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An Earthy Musicial Experience: An Interview With A Tree Grows

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Photo Credit: Amber Gress

Brooklyn-based A Tree Grows has just released their single “Wau-Wau Water” on November 4th from their upcoming self-titled EP, which is set to release sometime in 2017 via Rufftone Records.

 A Tree Grows is a jazz collaboration which includes the brothers Rashaan Carter and Russell Carter on the bass and drums respectively, German-born electronic musician Emanuel Ruffler on the keyboards, the two-time Grammy winner Tivon Pennicott playing the saxophone, and the trumpeter Duane Eubanks.

Recently, Emanuel Ruffler answered some questions about the band, “Wau-Wau Water,” and the incredibly creative music video.

Stereo Embers Magazine: Hi! First, I want to thank you for taking time out of your day to answer my questions. This is really a great opportunity to get to learn more about A Tree Grows and your single “Wau Wau Water.”

SEM: You are all very accomplished musicians. How did you all meet and how did A Tree Grows come to be?

Emmanuel Ruffler: We started the band with the intention of bringing a few different elements together that would enhance each other – and in a way that could take on their own natural direction. All the people in our band have known each other and collaborating in different settings over the years. But we are also all friends and have been staying in touch outside of music.

Rashaan and I have worked together the most over the years, we have played in at least ten different bands, reaching through many styles. We started as sidemen in drummer Joe Chambers’ band “Nommo”, but since then we have done everything from acoustic jazz to experimental electronica and alternative soul. It helps to have more than one common point of reference.

Tivon’s quartet and our alt-jazz duo “Painting” put on a concert last summer. The two bands’ enhanced each other in an interesting way, so it was a natural idea to combine the two sounds into a new group.

SEM: Has music always been a big part of your lives?

ER: Everybody in this band is a lifelong musician. Many of us are coming from extremely musical families: Rashaan and Russell used to have a band called “The Carter Brothers,” with their brother Roland on piano and – wait for it – their dad as the featured soloist on saxophone. Needless to say they sounded great.

Duane Eubanks’ family is also unique with two of his brothers being extremely successful musicians: guitarist Kevin Eubanks and trombonist Robin Eubanks. Their uncle is the legendary Ray Bryant, who is one of my personal influences on piano.

SEM: Let’s talk about your latest single “Wau Wau Water.” Can you explain the name of the song?

ER: The title “Wau-Wau Water” to me describes water with impurities, which has the potential for some sort of life to form. In many languages “Wau-Wau” is a childish word for a dog, so it has a silly and humorous ring to it. It also reminds me of the brackish water you would find in a dog’s water bowl. Yuck!

I have been filming and photographing this kind of dirty water whenever I’m traveling. It always fascinates me that our whole cycle of life was started from such basic ingredients.

SEM: What is the inspiration behind the track?

ER: We based the composition on the image of murky water, which contains the building blocks for life: some minerals, some enzymes and some sun rays – turning into primitive bacteria. I’m not sure this is scientifically correct, but the image combines something “earthy” with the cyclical ebb and flow of water. There is the potential for life, maybe in a puddle, or in a pre-historic ocean? When we rehearsed and recorded the song we kept going back and reminded ourselves of this image and it helped us bring the musical interpretation together. In the end we were all on the same page.

SEM: What was it like in the studio when you were creating “Wau Wau Water”?

ER: Recording this album was a no-stress affair. We tracked everything in Rashaan’s apartment in Harlem, which he turned into a pretty serious recording facility. This meant we could take as long as we wanted and we deliberately slowed down the pace.

It also felt like a community-based effort, where we combined the recording tools, space, time and talent that we had available. We didn’t need to think about money or time – our only concern was not annoying the neighbors too much as we were playing pretty loud on some songs. In a way we were laying the groundwork of how to start up new projects in the future, getting away from an “industry” process and more into a group and community effort. In the end of the production process we “cheated” and went into one of the best studios in New York to mix the record.

SEM: The video for “Wau Wau Water,” created by the acclaimed videographer Hideki Shiota, is as mesmerizing as the song. In it, Shiota really draws attention to each instrument as the particular sound is dominant in the track. How was it making the video?

ER: The video started as an experiment, where we collected all the iphones and cameras we could gather and filmed little details of our instruments while we recorded the music. So in the video you are seeing us actually making the record, we are not acting or lip-synching. We deliberately wanted to zoom in on the little motions that create the sound, to go with our image of wau-wau water, where tiny elements in the water are the building blocks for something bigger. In the end Hideki Shiota took this footage and assembled it in the most amazing way: When you look at the video he draws your attention to certain parts of the arrangement so that i felt like the song “sounded” different when watching the video. Hideki has a very good sense of rhythm and texture so his editing becomes like another instrument in the band, which builds momentum and moves the song along.

SEM: So what does the future hold for all of you?

ER: We are getting ready to focus on our live show. We will perform at one of our favorite clubs in New York: Nublu on December 9th. We are also finishing another video we shot, which will be completely different but also very interesting. In 2017 we hope to have as many opportunities as possible to play this music live for our audience and we will also be looking towards making another record, possibly with a different premise and sound.