‘Supergroup’ is a term that is tossed around pretty frequently, but meet the mysteriously-named Hank Tree – who are, yes, a group rather than an individual, and yes, rather “super”, or they’d not be featured here. And containing, if not quite household names, certainly a few familiar faces for fans of the Scottish indie scene to reconnect with. Read on…
I (Fergus) started Hank Tree mainly as a solo-project but it has evolved over the last few years to include other, more talented, people. Roy Mohan Shearer, from ULTRAS and Inspector Tapehead, plays drums, and Bart Owl, out of Eagleowl, joined us on guitar and bass a while back.
Faith Eliott, who is a singer-songwriter, co-founder of OK Pal records and the other half of the Scottish music scene’s most fearsome power couple (Bart is the other half), has also started playing with us recently.
These days we all live within a couple of miles of each other in the Southside of Glasgow.
I played guitar with the State Broadcasters for a number of years until I moved abroad in 2013, which is when I started writing my own songs and working on them with other people. The Chilean label Uva Robot released the Hank Tree EP in 2018, by which time I’d moved back to Glasgow and started gigging with Roy.
We recorded our debut album over a 2+ year period, interrupted by various lockdowns. The album is out on the 18th of November via Lloyd Meredith’s excellent Olive Grove Records.
I think it’s a good idea to be as self-sufficient as possible with music, however I’m pretty ignorant about production stuff, so while I work extensively on demos and arrangements at home, I feel it’s best to record with someone who actually knows what they’re doing.
We recorded our album with Andy Bush at his home studio in Shawlands. These days Andy spends a lot of his time working on live shows for Lewis Capaldi, but I first got to know him from his work with people like De Rosa, The Twilight Sad and We Were Promised Jetpacks. We recorded when Andy was back home from tours with LC, and planned sessions around when his wife and daughter were out during the days for work and school.
I like to try and find a mixture of clean and nastier sounds so that songs feel like they are being pulled in different directions. Generally this involves having picked classical guitar and my voice as the foundation of songs, but is then built on by layers of distortion and drums. I also write a lot of instrumental music that I sometimes incorporate field recordings into, and the album contains a few instrumentals with field recordings of industrial machinery and street sounds.
I tend to write groups of songs when I get interested in subjects that I think are worth exploring over multiple songs, and this album focuses on the social history of a remote part of the world. While living in Chile, I visited desert areas in the north of the country and became fascinated by the landscape and history there, particularly the history of the saltpeter industry which flourished in the 19th century but collapsed in the mid 20th century. At its peak, hundreds of towns were built in the desert to house the thousands of workers who were moving there from all over the world. They were living and working in incredibly difficult conditions, in a place that had previously been thought of as uninhabitable, but despite this, a lot of the residents had great affection for the place. Unfortunately, the industry collapsed, forcing everyone to leave, so that today the desert is peppered with ghost towns where you can walk around the abandoned homes, factories and even swimming pools, schools and theatres.
Anyway, I felt inspired to write about this history and the album is informed by a lot of research I felt I needed to do in order to do the subject justice.
Well, to be honest, we don’t really seek to make music that will have mass appeal (I’ve told you our album is about the history of the Chilean saltpeter industry so this probably obvious!), and I’m not particularly motivated by that. However, I would like our music to make a connection with an audience and feel special and comforting for the people who like it.
In a more personal sense, I work as a care worker which can often be really heavy going, and music is sort of like escapism from my day job at times. It’s nice to have this something that gives me a creative outlet that means a lot to me and is completely separate from the day job.
‘The Big North’ is out now on Olive Grove Records. More at www.facebook.com/HankTreeBand.