A Tree grows in Emek Hefer

Conjuring up bygone days of long hair and longer guitar solos, the kibbutz members of Tree are about to spread their shade over the rest of the country.

Tree 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Tree 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Let’s do the time warp again. If you happened to unknowingly parachute into a performance by Tree, you might guess the year to be circa 1972.
With the give away signposts of long, flowing hair, uniforms of jeans and work shirts, dizzying guitar-heavy jams, and an audience dancing like they’re floating on the moon, the four-piece band conjures up a bygone musical and cultural era. But they’re no nostalgia act.
“We’re not trying to present ourselves as a band playing old music. We do new music, we just dig the old sound but we’re living in the present,” said Ben Golan, Tree’s 28-year-old guitarist and singer.
And the present is a good place to be, if like Golan, Nave Koren (drums), his brother Dor Koren (bass) and Yair Vermut (organ), you’re a member of Tree.
After five years of building a reputation as one of the country’s strongest musical units by simultaneously operating as the lauded accompanying players for Geva Alon, backing with the likes of Amir Lev and Barry Sakharov, and forging their own identity with their own no holds barred psychedelic/ country-tinged/jam band-based shows and 2008 EP, the group of kibbutzniks from Emek Hefer are releasing their self-titled debut album of original ’60s-inflected rock & roll sung entirely in English.
For Golan, it’s totally logical that the band’s music is anchored in the sounds he and his band mates heard and fell in love with while growing up on kibbutz.
“Everyone knows the basics – The Beatles, Dylan, Hendrix, that’s the easy stuff. But when you start to explore the whole area of the ’60s, there’s so much mind expanding, interesting music. We would just search it out in record stores or get turned on to bands we heard about from other people,” said Golan, explaining how they developed a particular affinity for the boundary-breaking music of San Francisco bands like The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane.
“What we took away from them was the notion that when rock & roll was young there was no limit and it was a vehicle to explore with.
What will happen if we break the rules of, say, normal fourchart blues and try to create something bigger out of it? The music being made when I was growing up just didn’t have that sense of adventure.”
When Golan and the Korens decided in their early 20s to start playing together, they had the inspiration, but lacked the some of the mechanics – like songs.
“We had started listening to jam bands together, and we knew we really wanted to perform – we just didn’t have any songs,” said Golan.
“So we started to jam, and that’s what our first shows were like. The band grew along from jamming, and the songs came along later.”
THE SONGS did eventually emerge, however, seasoned by their exposure to the classic rockers they revered, as well as their long-time slot performing with master songwriter and performer Alon. Their shows with him have featured varied musical forays all the way from tender country ballads to full-tilt guitar-feedback crescendos.
“Playing with people like Geva and Amir Lev definitely opened our minds to different ways of making music, and helped make us more professional.
But I think our own voice was there before,” said Golan.
One of the reasons it has taken so long for the band to record its debut album after releasing a well-received EP two years ago, Golan explained, was the apprehension over their ability to transfer their dynamic live performance to the studio. The solution turned out to be not to compete with themselves.
“The album is different from our live show, it’s more about songs rather than jamming,” Golan said.
“We tried to not necessarily cater to the obvious expectations around us to go and be a jam band on the album, so we went more in the way of fully developed songs. But it’s still a rock & roll album.”
Produced by the band, Tree was mixed and mastered by in-demand engineer Uri “Mixmaster” Wertheim, who has created a modern studio sheen for artists such as The Apples and The Ramirez Brothers.
Together the team succeeded in generating a contemporary style based on the past that sounds timeless.
“Uri’s a brilliant person, the studio for him is like a big playground,” Golan said.
“On the first day, he came and touched every machine in the studio. We ended up doing a lot of the mixing together with him. He wanted us to be involved, so sometimes there’d be three of us all pulling levers on the mixer at the same time.”
That cooperation rolls over into the band’s platform for making music on stage, which often relies on a degree of musical telepathy between the members. While it may look seamless, Golan cautioned that getting four people to think on the same page is not always easy.
“We have great communication when we play, but it’s there only after a lot of hard work,” he said.
“We talk through things, because it doesn’t always come that naturally. When it does, it’s magic, but usually it’s the result of a lot of rehearsals.”
The dedication will pay off when Tree holds two record release performances on Thursday and Friday nights at the Ozen Bar in Tel Aviv, the first of a number of shows around the country to show off the new album. The only things attendees can be sure of is that the Tree show they see won’t be like any other, and that the unexpected is likely to occur. And that’s the way Golan and his mates like it.
“Music for us is basically breaking the rules and only later figuring out what the rules are.”