Recording an album is not baking a cake. There is no winning recipe. Nor even a tried and true method that you can turn to over and over. Parts of the process take longer than you’d think. Other bits come together faster than you’d expect. Help comes from unanticipated places. All this and more was part of the story of the new EP Disco Completo from Treee City.
As Treee told me, “The human aspect of the story is more interesting.”
Treee City drops Disco Completo
by: Aaron Mandel
Patrick Phelps-McKeown is Treee City. Full disclosure, I have known Patrick for some time. He is one the co-founders of Durty Durham and Party Illegal.* He has been an integral part of the Durham music scene for the greater part of decade.
The Disco Completo album is already receiving critical acclaim from the likes of the Super Empty’s Ryan Cocca, airplay on Mir-I-am’s Carolina Waves show K-97.5, and hype from other local influence makers.
Treee is both extremely thorough and highly collaborative. Treee brought together an incredibly talented and diverse cast of characters to make this disc happen.
We sat down for a couple of long conversations, one at Surf Club, tucked away in a dark booth on a weeknight, the other at Weaver Street Market, outdoors, over a picnic table at lunch.
Treee told me, “at the core there is an emotional process. I know what I want to hear in the universe. I don’t feel like it already exists.”
A self-confessed perfectionist, Treee admitted to a phase where he was making a ton of work (music), sharing it in his world, but not releasing it. He was playing shows.
This was during 2015–16 when he was playing and listening to jungle. It felt like trying a style. Could he be immersed in the music the way he needed to be? Treee was never totally happy with the results, never fully satisfied with where his jungle tracks were at. He questioned whether he had the production to do it justice. He wants people to be “totally horny” for his music. This felt like people were into it, dancing to it, but not completely losing their shit over it.
Treee attributes that in part to the reality that drum-bass has never really taken off in America the way it has in England or the way dubstep has exploded into our mainstream youth culture.
Still, he knew if he wasn’t totally pleased and the public wasn’t breathlessly excited, it was time to head in another direction.
Keep mind if you love Treee City, there is an eight track long EP with some 175 beats per minute fertile growth waiting to find the right ecosystem. Regular Party Illegal attendees will testify.
The turning point was when Treee got his own studio set up in his home. He was able to experiment more, try different instrumentals, to sit, jam, record, and re-record. He found himself playing with more ideas, tempos, timbres. Treee said he drew inspiration from Burial, a British electronic music artist.
Burial is quoted saying, “Something happens when I hear the subs, the rolling drums and vocals together… and I wanted to make tunes based on what UK underground hardcore tunes mean to me, and I want a dose of real life in there too, something people can relate to.”
Treee, without quoting Burial to me, said very similar things. Treee said that he wants to have an artistic foundation to his emotional colors.
He is using vocal snips, synths, and vibe-y sounds. Treee said he wants to make music that invites you to step inside a world, rather than listen to a track.
Burial is described thusly “[he] decided at the outset to avoid at all costs the rigid, mechanistic path that eventually brought drum ‘n’ bass to a standstill…his percussion patterns are intuitively arranged on the screen rather than rigidly quantized, creating minute hesitations and slippages in the rhythm.. the mix is rough and ready rather than endlessly polished. Perhaps most importantly, his basslines sound like nothing else on Earth. Distorted and heavy, yet also warm and earthy, they resemble the balmy gust of air that precedes an underground train.”
One can feel the parallels to Treee’s move from technical, intricate, drum machine heavy, jungle to his current EP’s still intricate, but more organic, emotional sound. Treee told me only half-jokingly, perhaps not kidding, to think of the music as like a Molly Ringwald movie from the 80’s.**
The visual collaboration Treee put together to accompany Disco Completo is just as full-bodied. The album’s main visual piece is a digital work of art, a moving rendering composed in layers by Chris Martz, Blaine Carteaux, and Adam Graetz.
Martz is an animator from Durham now living and working in Los Angeles. He designed the 3-d reindeer and tidal wave that accompany Treee City’s music.
Carteaux works with Treee City’s label Rand Haus as an in-house VJ. He contributed his signature VHS textures to the mix, creating deeper dimensionality and the lush world-like feeling.
Graetz better known as thefacesblur, is a visual artist and VJ who collaborated with Treee City at the Hopscotch Music Festival in 2016. He recently partnered with Life is Art Studio as their motion graphics designer. Graetz is also in Body Games.
Graetz worked with Martz’s initial tidal wave and reindeer rendering, along with Carteaux’s VHS textures to fuse together the finished product (seen here with music).
Last Friday, Treee played the full EP Disco Completo at Runaway Clothes flagship store for his adoring and enthusiastic fans. The place was packed with the crowd spilling out onto the Main Street sidewalk, the music pulling in bystanders, on lookers, and the curious public.
Rand Haus, as per their usual, brought a handful of other talented beatmakers to the party; Jil, Trandle, Ebz, and Jumba. Bottles of champagne were passed in celebration.
Treee describes Henderson as someone who can rap his ass off, but also sing. Treee was initially drawn to Henderson’s Analog Youth project, especially from a production standpoint. He loved the cinematic universe that Henderson created. As Treee put it, “Analog Youth was written like a screenplay.”
What is listenable, is accessible.
Lush, complete, deep, worldly, whole, storytelling. These words pepper and spice Treee’s musical vocabulary.
Treee City’s roots in our Durham world run deep. He loved how Henderson’s lyrics captured the power that an emotional vulnerable message can hold.
“Tidal Wave” is catchy and listen-able. Treee credits Henderson with blessing his instrumental work, taking it from a track to a song.
Take your experience from earbuds to in-person and go hear Treee City.
He plays shows regularly.
Near the beginning of my first interview with Treee at Surf Club, during the empty, quieter, early evening hours, musical superstar and hip hop icon, Shirlette Ammons, spotted us and walked over. She’d already heard the 90% complete tracks and in the course of a normal, “Yo, yo, t’sup, fellow Durham musician” conversation, she asked all the right questions. The who, what, when, where, and how.
Treee answered directly. She smiled and said of the music, “You can skate to this…”
Moreover, Ammons noted, it was clear to her, Treee City wasn’t making music for “the archive” but rather was making music “for the world and what’s going on now.” High praise from a maestro.
* I was a Durty Durham member, a Party Illegal sponsor and attendee, and Treee City wrote the soundtrack for my Durham Under Development show at The Pleiades Gallery in 2015. You might say I’m biased.
** I can conjure a whole world of feelings just by holding the meme of Molly Ringwald 80’s movies in my head.