Finding the Middleground

. May 6, 2019.
Left to Right: Devonte Stovall (bass) Calvin Cordy (guitar), Dustin Galish (vocals, synth), Sarah Smith (keyboards), JP Stebal IV (drums), Garrett Tanner (saxophone). Photo by Conor Schall
Left to Right: Devonte Stovall (bass) Calvin Cordy (guitar), Dustin Galish (vocals, synth), Sarah Smith (keyboards), JP Stebal IV (drums), Garrett Tanner (saxophone). Photo by Conor Schall

Tree No Leaves brings their genre-defying sound to Howard’s on May 11

When Tree No Leaves first formed ten years ago, it was a two-piece with lead singer Dustin Galish and his wife Sarah Smith on the keyboard and contributing backup vocals. Since then the band has gone through many evolutions, varying from a two-piece to a seven-piece and every combination in between. Being based in Bowling Green, a college town where most of the players tend to be transient, has made Galish very open to the changing sound that comes along with new members. In fact, he sees it as one of their strengths; Tree No Leaves is always morphing into something new.

They’ve been through 12 different changes in band members, and now Sarah Smith is back in the mix. “That’s been the most dramatic change [since their most recent album, Prophet Holographic, was released last year]. We always say we don’t sound the same as we did last year. We’re always doing something different, whether that has to do with having different members, new songs, or new arrangements.”

While Smith has lived in Bowling Green for over ten years, most of the band members’ connections to the town are because they graduated from BGSU. Their lead guitarist, Calvin Cordy, is from Perrysburg, but Galish says they are definitely a Bowling Green band.

Defying genre

It’s certainly difficult to put Tree No Leaves in a box if you listen to their full catalog, which begins with ambient, soundtrack-style instrumentals, and most recently has evoked experimental combinations of country, funk, jazz, and world music.

“It used to be that our shows were more artsy, not about taking the audiences into consideration,” says Galish. “Over the years we’ve tried to find that middle ground of not being a pop band by any means, but making things more accessible.”

Part of that accessibility means sticking to their roots without being predictable, bringing in African and Latin rhythms to their beats— the driving force that makes it impossible not to dance— and taking their love for jazz into an opening for improvisation.

“We try to write songs that provide a structure for improvisation,” says Galish. “That’s a jazz idea; this is a standard, we all know this song, but what we’re going to do with it each time is a little different.”

With that same improvisational spirit, Tree No Leaves is known for jamming with other bands in impromptu moments during shows. It takes a certain amount of comfort with your own sound to have the ability to let the music pull you where it wants to.

“It’s one of those things that in the moment of the show someone feels that,” says Galish. “The last show we played at Howard’s, our saxophone player [Garret Tanner] was so excited about that band playing that he jumped up on stage and started playing.”

Galish is a huge fan of The Go Rounds, who are opening for Tree No Leaves on May 11 at Howard’s. As a band who offers a crossover between psychedelic, country, and folk, The Go Rounds are equally eclectic in the genres they tap into. Galish says he’s had their new album playing on repeat for the last few weeks.

The Go Rounds, who are opening for Tree No Leaves at Howard's on May 11

The Go Rounds, who are opening for Tree No Leaves at Howard’s on May 11

“It’s one of the best records I’ve heard in a long time,” he says. “It was produced semi-locally; Ben Cohen from Heavy Color and Sarah Cohen with The Antivillains did some work with it. Even my two-year-old knows who The Go Rounds are and tells people about them.”

There for the music

Though Tree No Leaves is influenced by bands ranging from Chicano Batman to My Morning Jacket to Pink Floyd, they draw much of their inspiration from listening to and playing with local bands. This has made them an ideal match for the residency they are currently doing at Howard’s, where they play once a month and book a regional band to play for an hour and a half or so before Tree No Leaves performs. Galish points out that Northwest Ohio is often called “the cover band capital of the world” because there’s a demand for it and musicians do what they have to do to get paid, but he (along with Howard’s) want to make sure professional bands with original music have a place to showcase what they have to offer.

Galish explains that the owners are musicians and understand how to create an environment that isn’t just for drinking beer as the band plays in the background. The music is the focus. “If you’re there, you’re there to see music. We’re trying to create a culture at Howard’s, bringing in bands and paying them, because these aren’t garage bands— these are professional quality bands with highly skilled musicians and performers.”

Galish, who writes 95 percent of the lyrics for Tree No Leaves, says that their upcoming show with The Go Rounds is for anyone who enjoys “good lyrics, storytelling, and passionate performances. You’re not just going to see people staring at their pedals making sad music. It will be about good vibes and having an uplifting experience.”

You can see The Go Rounds and Tree No Leaves perform at Howard’s for a $5 cover. Doors open at 8pm. Saturday, May 11. Howard’s Club H, 210 N. Main St., Bowling Green. 419-352-3195. Listen to them on YouTube, Spotify, Band Camp, and iTunes.

Tree No Leaves will also play at the Bronze Boar from 9pm-1am. Friday, June 7. The Bronze Boar, 20 S Huron St. 419-244-2627. Free