This is Why Phoenix Tree is Danbury’s Most Exciting Jamband
Phoenix Tree is celebrating their 10th year as “Danbury’s Original Jamband.” In anticipation of their upcoming performance at Garcia’s on Thursday, August 4, we sat down with the band to discuss their past, present, and what the future holds.
1. On your website you talk about how your band’s name came from a contest to pick two words from 30 different songs of yours. What songs did the words Phoenix Tree come from? What does it mean as a name to you guys now?
It comes from our song New Born In America which is about re-imagining the American paradigm, transcending consumerism and corporate greed and having a more naturalistic appreciation for the beauty and root ideals of our country. The Phoenix is a symbol of rising from the ashes to live through another cycle. Our band is similarly on an ongoing path of growth, exploration, adjustment, creative destruction and recreation. We continue to evolve and our band’s creative configuration owes to its versatility. We’re normally a 5-piece but we also perform as a quartet, “Tree-O” and duo. The more we pare down, the more creative we get; whether we’re unearthing gems or re-working the songs arrangements.
2. Most of you met in Danbury, CT at Cousin Larry’s Café Open Mic night in the early 2000s. What was the scene like at those shows and how did it help the band’s formation? How do you think the scene has evolved since then?
The scene was raw, organic, collaborative, open, experimental and that spirit has stayed with Phoenix Tree to this day. 10 years later the musicianship and talent of people in the scene has grown exponentially and is a bit more focused around specific projects, but we all still fill in for each other with the same supportive attitude. There are 4 really strong music scenes in CT, Danbury, Stamford, Bridgeport and New London. Each has its own characteristics and genres. Danbury and Bridgeport have always been more sympatico and recently Danbury and Stamford have been more collaborative. Since the late 80s, the Danbury music scene has always been fiercely indie and eclectic and the open mics serve as incubators. It’s unbelievable just how many genres we have represented.
3. You were nominated for ‘Best CT Jamband’ in the 2015 CT Music Awards. What did that nomination mean to you personally and professionally?
It meant that we had fully evolved into what people considered a ‘jamband’. We didn’t set out to be a jamband, this just happened naturally overtime. It’s professionally very helpful to know what genre you are in so you can explain the style of your band to people. Personally, when you grow up listening to the Dead and Max Creek it’s really cool to be considered part of that tradition. And let’s not forget that Mark Mercier, the legendary keyboard player from Max Creek is sitting in with us at our August 13 show at the Windmill in Stratford, CT. A true “Creekend” with Creek show August 11 in Springfield, Mass and August 12 in Matunuck, Rhode Island. We would love to complete the circle.
4. Each one of you has a unique set of influences spanning across many different genres from rock and jazz to latin and flamenco. If you could each replace yourselves with one of your musical heroes from any genre who would your Phoenix Tree supergroup be?
Dan – my heroes are David Bowie as a singer and performer, Neil Young as a songwriter and Jerry Garcia as a guitar player. So a freak genetic hybrid of them would suffice.
Dave – I wouldn’t replace myself. I would just want to play next to them.
5. Dan and Justin, you guys are the two primary songwriters of the group. What are your individual writing processes like and how do you two collaborate? Does the whole band ever write together?
Dan – I write by myself with the band in mind and then I bring the tunes to the group. Then there is a very Darwinian process of natural selection where my weaker tunes get played less and the stronger ones get played more – its just kind of happens over time based on how the tunes feel to us. I write cool titles first, then I come up with chords and the main hook based on the title. Finally I do the verse lyrics and chords. It’s all about the hook. Some titles that I have slated to write songs for: Floating Lotus, Ghost Island and Steep Hill Climb. I’m exited to see what they will sound like!
Dave – DanO’s songs are pure gold. His hooks are so effective that while I’m working or cycling on a mountain range vacation, I will be singing them for days and sometimes they never leave my head. I wonder if “Steep Hill Climb is about me!
6. Hector, you also play drums and guitar, Jan also plays guitar and bass, and Dave also plays sax. Do you guys ever switch instruments live to mix things up?
Dave – I played sax from age 10 to 22, not anymore. I can still hold an “Air Sax” like I picked it up seconds ago; that never leaves you, but I haven’t touched it since 17 years ago.
Hector – Nope.
7. Right now you’re promoting a crowdfunding campaign for your new album on Indiegogo. What perks can your fans expect from donating to the campaign and will they be able to take advantage of any of them at Garcia’s?
Dave – They can expect good ol’ creatively titled “perks” merch like when you’re at a show. T-shirts, live albums, dvd, stickers, magnets, original concert poster artwork, special limited edition 3-D magnets, 3-D printer laser engraved Phoenix Tree chocolate medallions from our friends at Noteworthy Chocolates but then we take it up a notch creatively. If you give to the “Level Up” categories, you can live your dream by earning all the merch options PLUS sitting in with the band on a song/instrument of your choosing (ahead of time) and/or having a private music lesson with one of us with a free group lunch! And if that isn’t enough, you can receive a Producer credit and book us for a private house party! A few days ago, we launched one of our many “Secret Perks” during this campaign. If you donate $20, you receive a ticket to the show and you’ll receive a free chocolate medallion AND a free digital copy of our new album. Gotta grease the musical wheels with confection!
8. Like all other bands in the jam scene you make sure your fans have access to live recordings of your shows. Where are some of the places that people can hear what you guys sound like live leading up to your show at Garcia’s?
We listen a lot to our favorite bands on archive.org and other online music sites. You can find us on Youtube, Soundcloud and eventually, when our new album comes out in the late winter, on Spotify, iTunes, XM, etc. Our website will have our Live CD/DVDs in the store as well. After our show on October 1st in Danbury, we’ll be taking a hiatus to record and we’ll be back in January.