Band name: Scattered Trees
Sound: The indie-rock quintet's sophomore album, "Sympathy," pairs singer-songwriter Nate Eiesland's heart-heavy words with musical backdrops that shift from mournful (the Coldplay-esque "Love and Leave") to propulsive ("Four Days Straight," which sounds like a downtrodden spin on Franz Ferdinand's "Take Me Out").
Need to know: Scattered Trees crafted the bruising "Sympathy" following the sudden passing of frontman Nate Eiesland's father. Expect a sunnier sound on the band's next album, which the group is set to record in Toronto this April with producer David Newfeld (Broken Social Scene, Los Campesinos!).
Interviewed: Nate Eiesland, 27, Ukrainian Village
The title of your song "Four Days Straight" almost sounds like the start of a Guinness World Records challenge, like, "He hopped on one foot for four days straight." What do you think you could do to get your name in the book?
Literally what could I accomplish? Oh man. Honestly, I don't consider myself a jack of many trades.
What about trying to break the record for number of bananas eaten in under a minute?
I'm pretty much wired for music, though. Maybe I could break the most strings in one concert? That record seems attainable.
How would you describe the direction of the new material you're working on?
Musically, there's a lot more energy and up-tempo stuff. "Sympathy" was such a sad concept record. It was so important for me to make, but the material lent itself to music that was hard to tap your foot to, you know? Rather than feeling like we're tearing up onstage every night, we just want to go out there and have a blast.
Is that new direction reflected in the lyrics as well?
I don't think I'll ever completely get away from the subjects of death and mortality. But I'm not as consumed with grief as I was a couple years ago, and I think that's starting to come out.
Where does that interest in mortality stem from?
Well, I think I've been interested in it since I was a kid, like when you go to your first funeral and realize there's an end.
Were you dark and mysterious like Winona Ryder's "Beetlejuice" character?
Definitely not. As a teenager I was pretty amiable. I didn't have many enemies. School was fun for me. I was less angst-y and more of a ham.
"Sympathy" was definitely a heavier record. What changed prior to its recording?
My dad passed away and it was really sudden. Going through that process, I put those thoughts and feelings and grief into the songs--and that was really helpful.
In December you posted a photo of yourself on Twitter and captioned it "playing in a local legend's man-cave" without offering any other details. What was the story behind that picture?
Last winter we were squatting in this house in this little town in northern Minnesota. We went to the local music store and introduced ourselves just to see what kind of things were happening around town, and the music store owner directed us to this older guy named Orrin Foslein. We'd go over to his house, throw back some whiskey and he'd tell us stories about playing banjo and jazz guitar all over the world--even places like Carnegie Hall.
Were you trying to do the whole Bon Iver escape-to-the-woods thing?
I wish. That sounds nice. This was more like we don't have a place to lay down, so we're going to this house that we know nobody is living in.
Then you'd head over to Foslein's place for late night jam sessions?
That's exactly what it was. He would call me and ask if I could help move his tractor from one side of the yard to the other or something, and we'd end up spending the entire evening playing these 1930s guitars that sounded amazing. He was also an instrument builder and a luthier, and he restored instruments for the Smithsonian. He was like, "You gotta play this one! Now try this one!" Then he'd teach me these old songs from the '20s. It was a blast, man.
What's your go-to song now if you're knocking back whiskey and someone hands you a guitar?
Well, he taught me this one song about a prostitute in the '20s. It was called "Gladys Isn't Gratis Anymore."