Dave Heumann of Baltimore’s Arbouretum (fans, don’t fret, they have written songs after a year’s hiatus) did a beautiful solo album named “Here In The Deep” (Thrill Jockey). He is currently on tour in Europe with his fabulous touring band consisting of Matthew Pierce of Arbouretum on keyboards and Alex Neilson (drums) and Alasdair C. Mitchell (bass) of Trembling Bells.
The gig I attended in Cologne’s cosy lovely King Georg club was really intimate and the band were both having a great time and did sparked each other off. We were treated to a lovely array of songs from “Here In The Deep”.
Dave Heumann kindly took off some time to answer questions and here we go after a couple of soundbites from Dave Heumann, Arbouretum and Trembling Bells:
Q & A with Dave Heumann:
Dave Heumann, thank you very much for taking the time for this interview.
DH: Sure, happy to!
When did you start with music? Did you have a very musical family background?
DH: There was always a piano and guitar in the house when I was growing up. I never had any kind of instruction until I was a teenager but I would often pick up the instruments and try to figure out little melodies and things like that and then got into playing piano and guitar in my early teens and I have been playing in bands ever since.
Later you started Arbouretum but before that you were in loads of other bands and played with other people. What kind of music did you like, what sort of music did you set out to make?
DH: Going way back, I was into classic stuff like Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles. In the Nineties I got into Sonic Youth, Nirvana and smaller touring bands that came around. I really started following that scene. I was into that but I think my stuff was maybe always a little bit different than the other stuff that was going on. It did pay respect to what was going on but everyone has their own set of music that they listen to growing up which kind of influences the music they write later on. That was no exception for me.
In the Nineties we had this new music that was really interesting and then you also had other music from the 60s and 70s, our parents’ music and also whatever music you find from the other kids in school. I learned about REM and The Ramones.
Do you find that as you grew older you start getting into, exploring traditional music, such as Americana and in Britain folk music?
DH: Yeah, I definitely do. I liked folk music when I was younger but maybe it did not have so much of an immediate appeal. When you are younger and full of hormones, you want to hear really exciting music. When you are 15 and you are in school and you have lot of anxieties and uncertainties, that’s something different to when you are an adult. So that has something to do with it. I also started following music to find out who, someone I like, what kind of music do they listen to, what kind of musical climate inspired them. With folk music on both sides of the Atlantic , the British Isles and the American side, what I like, it’s placed in the storytelling tradition. You have these things that happened and they are preserved in songs for hundreds of years and people still sing those songs hundreds of years later. Like the one I did tonight, “Two Soldiers”. It is from the time of the US Civil War, so that song is about 150 years old. Or “Omie Wise” that talks about a girl’s murder also in the 1800s. All the details are preserved in the song and the music can be vastly different. That stuff is really interesting to me.
In Arbouretum there was a hiatus for over a year?
DH: It was about a year. And it was because people had projects that they wanted to spend time on and not to be out of town with the band. We were basically at the point where we needed to write a bunch more because we had just done touring for “Coming Out Of The Fog”. But instead of writing right away, we decided, we would push it back for a little while. We have gotten back together and we are writing new songs and it is going well. We are hoping to record soon.
The music you did on “Here In The Deep” is probably something you could not have done with Arbouretum?
DH: It is a little different from the music I want to do with Arbouretum or Arbouretum want to make. It is little more in the folk direction and more in the pop direction at the same time. I thought it would be better to do it as a separate project.
“Here In The Deep” is beautiful album but tonight live I liked the songs even better. They were rougher, more immediate and you guys seemed to really harmonise and gel. The rest of the band was not on the album, is just the touring band?
DH: And the really cool thing is that we are two people from one band and two people from another. The kind of music that Trembling Bells and Arbouretum does, does not differ so much. You can call both bands psychedelic folk. They sound different from each other because they are different people writing the music but it is close enough for me to think that we can understand each other well.
So you kind of meet in the middle or coming at the music from different angles?
DH: What is really interesting is that we don’t really play like in our other bands. It is something that is completely different. Like Alex’ style is a little different than in Trembling Bells. Alasdair does not even play bass in Trembling Bells, he plays guitar and keyboards. The kind of stuff that Matt is doing on this tour is different than what does with Arbouretum where he is playing organ.
You also did other projects outside Arbouretum where you could explore other sides of music?
DH: There is an album by Coil Sea which is instrumental, mostly improvised music. I have been commissioning songs as one-offs. I have also been doing some improvised guitar that is really droney kind of music with lots of delay, repetition. I recorded a lot of that and will be putting it into a compilation. Had wanted to do it before the trip, have a cassette, but there was just so much to do, we did not finish it.
You also have Hans Chew playing piano on your album “Here In The Deep”. I know him from Three Lobed Records who publish all this great, way out there music such as recently Tom Carter as well.
DH: Oh, I did a gig with Tom Carter once. I really love what he is doing.
So you are very much a Baltimore resident and part of the music scene there?
DH: I am not something like a scene leader. I live there and I know a lot of people. We are all pretty friendly with each other. But I am the kind of guy who does his thing in his corner. There is a whole bunch of other stuff that I do not necessarily …well it is such different stuff. We wouldn’t necessarily be on the same gig together. It is a big town and lots of people and different levels of having been there a long or a short time, some are younger, some are older. There is lot going on, there are a lot of musicians, places to play. Most of the time we are aware of each other, having a good time hanging out with each other. I don’t feel as if I am a person of influence in the scene, because I just do my own thing.
You seem to draw a lot of energy from nature, from being out there. How does that work living in such a big place?
DH: Well, I live on the outskirts of it and it is a little closer to nature there. I get out a lot and hike or ride bikes through woods. I try to be out and enjoying it.
The lyrics on your album seem rather abstract not so personal or did they start out personal and then you abstracted them?
DH: Sometimes they are already started out abstract, sometimes I did abstract them. Sometimes they start out as an image and I go: What can this mean? I try to make it kind of poetic when I can.
Do you find it hard to discard an idea or a song if it is not working?
DH: I’d rather not. I’d rather find a way to make it work. But sometimes I think they are just not ready yet. That there is some other idea that might be on its way and it might be years later. And I am like: Okay, I am ready to finish this song now. I have some that have been sitting around for a long time. Arbouretum are doing a song now that I have had in my head since I was eighteen. Sometimes they last for a really long time before I get the idea across or whatever little ideas that help the big one to get through.
The record company allows you to take that time?
DH: Sure, they don’t really push us too much. They do within reason. But it’s not like: “You guys need to be in the studio right now.” They are more like: “Oh, whenever you guys are ready”. Because they know it is going to happen. Thrill Jockey are pretty laid back about that.
What’s your favourite song on your album “Here In The Deep”?
DH: That’ll be like picking favourite children. You can’t do that.