City?
There are a lot of great musicians that live here! Lots of styles. I (Laurel) am very drawn to folk music and the fiddle community. I am so inspired by the Folk Alliance. I went last year and was literally in tears during the camp portion of the festival because I had been so blocked musically until I attended the workshops last year. Since then stopped trying to get better at my classical technique which has been very frustrating and I am now focused on learning as many traditional tunes and alternative techniques as possible to put into my own music.
Ben just loves music in general. He would go to a show every night if his schedule would allow it. He loves all types of music, but especially Americana/folk.
Laurel Park's recommendations from the Johnson County Library:
Waking Up by Sam Harris
Saving Grace by Lee Smith
Into Thin Air by Jon Krakuer
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt
The Windup Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon
The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle