Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Rob Ahlers at Studio Paradiso, San Francisco, California
Not all that long ago, the members of the New York City-based band Big Tree, moved clear across the country, out to the San Francisco/Oakland/Berkeley area there in the Bay. Without having to tell you, or insult your intelligence, their new home in California is a considerable change from what they were used to there on the east coast. They likely still feel like visitors and they will for quite some time, but the way that that part of the country works on a person has to already be setting in pretty good and strong. The change gets them away from almost any chance of snow falling on their front porches or even hitting the street and melting immediately on impact. Gone is the need to brace oneself for any seasonal changes or mostly just the brutal grip of the winter months.
One could make the argument that lead singer Kaila McIntyre-Bader and the rest of the band never uttered a sour word toward snow or the cold though. We're almost sure that they found something they likened to beauty in the freezing temperatures, the bundled up bones and heads and the slushy gutters that always wanted to give pneumonia. Things have to be so much different, setting-wise for them, but there's no doubt that a great part is also attaching firmly to the environment and the kind of surroundings that should stop you in your tracks every time you see them. They're seeing more than just billboards and the occasional tree and splash of water. They're seeing the kinds of things that they tend to dream about, the kinds of things that will leave them choking on ephemera.
So many of the sounds and images that Big Tree has brought to us on their recordings have made us think about verdant and open spaces, not the kind of place that McIntyre-Bader sings about on the title track of the group's next-to-last album, "This New Year," "Your heart is cold/My fingers are warm/Their lips are smiling/Your door's closed/This new year/This New York/This concrete home/I claim the roof as my castle/But never show." Right about there, we hear the difference she points out between her and the other person. She's got warm hands. The other person's heart is cold and there's a good chance that their hands are coordinated with that cold pump. It seems as if Big Tree has always been somewhere that treats a body with milder times, with salty air and with a newer version of heartbreak, one where there's still a renewal possible. She sings, "We counted our days to the orange and red leaves," and it might have led them to a place where the leaves try never to turn such colors, as uneasy as that might be to look at. But then again, these are just places that we find ourselves moving around in, messing up and altering. We're the ones who get to act. We can bring our own cold with us. All that matters, Big Tree, would have us believe, is what noise will be made in the universe when "we slip away together."
*Essay originally published February, 2012