We caught up with We Are Trees ringmaster James Nee for a chat about what an amazing year 2010 was for the band and what we can expect from them in 2011 including the release of their much anticipated second EP Girlfriend.
AIMR: Who are We Are Trees and how did they come about?
JN: We Are Trees is just my solo project I started when I was a kid because no one wanted to be in a band with me. It started like any other teenage singer-songwriter acoustic project did. I just listened to a lot of Bright Eyes and I thought I had the whole thing figured out.
AIMR: However other musicians are an integral part of the We Are Trees sound?
JN: Over time I've accumulated a fair amount of music friends, and eventually We Are Trees became some-what of a "collective crowd" (pun intended). For my first CD release party, I think I had nine people in the band? It was the worst idea ever. I had no clue what I was doing, but it was fun. haha. So when it came down to recording "Boyfriend", I had a pretty good idea who I wanted to help me. Thanks Josiah, Rocky, and Pearl! I do have a lengthy little "dream team" list in my mind, and hopefully one day I can get everyone together to make the best show ever. Until then, I'll just have to make do with what I got.
AIMR: Who is in your dream team then?
JN: Well it'd be just a bunch of friends of mine. I don't want to say because I'll leave someone out, and I'll look like a dick in the future. If I were to form a super group though, one of my "dream come true" line-ups would be: Annie Clark, Julian Casablancas, Katy Goodman, Christopher Bear, and myself.
AIMR: Your songs are very emotional ephemeral and perhaps soul baring. Is the anonymity of being presented as a band rather than a solo artist allow you to retain more of yourself rather than being presented to the world as look at me I'm JAMES NEE!!!!!?
JN: The whole thing is very similar to the plot of "Captain Planet"...I think. Sure I compose and direct all the music (and technically that is a solo project), but I'm nothing without the people who back me up and vice versa.
AIMR: Are your songs based on actual events or daydreams or both?
JN: They're all about imaginary girlfriends I'll never have. haha.
AIMR: Who is your ideal woman then?
JN: Just someone who's nice. haha
AIMR: How would you describe the We Are Trees sound?
JN: I just want to make pop music that's to my liking. I'm not going to stick to one style in particular (at least I don't want to). So to me, it's all just pop music. Whether my music sounds like Grizzly Bear or anyone else is up to the listener.
AIMR: How has your upbringing hometown influenced your music?
JN: I don't think it has! haha.
AIMR: What is the music scene like in Virginia Beach?
JN: It's pretty horrible. The city is pretty much a beacon for tourists. So the government saves no money for art funding unless you're a really bad cover band (then the city will give you hundreds to play really bad cover songs for beach goers). Bands have no where to play, record stores are all shut down, and most people wouldn't even know music existed if not for horrible radio However, Virginia Beach is part of an area called Hampton Roads. And in the past decade or so, Hampton Roads has left a mark in the Hip-Hop world with artists like: Clipse, The Neptunes, N.E.R.D, Pharrell Williams, Timbaland, Missy Elliott Because of them, a slight rise of rappers appeared. Unfortunately, all they're doing is damaging this good reputation this area had. My friends make really good music though. So there's still hope.
AIMR: You better name names then and share their music with the world
JN: My friend Elliott: http://yourejovian69.bandcamp.com/
My friend Josiah: http://colorcolorcolor.bandcamp.com/
My friend Todd: http://seamonster.bandcamp.com/album/two-birds
My friend Steven: http://www.myspace.com/yespersound
AIMR: How did you first get into music What were your original musical influences, what was the first record you bought/loved (I know you kids don't buy music anymore) and what was the first gig you went to?
JN: I asked my parents for a guitar because of Led-Zeppelin. I just wanted to be a badass. As a teenager I was really into awesome guitar solo's of the 70's/80's, but who wasn't!? The first CD I bought for myself was Incubus - A Crow Left of The Murder. And the first big show I went to was for the Arctic Monkeys.
AIMR: Were you parents supportive of you choosing to be a musician or did you shatter their dreams of Dr. Nee?
JN: I've always been the black sheep in my family. My older brother always set these high expectations for my parents to compare me to, and I hate him for that. We don't get along. Currently, I think my parents have accepted what I want to do in life, and I'm thankful for that.
AIMR: Was there a specific moment that made you want to be a musician, write songs, be in a band?
JN: I think listening to Modest Mouse saved my life. They showed me, as a kid, that there was this other world to music that I would've never found without them.
AIMR: How long did it take to write the Boyfriend EP?
JN: I don't really remember. I just know I've had them for a very long time.
AIMR: How did you enjoy the studio experience of Boyfriend?
JN: It was a really good first time for me. I was sceptical at first because I didn't know what to expect, and I didn't have a lot of money to waste. In the end I'm really glad I went through with it, and I think a lot of people are too.
AIMR: Have you been surprised at the amount of interest in We Are Trees has received from home and abroad in such a short period of time?
JN: I'm still being surprised at everything that has happened. Even though I haven't really gone that far in the music industry, I never expected it to get anywhere to be honest.
AIMR: What has been the most surprising thing to happen since its been released any surreal, wow moments to report?
JN: I think the coolest part so far has been the 2010 CMJ festival. People knew who I was on stage, and it was just weird (a good weird). I felt important for a week. haha. It's a small accomplishment, but it makes me happy.
AIMR: How did the video for "Sunrise Sunset" come about?
JN: My manager's brother is a director for High/Low films in California, and when he visited New York for CMJ, he just hooked us up. Thanks Brit!
AIMR: Did the video take long to make? Where you involved in the location, concept, etc or did you place yourself firmly in High/Low's hands and hope for the best?
JN: We did five takes of the whole thing. Ironically, we were trying to get it all done before sunset. They did a really great job of it, and they're super nice! They also did the Local Natives DVD which is also amazing. My drummer chose the location.
We Are Trees from High/Low Film on Vimeo.
AIMR: Getting a manager seems to be one of the great unknown processes in the music business. How do you get a manager?
JN: Well technically, anyone can be a manager as long as they share the same devotion as the artist. When I applied to CMJ, one of the coordinators emailed me saying that they wanted to work with me. He's a wonderful guy. He actually did the sound for the video as well.
AIMR: So what can we expect from your new EP Girlfriend?
JN: Hopefully it sounds more diverse to people. Expect a lot more guitars and a lot less strings.
AIMR: There's a lovely symmetry moving from Boyfriend to Girlfriend does this Yin and Yang approach to naming the EP's signal a major change in direction for your songwriting?
JN: I hate to say this, but I wrote Girlfriend because I fell under peer pressure to make more music. haha. And that's the worst reason to make music. However, the process grew on me. I stopped writing music to please other people, and I started writing music to fill some kind of a gap. Completing this "cycle" for me, means I can end this chapter of my life and musically move on with my life. It is different, and some people won't like it. I'm fine with that though. Girlfriend isn't intended to be better or worse than Boyfriend. Like a real relationship, it's two separate things that each have their own strengths and weaknesses, but once you put them together it makes sense. It's hard to explain. I hope once you listen to it, it'll explain itself.
AIMR: You leaked a Girlfriend teaser with the fantastic track "Afraid of Love" last week. Which has become a mini Internet phenom you must be delighted with the positive reaction to it?
JN: "Afraid of Love" won't be on it. It was supposed to! I recorded it in the studio, but it's sounds reallllly bad. The demo sounded 100% better. So I decided to just give it away. I'm glad people like it!
AIMR: Really what went wrong we love the song?
JN: It just didn't sound right. It was like something was lost when I re-recorded it. I'm very hard on myself like that.
AIMR: What bands are making your ears go crazy at the moment?
JN: The new Strokes song made me jizz in my pants.
AIMR: Are there any bands/ artists you'd like to collaborate with?
JN: I down with whatever. haha. I did promise my friend I'd produce her record when I'm rich and famous. She makes really freaky folk music and has a haunting blues voice. She's given up on music for school, but she has so much potential. (here's her unattended myspace page http://www.myspace.com/sharkbird
AIMR: Who would you like to cover We Are Trees and which song would you like them to cover?
JN: I'm flattered if anyone wants to cover one of my songs!
AIMR: But if you had to choose one who would it be?
JN: I think it would make my year if Madvillain sampled We Are Trees. My dream cover song though would have to be Rod Stewart "Do You Think I'm Sexy"
AIMR: We would like to hear that. Whats stopping you?
JN: The song is too complex and precious to just carelessly cover it. Everything has to be perfect. I must not disrespect the great Rod Stewart. haha. Don't worry, It'll definitely happen.
AIMR: When can we expect to hear Girlfriend in full?
JN: I don't have a deadline for it. It's kind of up in the air right now. It just needs mastering, and the tracks are done. So as soon as I find a cool enough picture that matches Boyfriend, it will be released.
AIMR: Do you have any tour details jet and can we expect to see you in Europe anytime soon?
JN: Unfortunately, not yet. I want to though! I feel like I have more fans in Europe anyways.
Until the release of Girlfriend listen to the debut EP Boyfriend http://wearetrees.bandcamp.com/album/boyfriend