And Also The Tress – poetic trip through unknown emotional landscapes
By Paulius Ilius
And Also The Trees (AATT) sound comes from the wild fields of West Midlands and cobbled ancient streets of Worcestershire. It is transmitted by using the beautiful sonic pallette consisting of post punk/coldwave pulsations, neoclassical voyages, hints of XVIII century romanticism and even noirish blues/americana infusions. All this began in an old English farmhouse with a view fo the field, which used to be a home of Middle Ages settlement destroyed by plague. Here two brothers (Justin Jones and Simon Huw Jones) began their musical path, which led to the formation of AATT.
AATT rich discography consisting of over 10 full length releases is like a long narrative, a poetic microcosmos full of surreal spaces, strange characters and dramatic events. It is at the same time very personal.
In this exclusive interview Simon Huw Jones, one of the band’s founders and vocalist, speaks about the evolution and history of this mesmerizing project.
You hailed from small rural England town with rich history. How did it influence you? Does the landscape of your hometown shape your sound? What is your relations to the places you were raised/born/live especially when you visited so many cities during to intense touring? How do these places influence your art?
Our environment shapes us as people and it can shape what we produce – including art, literature and music. It’s obvious but I hadn’t thought about this much back then when we first started and I suppose the first time I became aware of it was listening to the guitar ideas Justin had written for our second album, Virus meadow.
We lived in an old farm house, Justin and I were on the top floor. Our rooms looked out over the fields. As you mentioned, there was a history behind those fields (the site of medieval village that was deserted and left to fall into the ground without trace during the bubonic plague) so it was very natural to write about this landscape and it’s history. So natural that I hardly thought about it.
Most other bands at that time, and certainly the ones we related to, were had urban roots and backgrounds, which was somehow ‘cooler’ but we accepted that our music was going to reflect who we were and where we were from. It also made us more unusual.
The touring and visiting different countries and cities is also very inspiring and this helps us push out the boundaries creatively speaking.
AATT experienced a slight shift in the mid 90’s from refined romantic post punk to interesting excursions to Americana. How did it happen? What was the reason behind that? Did you try to channel this type of sound through British perspective?
We had released six albums by that point and were worried that we were stagnating and getting trapped by our ‘image’. We also wanted a new challenge so we went on what we think of as a kind of voyage into another time and another culture. It was a big deal for us (and for some of our more sensitive followers… who hated it) but actually it was quite a subtle change, it’s not like we suddenly became a rock-a-billy band. The change in the guitar sound was the most radical thing as Justin stopped playing in that unique style of his and that changed the mood and the terrain… and consequently my lyrics.
You managed to stay quite intact by the music industry and remote from mainstream during your long career? What is your attitude towards it? Is it an intentional stance or just happens organically? Is it difficult to maintain?
It’s more of an organic process… although we have carefully and deliberately held onto our independence and creative freedom. We haven’t played the music business ‘game’ with all its networking and strategies but that probably wasn’t by choice, it just didn’t come naturally to us and along with the fact that we’ve never attempted to follow musical trends it has made us almost unmanageable. Consequently making a career out of music has been tough and at times impossible. But we’re Ok with this. I suspect that these challenging circumstances have also shaped our music.
Nature seems to have a strong presence in your discography. We find reccuring motives of sea, streams, meadows, trees. What nature in general means to you and what role does it play in your words/lyrics? Is it just a setting for poetic action or more of primary essence of your concept sound? Also does it have any relation to your title?
Lyrically speaking it goes back to the first question and the landscape shaping our music and words. During the first ten years of AATT I spent many hours looking out of that window and observing nature changing with the seasons and the time of day. I also spent a lot of time working on the land, farming, market gardening even archaeology and all the time I had the music in my head. Later I became more interested in the relationship between man and nature – and natures relationship with us.
Initially the title ‘And also the trees’ was quite random – it was the title of one of the first songs we wrote when we were kids learning how to play. It has become more apt as a title as we have evolved.
Having in mind the fact that your music is pretty opposite to the fast and intense modern world, how do you manage to maintain this sonic isolation and purity? Is it difficult? Where do you find most inspiration? Is it from everyday life or more a fantasy world?
Speaking as the lyricist and singer, it’s not difficult for me.The music always comes first and the music takes me somewhere else. I don’t think of it as a fantasy world though. I am wary of the word ‘fantasy’ as although I have enjoyed the work of some of the great ‘fantasy’ writers the ‘world’ of my lyrics is nothing to do with that. I am often writing about moments in time from the lives of, what for me, are ordinary people, or people that are not especially fantastic or extraordinary, who live or lived in the real world. It can be dream like in the respect that time is unstable as it shifts backwards and forwards.
Sonically – we realized early in our careers that it was technology that generally dated music… for good or bad, and as we have never aspired to be a ‘cutting edge’ band our sound has remained, on the whole, quite natural.
Various interesting characters seem to dwell in your songs and lyrics (accordion girl, Count Jeffrey etc). What do they represent? Are there some real equivalents or is it fiction? Does literature influences you and if yes what kind of?
It depends on the character, sometimes they are allegorical, sometimes they are made up of different people I have either met, seen or read about in literature, sometimes they are just there in the music and I don’t know who they are or why they are there.
I am influenced by literature yes, it is a vital source of inspiration to me. There is no specific style or period in literature that is more important to me than another – from ancient to contemporary writers.
What place in your discography occupies the most recent album Hunter Not The Hunted? Is it a kind of summary of your past work or a new beginning? Not so long ago you also released an acoustic album When The Rains Come? Is it a turning point in your career and what would be your next step?
The biggest turning point in our history was with the release of Further from the truth in 2003. A lot changed in our lives after the around the turn of the century and after a period of about five years without a release, which included us moving away from our house in Worcestershire, Further from the truth, paradoxically, felt like going back to our roots and, creatively speaking, starting again.
Hunter not the hunted is part of that evolution. The acoustic album was a kind of turning point because we learnt so much from it musically and we understood that our work was adaptable. It also reaffirmed that less is quite often more.
Having in mind that your sound is very aesthetic and full of strong visual and poetic references, what other art forms apart from music inspire you? What about visual arts, literature? Simon is also a photographer, so do you have some influences in this area?
Most musicians, lyricists, writers and artists take inspiration from wherever they can and we’re no different. Film can have a strong effect on our creative minds and yes, paintings, sculpture and photographs have also been a source. My photographs haven’t played an inspirational role though – more likely that the music influences my pictures.
How do you channel all these emotions of your music live on stage? Is it difficult?
There is no technique of course, we just play our songs and the music leads the way. Is it difficult? – no. For me it’s sometimes difficult to stay grounded, to not get too carried away. You learn about that kind of thing with experience and we’re still learning.
What were the best place you have ever played? Maybe you have some places where you would really like to play? What are the most suitable place for your sound to flourish?
We have played in all kinds of places and we still do – I like that aspect of AATT, we are comfortable on a big or small stage, enjoy both and our music and performance adapts well to either. The great thing for us is that they are different experiences so it keeps things very interesting. We’ve played in a lot of different countries too – I’d like to play in Japan and central and Southern America… and we’re looking forward very much to playing in Lithuania. There are lots of places we’d still like to play.
What was your best and most beautiful sonic experience you have ever encountered?
Can’t single out one above all others. Hearing the Holte end (the stand behind the goal at Villa park – home of my favorite football team Aston Villa) chanting ‘Villa’ and roaring when a goal was scored when I first went as a child back in 1971 was amazing, although I don’t know if you could describe it as ‘beautiful’. Sky larks singing above the fields by the sea in South Wales…? Venice? and then there is all the music – where do you start?
Band photo by Richard Dumas.