Interview by Volkard Steinbach
From Zillo n 7 8,
as new trends replace old ones all the time, it's almost a miracle that a band like AATT still exists. It holds on its musical
identity and create an unmistakable, characteristic (typical) sound, although it doesn't climb up the charts, and instead
keeps being a border phenomenon in the history of pop that you just can't help liking. Except for a few mega-bands, AATT is
one of the last surviving bands from the post-punk wave. Up to now they've celebrated their songs in a dark, conjuring, romatic
way that the new-existentialists and The Cure, Echo & The Bunnymen and Joy Division's old fans have been painfully missing
on the current music scene. Tunes that make reality disappear and let you sink down in daydreaming and melancholy. Those who
can sit alone with the sole company of their shadow, and still feel joy and hope and be content, will find an everlasting
friend in AATT. A mournful, distressed and depressing feeling trades places with luminous, enthusiastic pieces. The distinct
beauty, carried on by Justin Jones' voluminous guitar-swarms in minor, as from an overdimensioned balalajka, is sometimes
calm, floating like a feather in the wind, and sometimes explosive. To this, Nick Havas (drums) and Steven Burrows (bass guitar)
roll down springy carpets of rhythm that give it all a lightness that's unusual for this kind of music. In the centre we find
Simon Jones, whose voice and intensity can hardly be beaten. A singer who, in the studio as well as on stage, gives everything,
lives out his visions and during his par-force tours gives a whole new meaning to the words.
AATT had their musical debut in 1979. In the beginning they
kept the world around at a distance; they were outsiders who didn't feel like changing their provincial isolation in the homevillage
of Inkberrow (Worcestershire) for the hectic throng in the metropolis of London. Up to 1980 they played perhaps two gigs,
before they found themselves playing as opening act for The Cure. Robert Smith had elected the Trees to his favourite band,
after listening to a demo-tape. A friendship started up between the two bands, but like any other friendships, it had its
highs and lows. The first high: Lawrence Tolhurst, keyboard player in The Cure, produced the first two 7", as well as the
Trees' debut album. The first and most lingering low: from now on, everyone compared the Trees to The Cure and called them
copycats, without considering that it had been the Trees that had introduced The Cure to sad and melancholic tunes. Disappointed
with these reactions, they broke the contact after a second joint tour in 1984, retired to the life in the country, developed
their sound further through the three albums "Virus Meadow" (1986), "The Millpond Years" (1988) and "Farewell
To The Shade" (1989), left their ignorant british countrymen and played for a lojal and ever growing audience on the
continent, especially in France and Germany. Which is not suprising: those who have seen AATT on stage won't easily forget
them. When the music begins, our hectic present stops. We're left there like empty shells at the end of the 20th century,
while four men stand up there and seem to be part of another age, as if they had just risen from old yellow photographs, or
faiding paintings. The clothes - riding-boots, ruffle-shirts, curiously cut pants, scarfs and the singer's black coat - look
like relics from long-gone days. The music has more things in common with poets and painters from the early 19th century,
like Byron, Shelley, or Caspar David Friedrich, than with professional pessimists and today's Doomsday prophets.
Absurd, shrill, unusual scene costumes aren't peculiar in the pop
scene, an image that is usually adapted to certain needs; but that's not the case with AATT. If you met them in private, you'd
surprisingly discover that their scene outfit doesn't differ very much from their everyday wardrobe. "We've preferred
this style for so long", Simon explains, "that I no longer can recall whether we bought these clothes for our first
gigs or to wear them every day. We never spent much money on clothing. Everything is second-hand. There's a store nearby that
sells old german clothes. We always go there. So far we haven't found anything that we like better!". A weakness
for clothes, music and lyrics that often sound as if they told of times gone by, and that reinforce the impression that these
four guys are longing for a life in the past. Simon admits that he doesn't feel like he fits in the present. "There are
simply too many things that I have a hard time accepting. Take the architecture for instance: most of the houses that are
built today seem to be life-hostile, and what is left of the old building structure gets ruined. Not only in the cities. The
destruction stretches itself as far as to the rural surroundings. I believe everything's changing too fast and totally uncontrolled.
One day there'll be nothing left of what we once found lively and amiable. If something disappears, it won't come back again.
If you ravage a wood, finding out 20 years later that what you did was wrong won't help. The wood is forever gone."
Consequently the Jones brothers remain living in the place
they grew up in, in their parents' 250-year-old house, in a village where time seems to be standing still, where every tree,
every rock, every house tells its own story. Simon has the special sensitivity of capturing all these stories from his surroundings
in his lyrics. "Our music and my lyrics are closely interwoven with our surroundings, with history, the countryside and
it's people. We used to think that we would not be capable of making any more music if we left this place. Today I believe
that we would be able to write songs anywhere and still be satisfied with them; they would just not be the same kind of songs.".
That which is not directly influenced by the surroundings derives from movies. This can easily be heard since their music
often sounds like a soundtrack to an imaginated movie. Simon is a devoted movie visitor. "When you are sitting in front
of that screen, all your thoughts are captured, you are secluded from your regular life. You get sucked into the story and
taken to places you have never been before.". Obviously, his favourite movies are not the regular entertainment clips,
but lyrical mystical works of art, like movies by Jean Cocteau, Peter Greenway or Wim Wender's "Sky over Berlin". All of these
are movies that picture Simon's sense of romance and melancholy very well. These sentiments do not lose themselves in mystifying
transcendant scenes, but mirror real incidents. "Romance is one of those words that can be interpreted in a hundred different
ways. It's like the word love. You can love spaghetti and your girlfriend, but the meaning of the word is totally different.
The romance in our music is not necessarily beautiful. To me romance is also pain and passion and it exists in every human
being as a real thing, not just as an association to things and moods. Melancholy can also be interpreted in different ways.
For some it expresses an emotion that depresses you; to me it's an inexhaustable source of inspiration. To be alone with your
own thoughts, to be sad and yet content with yourself and to be able to create something extremely beautiful and hopeful out
of this mood. I know that we are often critisezed for being too sad and mournful. I just cannot write any happy love songs.".
1990 marked a turning point in the Trees' career. They broke up from
their long-term management, went on an american tour for the first time and reactivated the connection with The Cure. As a
proof os this eternal devotion, Robert Smith delivered a beautiful remix of "The Pear Tree". And suddenly there was no longer
any problem in reflecting over the strange ups and downs in their relationship. "For years we just couldn't talk about
The Cure. Times and again we were compared to them. It seemed very unfair to us. The more famous The Cure became, the more
we were disregarded. Although we were not influenced by them during all this time. We were just from the same time and felt
closer to Gang Of Four, Joy Division and The Banshees. As this time passed, we evolved as a band, but nobody in England gave
us a chance to prove it. On the continent it was different. People there accepted us as a band with an individual sound. That
gave us self-confidence. Today it does not interest us whether people consider us to be the second Cure; we know that The
Cure is The Cure and the Trees are the Trees. When we think of The Cure today, it's always with gratitude. It's extraordinary
that somebody offers you help in such a tough business as the music industry. If an oppurtunity is given, we will surely
be working together in the future.".
At the time being, the Trees are devoting themselves to their
new album, which is due to be released towards the end of the year. Simon promises more classical instruments, new unusual
guitar sounds and better tunes. Most certainly there will be some samples of that during the Zillo-Festival in Cologne on