Idle Chatter

    Offering Solace: An Interview With Held By Trees

    Issue 164

    For fans of bands like Talk Talk, Pink Floyd, Dire Straits, and Blur, the trio of Martin Ditcham, David Joseph, and David Mau have got a surprise in the form of their new band, Held By Trees, and their progressive/post-rock-tinged instrumental album, Solace.

    Released on April 22nd, Solace’s eight tracks cover the totality of the trio’s musical inventory, ranging from ethereal ambient all the way to noisy post-rock, and making stops at various other junctures along the way.

    If that sounds a touch too intimidating for you, worry not; Solace is relaxing and enjoyable, whether listening to it intently or with a good book and a glass of wine on a slow, creeping evening. Solace scratches the itch for the new and interesting, while also giving warm vibes and whimsical effervescence.

    We recently caught up with the three members of Held By Trees.

     

    Andrew Daly: Guys, I appreciate you taking the time today. What have all of you been up to?

    Martin Ditcham: I’ve been doing remote recording from a studio here in Belém, Brazil, delivering drums and percussion for various artists from the UK, Germany and France.

    David Joseph: Hello, and thank you for having us! Been mainly holding up very well, thank you. I caught the dreaded plague recently, but I had it mildly. I’ve been like a kid at Christmas watching Held By Trees develop!

    David Mau: Great to chat with you, Andrew. As for most of us, just trying to still get on with life. We all have. The last year or so has been hard on all of us, but I feel we’ll get through this pandemic. I’ve been busy writing for television cues and songs, [and] writing and producing upcoming artists; one of which everyone shall soon know. Just, generally getting along.

     

    AD: The three of you come from different backgrounds, and that really shows in the music you’ve created. Tell me about some of your earliest musical memories.

    MD: My dad was a drummer, so drums were my destiny. I played along to music on the radio, mainly the Beatles, as we were saturated by them in those days.

    DJ: My parents are musicians and our home and car were always soundtracked by either the radio or their record collection. Tapes, LPs, CDs, videos, everywhere. I am told I learned to put a record on at about four years old. I loved Genesis, Dire Straits, Sky, and Chris Rea. [My parents] recorded [the] Knebworth 1990 [concert] off the TV and my brother and sister and I watched it over and over. When I was a little bit older I got swept up in the Britpop movement that was so big in the UK. Blur became and still is my favorite-ever band.

    DM: I think it all started with my parents’ love of music and how they shared that with me. They even took me to a couple of concerts in Golden Gate Park [in San Francisco] when I was very young. They were also friends with a few jazz musicians, including the members of the Modern Jazz Quartet. Then there’s Day On The Green in Oakland. (Laughs).

    AD: Who are some of everyone’s musical influences?

    MD: Drum-wise, Ginger Baker, Mitch Mitchell, and Ringo at the beginning, followed by Elvin Jones, Tony Williams, Jack DeJohnette then later on Steve Gadd, Harvey Mason, and Kenny Malone amongst many others. Percussion-wise, Airto, Bill Summers, Ralph McDonald, and Tata Güines amongst many others.

     

    DJ: When I first started a band I wanted to be like Blur and write short, catchy songs with social commentary lyrics. When I was 14 I discovered Pink Floyd and from then on I always wanted to balance atmosphere with energy. I got heavily into Van Morrison when I was about 15 and that pushed my songwriting into more spiritual themes. I guess I look to bands like Floyd, Blur, Radiohead, and Talk Talk who hold a tension between an experimental edge and melodic sensibilities.

    DM: Gary Wright, Genesis, Pink Floyd, the Alan Parsons Project, Al Green, Brand X, Yes, Rush, Bad Company, and Sammy Hagar, among many others.

    AD: Let’s talk about recent events. How did Held By Trees, a supergroup of sorts, come together? What can you tell me about the album, Solace?

    MD: Dave rang me and asked if I’d like to participate. His vision sounded exciting so I said yes.

    DJ: I was honored to get to connect with Tim Renwick (touring guitarist with Pink Floyd; he’s also played with Al Stewart and others, and solo). [It was] a few years ago and we did an ambient track together in early 2020, under one of my other monikers. In April 2020, I found myself in a particularly unique head space. It was [during] the first lockdown and a glorious spring here in England. The roads were quiet and the air smelled amazing. I found myself leaning into my deep love of the later Talk Talk and Mark Hollis (co-founder and singer of Talk Talk) solo albums and wrote three demos in two days. I sent them to Tim to see if it was “up his street.” He was honest and said it wasn’t, but that his friend Phill Brown had engineered those albums. Tim introduced me to Phill. When I showed Phill the demos, he was very encouraging and positive about them, and introduced me to Martin (who plays drums and percussion), who Phill Brown had worked with on Talk Talk’s Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock albums, and with Mark Hollis.

    When Martin said he would play on a studio recording of the demos, I wondered if I could reach out to the legendary Robbie McIntosh (guitar) who also worked on those albums and lives near to me in Dorset, England. We have mutual friends, who introduced us. When he agreed to play, I decided I would try and find other musicians who [had also played] on those records. I found Laurence Pendrous (piano) and Andy Panayi (flute/clarinet) through Facebook, and Simon Edwards (bass) through another website.

    By then my confidence was high and I began to ask other musicians I love [to join the project]. I think once a few respected people are involved, it [becomes] easier to ask others. To my delight, Tim Renwick, Eric Bibb and David Knopfler contributed more guitar. Mike Smith, who plays with Blur, Gorillaz and [on] Damon Albarn’s solo work played sax on the album, and Gary Alesbrook, who has worked with Noel Gallagher and Super Furry Animals (one of my favorite bands) played trumpet. I was able to reach out to and include musicians I’d met online through Talk Talk fan forums, which has been very rewarding. I also have several of my good friends from my [personal] musical circles playing on the album.

    Most of the guys recorded their parts [with] their own [recording] setups during various levels of lockdowns, but we were able to mix the record in [a studio in] Eastbourne with Phill Brown on a Trident desk once used by Tony Visconti to make Bowie’s albums in the ’70s! The icing on the cake was [getting] Denis Blackham, who mastered the late Talk Talk and Hollis albums, to master ours. I can’t believe the result! Crazy.

    DM: A little over three years ago, I met with Ralph (Otteson) and Bruce (Gaetke) for some coffee and to learn about their band, Time Horizon, and the new direction they were pitching to me. [We also talked about the Held By Trees project.] The music and their hearts convinced me to join and contribute to this endeavor. I did mention this all took about three years, right? So, the writing and recording of this took about two years, with finishing touches, mixing, and artwork to complete the third year. But well worth it!

    AD: Everyone thinks differently. With that being said, I’d love to hear your individual takes on the themes running throughout Solace.

     

    MD: My association with Talk Talk drew Dave’s attention to me. He was looking to include elements of their music to mix with his. He felt I might be an appropriate choice.

    DJ: It’s funny. Even though there are no lyrics, for me the themes I was addressing in writing the initial chord progressions and drum patterns were very real. If you put a love of nature, spiritual hope, and a sense of alienation from mainstream culture in a blender and whizzed them up – that is what the heart behind Solace is. Somehow it holds [both] melancholy and hope in tension; at least I think so.

    DM: Good question! The themes are diversified. “Living For A Better Day” has the theme of all of us pulling together and living in harmony with one another. “I Hear, I See” has a similar view. “The Digital Us,” I wrote as an observation that we live with screens between us. Whether it’s a phone, computer, tablet, etc. we almost prefer to have this “screen” between [us] instead of face-to-face conversations. As for [my] musical background bringing me here, I think it’s just life experiences and maturing.

    AD: Do you self-produce, or bring in outside producers?

    DM: Easy one. Self! Ralph, Bruce, and I. I have a full recording studio to use, so that was the perfect place to make this album a reality.

    AD: What is it about Solace that sets it apart from your collective past work?

    MD: The whole mood of the album is a very Zen-like experience. A calming, musical journey that you get thoroughly immersed in.

    DJ: For me, this is my first “big boy pants” record. I’ve made a lot of music under various names over the years, but this is on another level in terms of quality and the kind of foundations I’m digging for going forward. I’m getting to work with a lot of people I admire greatly and have been fans of for many years. It’s just a dream come true really.

    AD: Do the three of you collect physical music media?

    MD: I buy CDs. I have a very large vinyl collection, so I have no urge to join the vinyl-buying stampede. Some of my favorite albums are Miles Davis Live at Fillmore…anything by Miles Davis, actually. The Nightfly by Donald Fagen. It’s a timeless classic because of how he sings, and how he sobs. Chick Corea. I also love [the] John Mayall and Peter Green live 1967 [John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers Live in 1967 Featuring Peter Green]. Peter Green was in stunning form!

    DJ: I love the convenience of streaming. I have a Tidal hi-res subscription and the quality is astonishing. I have a vast CD collection, but it’s mainly in storage since moving house. In the last few years, I’ve gone back to vinyl in a big way. I think it’s probably my favorite way to listen to music. There’s a ritual to it that I think is spiritual.

    DM: We are releasing Solace in digital form, CD, and yes – vinyl! My favorite album is Genesis’ …And Then There Were Three. See! There’s a theme!

     

    AD: Tell me about some of your other passions.

    MD: Music is my passion. I always give my heart and soul.

    DJ: I adore being out in nature with my family and my dog, or quite happily on my own. It has increasingly inspired my music. I just want to soundtrack the English countryside, I guess. I’m a bit of a wannabe mystic. I love reading theology and exploring big juicy existential questions.

    DM: I love to read, which give me volumes of thing to write about. The nuances of characters, the overall power of emotion and its effect, and effect on mankind. But I also love to snorkel, hike, cook and hang with my lovely wife.

    AD: From the outside looking in, the music industry seems an ugly place. What’s your take?

    MD: There’s always room for greatness and originality. Every true artist and band is filled with hope.

    DJ: I think [being] hopeful is the best attitude. The power is very much in the artist’s hands to create their own career. There’s no point moaning too much about the lack of revenue from music. We just have to get on with it and try and make great music. Being negative and frustrated is understandable but ultimately a waste of energy.

    DM: Another insightful question! Honestly, it depends on the genre, and the talent level. The world is always looking for the next big thing, and there are a lot of avenues. Self-promotion, and self-production to begin with are everything. Because the lines of genres have become blurred, it only helps new and fresh talent to enter. It’s a time to be hopeful and scared, for all the same reasons.

    AD: Last question. What’s next for the three of you?

    MD: I am looking forward to making more music. I’ve got tours planned, COVID permitting, of course.

    DJ: We just had our first Held By Trees rehearsal in London. I’m excited to try and get out and play live. That’s the main thing from my perspective. It’s too early to think about another record, other than that I have every intention of doing one.

    DM: The grand opening of my new recording studio, MauMan Studios, later this year. We have some great talent already booked to bring new and fresh music to the world. Can’t wait! As for a post-COVID world, I am waiting. Looking forward to a large rock and roll concert, for sure!

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