Wednesday, February 2, 2011

INTERVIEW: Tree Hopping

Interview w/ Tree Hopping

Gabriel Berrios, until now most recognized for his role in the three-piece Totally Nebular, has just released a new album from his solo project Tree Hopping. The Beat Band is 10 songs worth of eclectic, tropical, guitar pop, unseemingly comprised greatly in samples. The album's Latin American feel could be a fresh, unique alternative to El Guincho's Alegranza, similarly rooted in sampled-loops. This isn't to say that Tree Hopping is a "post-El Guincho" project in any way, Berrios' guitar work, all around instrumentation, and vocals allude to a varied musical background, even citing Global Groove as a reference point for his own research into authentic Nigerian and Ghanaian music.

Where does the name Tree Hopping come from and how did the project begin?

I think I came up with the name way back in middle school... like all the way back then. I used to just doodle in class and I remember writing "Tree Hopping" on top of the doodles. The "project" began because, in 2007, Eddie (who's also Forest Clay) started making recording some really young sounding stuff because he just got some recording gear and garage band and whatever. then pretty soon Weston (God Boat) was doing the same thing but on his pc so I was like... well what am I doing? i should record too. I recorded stuff using my brother's online rpg mic... so it all sounded really horrible. But yeah thats what i was doing 2007 through 2008.

Tree Hopping now I guess started because totally nebular was in da doldrums. Like we had recorded boat boat in the summer of 2009, but then weston moved to tallahassee almost immediately afterwords for a month or so, he moved back and we started playing a ton of shows. Meanwhile we tried making new material but it was no good. Me and weston thought it was good for a while but i'm not sure if eddie ever felt too strongly about it. in retrospect it was almost all bad except for a few shining moments. the real problem was that were weren't unified anymore. there was this huge distance between the three of us that sucked. Anyway, we never carried these bad songs to the end. It sucked because by the time summer 2010 rolled around, we were playing the best shows of our lives but we didn't have any new cool material, or any real decent recordings. eventually eddie moved to gainesville and started going to UF and left me and weston behind in south florida to really not do anything at all. so while all this was going i became frustrated that i wasnt doing anything new. so i bought some better recording equipment and started to focus on making a more "real" tree hopping CD . i finished it 2 or 3 months after moving to Gainesville, where me and weston reunited with eddie. We still live together.

Has Tree Hopping always been a one-man-band and will it forever be that way?

Yeah it has. I love to play with people though, especially live, and its crossed my mind to get friends together to play decent "the beat band shows". weston was playing drums with me for a while and that was pretty cool. I don't know if it will forever be that way at all. i think so. i would probably find something else to call it if i made music with other people again.

What's the difference between making music as Tree Hopping and making music as a part of Totally Nebular?

Not much difference. Just less work working with 2 other people and less focus. Alone i can control everything, with totally nebular we all just threw ideas out and saw would stuck. making music with totally nebular was amazing and more fun but i dont think we ever really captured how good our sound actually was sometimes... its a shame but what can i do. making music alone is kind of lonely, but the pay off is everything turns out exactly how you'd like it too.

Is there an overall theme to your lyrical content? What are the songs on The Beat Band about?

there is a huge theme. thats mainly why its divided into sides (side a tracks 1 -7; side b tracks 8-10). The first 7 songs are about living in and remembering my last year in south florida. they mostly focus on a specific person. the last three songs deal with gainesville, mostly.
i like lyrics that are very plain and sort of obtuse though. like if they're sung in a nice melody or with lush sounds and at the same time sound sort mundane or way too absolute. that contrast has such an impact to me. i sometimes tried to make the lyrics so overtly obvious sounding but in way thats like "is that really what hes saying? what else can it mean...". there's a lot of little secrets too, but most of the meanings are there without looking much.

The Beat Band is heavily sample-based. Typically, this is expected for more of an electronic-type style of music making, but such is not the case with Tree Hopping. What is your reasoning behind sampling other people's music?

i love the idea of sampling. especially when its obvious and recognizable. one of my favorite things is to come across or go looking for samples in songs in like hip hop songs or what not. i just love the idea of making new music out of music that already exists. i love the idea of different ideas from different time periods relating to each other. there's an endless supply of ideas and sounds when you let yourself come to terms with sampling. I have strayed away from because to be honest it's a tedious and hard process and i felt like i exhausted it. so yeah that being said i don't agree with sampling that rips off another artist. i mean i dont think the product should ever rely completely on the samples. an example is washed out's "feel it all around". listen to gary low's "i want you" ( what did he really do to change that?

Forest Clay, God Boat, and you are all very busy working on releasing work under your solo projects; what does that mean for Totally Nebular? It's difficult to imagine you all three living in the same house for the past few months and no new music being released. Do you guys plan to release a follow-up to 2009's Boat Boat?

your guess is as good as mine. we've grown apart musically so much that it doesnt even seem possible to me sometimes. i would love to though and it always crosses my mind. all of us would have to put our own music behind us though because we don't have anything in common anymore it seems. like it would be about creating music that worked for us, not about any of us realizing music we purposely want to make. that kind of focus can't exist in a good way with two other heads involved. people get left out and it starts to sound bad without the team work. we need common ground and determination (we all go to school and live our on lives a lot) to start.

Why do you make music and what are you trying to achieve with your music?

i'm not sure. i get a good feeling out of it. its something very visual to me, music. so i guess its like when people are into painting and photography, they want to capture something and show people what that is. same thing. its a little diary too. i say things i wouldn't ever tell anybody in those songs and probably for good reason. i also admire so many musicians and the art and the history--movements within music and the culture that surround them. i want to make a little dent in that one day. like oh this is what 2010-2020 music sounded like.

Give some insight into the music making process behind Tree Hopping.

sometimes i record drums first, if there are recorded drums in the song, just so everything will sequence well. i sit on the floor and record guitar. i sit on the floor and play keyboard. i do vocals last and usually write the vocals on the spot or use little verses i wrote in my free time. i use ableton because everything is neat and you can loop things very well which is what i almost always do. i usually base songs on guitar patterns i make up before hand. a lot of things vary but most of those things i do every time.

What are some of your musical influences?

for "the beat band" it was nigerian and ghanaian highlife guitar. a big influence was talking head's "remain in light" in that that album is almost completely looped as well. tropicalia like novos baianos, and os mutantes. also new weird america bands like first nation, and our brother the native. also post punk as a whole.... new order too, el guincho, phil elvrum, mf doom, gza, wu-tang. there are just so many. im really easily influenced. a lot of them don't shine through the music but they're there.

What are your plans for 2011?

to get into UF... haha... or to have clearer plans about college cause.. you know. stressful stuff. i plan on recording a few more albums too. hopefully 2 or 3. but who knows.


Tree Hopping's The Beat Band is available for download or purchase on bandcamp. If you want a physical copy of the album, you can e-mail the artist personally for purchasing. The cost, including shipping, is $5.



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