Lead singer Ari Picker discusses travel and tragedy.
For the past half decade or so, North Carolina's Lost In The Trees has been carving out something special. Pairing up musical influences that span centuries, the group has honed their rich sound that's best dubbed “orchestral folk”, and people have been taking plenty of notice, with critics going so heavily on the praise that it's just too big a chore to narrow down the best sound bites to share.
But, as history's proven, not even the biggest successes can protect us from the fundamentals of the human condition. And so it was that lead singer and songwriter Ari Picker was forced to face the death of his mother by her own hand, marking the premature passing of a woman who was a great artist in her own right.
Out of that trial, though, Ari drew the inspiration to pen the group's latest album, A Church That Fits Our Needs, as a tribute to the life that she'd led. Now, the band has taken to the road in support of the release, crossing the continent with a van full of musicians and cases full of instruments that could just as easily belong to The Toronto Symphony Orchestra, if it weren't for the drum kit and guitars sitting alongside.
Through the good work of some good people, we had the chance to touch base with Ari in anticipation of his visit to Toronto, as well as catch the group for their stunning set at The Drake, where our photographer captured images from the live performance to accompany the conversation.
Sticky: I appreciate you taking the time to chat, since you're probably pretty busy, being in the middle of your tour. Where are you guys now?
Ari: Well, we were in Minneapolis last night, now we are in Wisconsin... and we're eating some cheese curds.
Sticky: How's that going? The tour, I mean, not the cheese curds.
Ari: The tour is going awesome.
Sticky: Ah, great. Now, I've been digging around for details on the other members of the band, but it's proven pretty difficult. Most of what I've come up with is about a lot of variations in the cast in the past. Is that on the money?
Ari: Well, not exactly. I mean, the band was a lot bigger at one point and there were a lot of members in and out. But right now there are six of us and we've been together pretty much since the beginning. So the core has been the same, just the band's outer edges have shed away.
Sticky: That's still a pretty big number. Touring can be a struggle, even with a small band. Do you have any unique issues touring with such a large line-up?
Ari: Yeah, touring is definitely difficult, but I think we handle it really well. We're all friends and there's a really good dynamic; everybody's equally invested in the project, and we love what we're doing. So, I think just having a good attitude helps overcome any kind of obstacles. I don't know if it's necessarily any harder with six or with three - it's about the attitude you have.... and hopefully the van doesn't break down.
Sticky: With you coming here to Toronto, it got me wondering: With these long-haul tours, when you do arrive in a city, is there something specific you look for? Aside from a bed, that is.
Ari: Well, I don't like cities very much [laughs]. For me, some sort of outdoorsy walk... like, in LA, I really liked climbing up the Griffith Park paths. There's a cool little coffee shop, and you can take a hike after you get some coffee. That's awesome. That's the kind of thing I like - anything that gets your heart rate up. But, most of the cities we get to, we just get to the club and we wait around for the sound-check, then we wait around, we play, and we go. The same old horror story.
Sticky: Ah, necessary evils I guess. So, this tour is in support of the new release, of course, and you've been really open with the concept and with your mother's passing. Do you think you could sum up for us what you're hoping to convey through the album?
Ari: Making the album, the purpose was to give myself an opportunity to remember her and to celebrate her, and also a healthy way to deal with the grieving process. To create an atmosphere of positivity and celebration... doing that through writing the songs. There's certainly tragedy in there, but ultimately it's about empowering her. A memorial, so to speak.
Sticky: The press has definitely latched onto that motivation for the new album. Do you think people would appreciate it differently if they didn't know the facts, or are you totally okay with that?
Ari: For me, it's more about people not latching onto more of the tragic pity-party angle. That's not what the album's about. I think that, if that's avoided, I feel okay about it. The label, when they heard the album, they wanted to make sure that the story was told correctly, because sometimes it's easy to run with the tragedy and that drama. I think that's been tricky, but it's been good to see people come at it from more of a positive angle. But, it is true, I do think the music might take a back seat sometimes to the story.
Sticky: So then, aside from the concept, what are you most proud of about the album? What do you think people should most notice?
Ari: The sound of the album... I was really shooting for it, and I think pushing myself in that direction and kind of gave myself a pretty small landing space for where I wanted the album and how I wanted it to feel. There were a lot of growing pains while writing. Like, I wanted the album to have a little bit more of a modern sound, or at least [to make] the orchestrations like modern classical orchestrations, and treat dissonance in a different way. And also, to lyrically capture all of the somewhat intangible emotions I was having surrounding my mom. So, it was a lofty goal, actually. I'm really happy I finished it and I'm proud of it, and it did a lot of good for me.
Check out the photos below of Lost In The Trees from their recent appearance at The Drake Underground.