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And Also The Trees
Shaletown

Shaletown: Articles - 1991

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AATT : Outsiders , People On The Edge . Anachronists

 

Interview by Volkard Steinbach
From Zillo  n 7  8, 1991

 

 

   These days, 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 september 7.

 

 

translated from German by:
 Emilia Weintraub, Tessa Praun and
 Helena Csarmann .

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