17 Oct 2012

An Interview with the Smoking Trees

With the fabulous album "Acetates" due out soon now is the time to hip yourself to the Smoking Trees and their self appointed mission to psychedelicise the world.
Firstly set this playing:

Now settle back and enjoy this virtual chat I had with Sir Psych and L.A Al, two of the most psychedelic gentlemen on, and sometimes off, the planet.

THE ACTIVE LISTENER : How did the two of you meet, and what other musical projects have you done together leading up to the Smoking Trees?

SIR PSYCH: We use to work for a record store here in Los Angeles. We both found out that we made music. Al was playing guitar in a punk rock band called Homesick, and I was doing production work and played the drums. It wasn’t just Al and I at first. There were about 5 of us that used to jam out together. We all had different background as far as music that we played. Being that we were all from the same record store, our first band was called Clerk Two, which was a code for our record store for a manager to the front. Our downfall, as a band, was also that we all had different backgrounds in music. Al and I were the only two that meshed musically.

THE ACTIVE LISTENER : So, who does what with the Smoking Trees in terms of writing, vocals, instruments etc?

L.A.AL: I play guitar and bass. As far as writing, I leave the words to Martin. He knows how to put words together. I am more of a riff man. Martin has a real good ear, as far as hearing something catchy or good for a song. At first when we started playing together, I would just come up with riffs, and he would come up with a melody, and would write lyrics faster than anyone I ever met. Good words too. And that’s how we first started constructing our songs.

Al Riviera
SIR PSYCH: I started off played drums, and singing. At first I couldn’t play guitar, so I started creating song on piano, by sound, and not by notes. I’m the type of person who can pick up an instrument and create something with it. So eventually I picked up the bass, guitar, and other instruments and taught myself to play. As far as vocals, we sing lead together on 95% of our songs. That’s what creates our signature vocal style over our instrumentation. One of our vocals might be more emphasized on a song, but our harmony blends are there in all our songs.

THE ACTIVE LISTENER : Al, I know Martin's looking over your shoulder, but how would you describe him and can you tell us what he's like to work with?

L.A.AL: He’s possibly the easiest person to work with. Sometimes I doubted him on what he was doing, cause I didn’t hear the same thing as he did, but I learned to listen to him, because when he gets to the next stage of the song I always say. “OHHHH that’s what you’re doing!” He’s has a knack for taking something that I find wasn’t worth using and making it sound good as gold.

THE ACTIVE LISTENER : Martin, can you tell us a bit about Al too?

SIR PSYCH: Al is a good friend, and has a good voice. We blend well together. A lot of people would not have the patience to work with Al, because he feels that everything can be better. I taught him that things never can be perfect. I learned not to be perfectionist, no matter how much I wanted to be one. When we make music together it’s always fun. That’s why we write so much music together.

THE ACTIVE LISTENER : Al, do you have solo material that you're working on too?

L.A.AL: I do. I have been working on my own songs for some time. All though Martin has recorded some songs for me, these recordings I haven’t showed him yet. I have been recording these demo’s by myself on my own time, and when I feel I’m ready to get them recorded, I’ll bring them to the table for Martin to produce them for me. I definitely have an album worth.
THE ACTIVE LISTENER : What are each of your favorite tracks from Acetates and why?

L.A.AL: “On an Afternoon”, “See”, and “To the End”. Those particular songs because of the catchy 60’s pop vibe the songs give off. “On an Afternoon” and “To the End” are Martin’s songs and the final takes of the songs came out so perfect.

SIR PSYCH: On Acetates I would pick “Persuaded Rendezvous” because it’s much different than our other songs on the album. I wrote it singing in the shower, came out, dried off, and went straight in the studio, and recorded it in about an hour. Al came over, heard my demo. We recorded our vocals together and the end piece came out just as I wanted it to sound like. “See” is also a favorite, because we wrote that one together. The live demo with Al on guitar and me on drums sounds just as good.

At work in the studio.
THE ACTIVE LISTENER : Martin, how do you decide whether a song is destined to be a Sir Psych song or a Smoking Trees song?

SIR PSYCH: I write so much. As I write songs I write them down and put them in order mentally to how they flow together. The more songs I write the more the lists change. So far for my next album I have about 40 songs written. For it to be on a Smoking Tree album it has to be a song we both agree on. Usually if Al likes a certain song, that is more of enough reason for it to be on the album.

THE ACTIVE LISTENER : I see you've got enough outtakes from the Smoking Trees sessions for another two albums. Any plans to do anything with them at this point, and is it material that was left off because it didn't fit with the rest of the album?

L.A.AL: We have a lot of music recorded. But it’s mostly because it won’t fit on the album. If it were up to me I would pick 12 to 13 songs for the album. But Acetates isn’t your normal album.

SIR PSYCH: Al always says why I want so many songs for one album. As a listener, there are so many albums out there that are too short. Most are 10 or 12 songs and running in at about 20 to 30 minutes if you’re lucky. Acetates has 21 songs and runs in at over 70 minutes. If you can put 90 minutes worth of music on a disc, I feel you should use that space. It makes the album more worthy of the purchase as well.

THE ACTIVE LISTENER : What are the two of you working on now / next?

SIR PSYCH: As of today, we took about a month off from recording. I have a few projects I am going to get started on. One is with Spain’s Miri May Moon, by way of London. She took a liking to my “Popsike World of Sir Psych” album and contacted me about wanting to sing some of my songs. I always wanted to write music for a female’s voice, and I already have some demo’s recorded for her. Within the next few months, I will start sending her music, and we will get this project started. I also have a project in the works with writer and assistant editor of Ugly Things magazine, Jeremy Cargill, by way of Chicago, Illinois. We have the same connection in music as far as being rooted in hip hop and both psychedelic music. We already collaborated on a few ideas, and should bring this project to life with some new music in 2013.

L.A.AL: I’m just working on writing and learning new songs. Martin and I have recorded a few covers and have recorded a few songs in Spanish. Possibly might be recording and releasing a full album or an Ep from The Smoking Trees in Spanish. We have a free Smoking Trees release after Acetates comes out which should be released on November 13.

THE ACTIVE LISTENER : Martin, how are things progressing with Colour Tree Records?

SIR PSYCH: We are taking our time with it. Our first official release will be Acetates. I am planning to release our first 7” this year with a track from Acetates. All of our B-sides I have planned will be non album releases, so they will be collector items. I hope. I am still looking for a label or distributor to collaborate with that can help in getting the ball moving faster. So if there are some distributors or label owner that are interested, please feel free to contact me. Let’s do some business. I have received some interesting music, and some pretty bad music as well, but I listen to everything that I receive. As soon as I financially get the ball moving with Colour Tree, I will bring more artists into the picture. I have already contacted a few artists, and I look forward to big things in 2013.

Keep your eyes peeled for a review of "Acetates" on here very soon.....

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