Scattered Trees want to stay free to be whoever they choose to be musically. Not wanting to commit to one particular genre, they are a tight sounding band walking the line of rock and folk, and the music is well-crafted, providing proof that this band is composed of some seriously meticulous artists. Singer Nate Eiesland’s voice is vulnerable and melancholic, drawing parallels to Duncan Sheik, Elliot Smith and even shades of Radiohead. On their new album Sympathy, Eiesland, lyrically, is not afraid to be vulnerable, and it particularly shows on songs like “Love and Leave” and “A Conversation about Death on New Year’s Eve,” the latter of which drips with sadness. On the track, Eiesland sounds as if he’s singing at someone’s bedside as they’re sleeping or perhaps, as the title may imply, dying.
Sadness and melancholy aside, Scattered Trees are also gifted multi-taskers. Not only are these Chicago-based indie rockers five talented musicians fresh onto the indie rock scene, they are also an eclectic brood of artists, business types, siblings and spouses. Well, almost all of them.
“Ryne’s the odd man out,” lead singer Nate Eiesland said about bass player Ryne Estwing. He is the only band member who doesn’t share a last name with anyone in the band: drummer Baron Harper and guitarist Jason are brothers while keyboardist Alissa Eiesland and Nate are husband and wife. Eiesland said of the situation, “It makes for a colorful road trip.”
And a road trip is on the horizon for Scattered Trees. They are about to embark on a 27-show tour over 30 days. “We love being out on the road,” Eiesland said, “but we’re living the dream so we don’t get worn out.”
He admits he and his wife have had to learn to strike a balance between being husband and wife and bandmates. “We’re good ‘sneakers,’” he said, alluding to trying to steal away for some alone time whenever they can. “We know there’ll be a time for normal.” he said, “Right now, we’re taking one for the team. It’s kind of like being married to five people, but it’s totally worth it.”
Though, no amount of Arrested Development, the band’s favorite show, can prevent tensions from rising when traveling the country in a small van. “We don’t get on each other’s nerves too much,” Eiesland said, “but when we do, it makes for a good debate.” However, the Eieslands, along with any sibling squabbles that may occur between the Harper brothers, have learned not to bring it into the band circle. “Everyone understands and gives the necessary allowances if need be,” he said, “We trust each other as artists inside the band, as well as outside the band.”
Eiesland is the only member of the group who functions solely as a musician. “I write music.” he said, “I threw all my eggs in that basket when I was 13.” At a young age, Eiesland chose songwriting, and only songwriting, not leaving room for failure. “And much to the torment of my parents.” he said.
His bandmates, however, all pursued other interests before coming together to make Scattered Trees a full-time project. The result is a melting pot of talent outside their musical abilities, allowing Scattered Trees to keep a lot of things in-house and economize at the same time.
Jason Harper, for instance, went to Princeton where he studied film and directs the band’s music videos. Estwing is a web and graphic designer and handles the website and T-shirt design for the band. Alissa Eiesland is also a graphic designer, which has helped pay the bills until the band could make enough money to play music full time, which is where Baron Harper’s business degree comes in. “Baron has been paramount in the past year.” Eiesland said.
According to Eiesland, he’s helped the band streamline the business aspect of being in a band. In the past, Scattered Trees has done what he calls “spot tours” where they’d go out on the road for short stints over a few weeks. This time around, Scattered Trees is doing things with a bit more efficiency.
Unlike the melancholy vibe that plays throughout Scattered Trees’ music, Eiesland’s attitude, is far from desperate. He said,“There’s a jumping-off-the-cliff point, and you’ve caught us mid-air.” Despite the melancholic, even morbid, metaphor, there’s a refreshing sense of hope and the excitement of possibility in his voice that so often gets lost in the shuffle of cynicism and repetitive nay-saying from your peers. Eiesland says the band realizes they have to pay their dues, but they feel very lucky to have the opportunity to do what they love, which is playing music together, “We’re in it for the long haul.” So far, Scattered Trees seems to be headed down the right path.
This article was originally slated to appear in the August 2011 issue of Origivation Magazine, http://www.origivation.com.