Prove your humanity

In the lead-up to indie-rock group Ah Trees releasing their music video for their latest single Nara; Grok spoke to front man Ryan Adair about friendship, Perth, and falling asleep on trains.

Is this the first time your music has been put into a music video?

The first song to be turned into a music video was called Bodies; our bassist’s brother—who’s also a director—had the idea of doing a VHS home-shot video where we actually appeared in it. That was pretty fun if not a little tacky. The second song was for Team Sport and was done by Sam Lara. That was really cool as well – it was a lot more story-driven. She asked if she could do another video for us and we were like, “hell yeah!”.

What was it like watching it for the first time?

I was blown away to be honest. It’s very beautiful. It’s like what she did with Team Sports, where these songs that we wrote had ideas behind them, and then Sam then takes those ideas and it almost feels like the song belongs to the video.

How did you and director Lara first meet?

She was living with Rob, who did our first video, and they were both in the film industry. She came to one of our earlier shows and really liked the music. She said she had to do a music video for us. We looked at the stuff she’d done and went “please!”.

Was it a challenge to mix those two creative energies?

It’s a perfect match. She gets what we’re about and does it in such a tasteful way. We had a very hands-off approach with this one – Sam came up with the idea of being homesick in Vienna and did it all herself. We gel really well so I hope to continue working with her well into the future.

Your bio seems to have exploded in 2016 – does it feel like things are picking up?

It’s awesome, the support we’ve got for what we’re doing is mad. We wouldn’t be able to do it without the amount of people that feel something when they listen to our music or come to a show. But for me I’m always thinking about the next step, I’m always hungry for the next thing and striving to improve on what we’ve done before.

You’ve gained a WAM award nomination on your resume. Has local support or national attention meant the most personally?

Local support, absolutely. While I strove for us to do this tour and put ourselves out there on a national level, for me it’s if no one comes to your shows in your home town, what’s the point? We have such an incredible scene and support each other so much – we’re pushing each other forward. I’m very proud to say that Perth is my home.

What was the best experience you gained from touring?

Personally it was just being with the band for that amount of time and knowing that we could keep doing this for 6 months and not be sick of each other. It was a whirlwind tour and you’re living in each other’s pockets, little to no sleep, drinking, partying, and playing shows. I think our little family became a lot closer in that respect. We had no expectation going into this that there would be any crowds; it was really cool and surprising to see how many people came to our shows.

So we have a song conceived in Japan and a video birthed in Vienna- how much does time and place impact or inspire your song writing?

I absorb a lot of vibes from wherever I am and the people I’m with – I’m like a human sponge. When I conceived Nara I was watching all these Japanese people falling asleep on the train. That really inspired me, the idea of being swept up into a daydream where you can have a good dream or a nightmare. As the song finishes you’re waking up again, you’re at your destination. Also going to Japan at a time when my relationship was at a fork in the road I had that feeling of something’s got to give, and for the better that something was me.

The lyrics to Nara feel very personal- were you ever worried listeners wouldn’t relate?

I feel like the more honest you are, the more people can relate to you. I’ve always loved metaphors; I started writing all these poems at 14 or 15 and I was like “no one’s going to listen to spoken word poetry much.” I think putting music behind it definitely makes it more palatable. In the earlier songs I hid myself a bit more, in that realm of metaphors and meanings within meanings. This song is where I just sung exactly what I was feeling at the time.

What are the main influences you look to in composing your work?

It’s all about the beat; West Coast hip-hop has been a big influence though you probably struggle to hear it. Playing at shows you just want people to dance and get into it—to really paraphrase Peaches, “dance the pain away”. So groove, chord, melody, and then we add all the flesh.

When did the band form?

We formed at the end of 2015. Me and another guy were in a band and we started writing songs together. He ended up travelling, and I kept working and had a set of songs to go with. Luckily I had a lot of friends I’d played with and we were able to form a band pretty quickly.

Do you feel you’ve changed much since then?

I think so. We’ve certainly changed in refining our ideas of what we want to be. We’re all on the same page now. That takes time for a band especially when all the members are contributing. It’s very much a team sport with us, and seeing that growth throughout our songs you can see that progression.

Your band combines a lot of genres. Has having 5 close personalities influenced this?

Certainly, yeah *laughs*. We all have our favourite music and bring elements of that, but at the same time the ones that we bring to the band we all relate and connect to. Lucky for us we’ve sort of managed to make that work.

What inspired you to pursue music?

It seemed like the only place where I could truly be myself. I’ve worked a lot of weird and horrible jobs, but when I’m up there performing these songs, it’s me. I just love being able to do that and be this person who I am, warts and all.

What does success in this industry mean to you?

You can have commercial success where you get picked up from the J’s and everyone’s putting you on tours, but it’s deeper than that. Success is people being moved in the way I was moved listening to say The Cure for the first time. You’re like “fuck, somebody actually gets me, I’m not alone in this journey” – its people being exposed to our music, but more people finding it helpful.

What are you looking forward to about the band’s future?

More exposure to bigger audiences, but the only way to do that is by writing better songs. So I guess the next step for me is to keep writing. We’ve got a new song that we’ve been working on, and we’re getting into that frame of mind where we get into the studio and get it ready to go. You fade to black if you’re not putting out content.