The Giving Tree Band has mastered the art of American indie folk and they show off their big, full sound on their most recent album, The Joke, The Threat & The Obvious. The Illinois band began as brothers and has expanded into an 8-piece folk ensemble that plays classic folk music with a little bit of a modern twist. Todd Fink gave us the answers to all our essential questions and told us a pretty great story about boys in their underwear.
Kelly: Tell us the story of how the band got together…
Todd Fink: In 2003, my brother and I became friends with a band called Oucho Sparks. Most of those guys lived in a big house in Elmhurst, IL that they converted into an underground music venue. It was called Cafe Ballistico and attracted not only musicians but all kinds of artists and characters from Chicagoland. We started going there almost religiously. We’d perform with bands or join different jam sessions. Then, we’d stay up all night talking about Eastern philosophy or conspiracy theories. It was an incredible breeding ground for creativity. In 2004, the rented house was scheduled to be torn down. We knew it was all coming to an end. So, we planned an outdoor festival to serve as a culmination of this time and to celebrate the music and friendships born at Cafe Ballistico. We called it Ballistico Fest. We held the three day fest in the 2 acre backyard of our home in Yorkville, IL and nearly 1000 people came and camped out. It featured all the artists from Cafe Ballistico and the first official performance from The Giving Tree Band. It was quite epic and looking back, I realize how unique Cafe Ballistico was and that it was probably a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It was at Cafe Ballistico that we met Patrick Burke and conceived The Giving Tree Band. It began as a small side project and grew into a much larger career-oriented ensemble as we added other friends along the way.
K: How would you describe your sound?
TF: It’s a big folk rock sound that’s all acoustic with bluegrass instrumentation and drums. It’s all song-based music with tight arrangements and vocal harmonies.
K: Who are some of your sonic influences?
TF: Bands like The Beatles, The Stones, The Kinks, The Band, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and classic songwriters like Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Townes Van Zandt, and John Prine.
K: What has been your biggest accomplishment as a band so far?
TF: I think having our new record The Joke, The Threat & The Obvious land on various top 40 radio charts including #15 on the Roots Music Report and #40 on the Americana Airplay Chart.
K: What are your goals for the upcoming year?
TF: Our goals for 2011 include releasing a fourth album and touring heavily.
K: What has been your favorite city/venue to play in?
TF: Favorite city to play in is always back home in Chicago and it’s a tie between the Congress Theater and the House Of Blues.
K: What’s on heavy rotation in the tour bus/ on your ipod?
TF: We actually don’t listen to music much collectively on the bus but when we do it’s usually Bob Dylan and The Band or Tom Petty’s Wildflowers.
K: Who is your favorite new artist?
K: What would be your dream collaboration and why?
TF: The Giving Tree Band is my dream collaboration. Maybe further down the road another dream collaboration will come up.
K: Tell us your craziest/most embarrassing band story, and make it a good one.
TF: At our CD release show this year at the House Of Blues, we had arranged to wear custom suits. When we were getting dressed minutes before taking the stage, Eric realized that he left his pants at home. We didn’t know what to do and had no time to think. So, our drummer Justin took off his pants and gave them to Eric. At the start of the show, the curtain was closed. When it opened, Justin was already behind his kit. So, no one knew he wasn’t wearing pants. But at the end of the show, Justin came out from behind the kit in his underwear and joined us at the front of the stage to take a bow. The crowd went nuts. What began as one of the more stressful and potentially embarassing moments for us, turned out to be one of the highlights of the year. I guess that story officially makes us a rock ‘n roll band.
It’s the same thing with listening to music with words in another language. It’s not necessary to understand words or literal meanings. It’s the way the melodies and rhythms evoke feeling. It’s like that saying about art, how you may not be able to explain it, but you know it when you see it. I can’t always describe music (although obviously, I sure as hell try to), but I know what I like when I feel it, and I think those who can evoke that feeling deserve to be acknowledged for it. That’s what I want to describe. That’s what I want to share.