10 Questions… with Branches

27 Apr

Branches is a group of friends from LA who decided to combine their musical talents and form a band. We’re lucky they did. Recently, Branches vocalist/guitarist Tyler Madsen was kind enough to answer not 10, but 13 questions for MFH. Check out the interview below!

Also, be sure to visit the band’s website, Facebook, and follow them on Twitter!

My Folking Heart: How did Branches come to be?

Tyler: We all met a few years back while attending Azusa Pacific University, a small private school in the suburbs of L.A. Our first two years were marked by late night sing-alongs and bonfires…after a few years of singing other people’s songs in our living rooms and around campfires, we realized that we really enjoyed making music together and so, with a handful of songs we’d each written under our own names, we got together and played a house-show of sorts at a friends’ apartment. After that, we were hooked on playing with each other.

MFH: Is there a story behind the name?

T: In the Spring of 2010, we played our first show under the name “Tyler + Natalie”…which, apparently was the most creative band name we could come up with..the show was a lot of fun and people seemed to really like it, so we realized we needed something a little more inspired than “Tyler + Natalie”. So we locked ourselves in to Mitch’s apartment and started talking about band names. As unromantic and uninspired as it sounds, we basically just shouted words and phrases at each other for a few hours until we had a few that we really liked. “Branches” was the one that seemed to make the most sense. We liked the picture it painted, we liked the way it made us feel, and we liked the symbolism…what it suggested about how all of us could come together to be a part of something bigger than ourselves – a branch by itself isn’t much, but together, branches can become a tree.

MFH: Who/what are some artists that have personally influenced you as songwriters and musicians?

T: Lyrically, my writing is most inspired by Aaron Weiss of mewithoutYou (in fact, some of the symbolism in our band name is inspired by a similar concept from their song “Torches Together”). David Bazan, Jon Foreman, and Ben Gibbard (Death Cab For Cutie) have also had big influences on me. Other than that, I’ve always been drawn to the old hymns of the Christian church. Those poets understood the power of words, and the magic of good symbolism. Their determination to paint a picture of God through creationistic imagery gives me a target to aim for in writing about life and love and creation and everything. Musically, we look up to guys like Sufjan Stevens, gals like Lisa Hannigan, and groups like Death Cab For Cutie, Arcade Fire, Mumford and Sons, and Noah and the Whale.

MFH: What is the music making process like for you? Do the words come first, or the instrumentation, or melody, etc?

T: I can’t speak for the whole band, but for my writing, it’s usually hand-in hand. Lyrics first, most always accompanied by a makeshift melody…and then instrumentation and arrangement secondary.

MFH: Is there a primary songwriter? Or is it more of a collaborative effort?

T: As far as lyrics and melody goes, Jacob and Natalie have written a few of the songs we sing together, but the rest were initially written by me. However, on so many of our songs, it’s the instrumentation that has made them the songs that they are, so the collective effort in creating the final product cannot be overlooked in making the songs what they are now.

MFH: What do you draw from when writing a song? How would you describe your lyrical style?

T: Inspiration is a hard thing to pin down. It’s one of those wonderful, intangible mysteries of life. Almost everyone understands the feeling and the experience, but it can be hard to put into words. I have friends that work to sit down and write a song a day, which I totally admire and keep telling myself I will try one day, but for me, inspiration comes out of nowhere, usually out of a dry spell. I’ll have nothing for a few weeks, and then suddenly I’ll sit down with pen and paper and by the time I lift my pen, I’ll have a finished song. Of course that’s not always the case..I have an entire notebook of single-lines, lonely choruses, and unfinished songs that I will often revisit and sometimes pull from. It’s always exciting to see how the creative process can pick up where it left off, and how a lesson learned or dream penned months back can tie into a new idea. Some of our songs have been put together like that…months of segregated ideas, brought together in three-something minutes of music.

MFH: Tyler and Natalie—you both have powerhouse vocals. When did you know you could sing like that?

T: Natalie grew up singing and performing in front of people. She’s the real vocalist of the group. She has a unique ability to make me sound better than I am. I, on the other hand, sang to the walls of my bedroom until I was seventeen, when my sister finally convinced me to sing in front of a crowd. I was so nervous I thought I would choke on my own tongue, but I’m thankful she forced me in to it. All that to say, I didn’t know I could sing until everyone around me made me. Haha.

MFH:Your website describes you as “best friends turned band mates.” Does the fact that you are creating music with people you love make it more special or rewarding in any way?

T: Oh, absolutely. We’re essentially making a career out of hanging out together. The fact that we were friends first, and a band second has made all the difference in the way we’ve set out to do this thing…and it makes everything far more fun. There’s always at least one moment in every show where I’ll take a look around at my friends around me and smile at the thought of how blessed I am/we are to get to do what we do.

MFH: Thou Art the Dream has been out for a little over a month now. What has the reaction been so far?

T: Putting out an album is a crazy thing. We had been playing some of these songs since our very first show, and had been working on them in the studio for nearly a year before they were released. By the time we released the album, we had become so comfortable and familiar with the songs that we had forgotten how new and exciting these songs would be for our friends who had never heard them. Our fans have never been shy about voicing their affection for our music, and the last few months have been no exception. It’s really made the whole process so much more rewarding.

MFH: What should we look for from Branches for the rest of 2012?

T: TOUR! We’re excited to say that this Summer will mark the first full-tour for us as a band. We’re in the beginning stages of booking right now, but we’re planning on visiting as much of the Western U.S. as we can before the Summer runs out. Beyond that, we have some new material we’re hoping to take into the studio, and then, hopefully some more touring! Maybe find an excuse to move a little further east this time :)

Questions for fun:

MFH: You get to put together the lineup for a festival. Who’s on the bill?

Death Cab For Cutie
w/ opening act Branches

w/ opening act Branches

Mumford and Sons
w/ opening act Branches

Andrew Bird
w/ opening act Branches

Sufjan Stevens
w/ opening act Branches

and Skrillex
w/ opening act Branches

MFH: What are you currently listening to?

T: As I said before, I can’t speak for the rest of the band, but I recently re-discovered Acid Tongue by Jenny Lewis and have been pretty obsessed with that. Other than that, I’ve been digging My Head is An Animal by Of Monsters and Men and The Year of Hibernation by Youth Lagoon.

MFH: You get to be on one TV show, what is it and what kind of character do you play?

T: We’ve been half-joking recently that our next big goal as a band is to be featured on “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon”, so I’m gonna have to go with that. Final answer: We would like to play ourselves. On Jimmy Fallon. That, or zombies on “The Walking Dead”…why not.

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