Lost in the Trees: All about my mother

All about my mother

Ari Picker: "I just want my music to be as beautiful as the stuff I listen to"
Photo: Annalee Harkins

Lost in the Trees mastermind Ari Picker celebrates the memory of his late mother on A Church That Fits Our Needs

You wander with the birds. Away from your home, your garden, your loved ones. You walk in a golden light. Deep into the woods. Beyond the icy river. Down to the ocean. Neither here nor there. You feel sad. Scared. Angry. But also strangely calm and at peace.

Lost in the Trees, the North Carolina collective led by Ari Picker, start from paths various other indie-rock bands have cleared before. Then they push further in two distinct yet complementary ways: with lyrics as intensely personal as it gets, and with epic, cathartic orchestral movements.

"I like fairly dramatic music, there’s an element of theatricality to it, [though] I try not to overdo it," says Picker, talking to me while the band’s tour van takes them from Seattle, Washington, to Boise, Idaho. "I just want my music to be as beautiful as the stuff I listen to, that’s what I’m aiming for. Anything from Sibelius to Bartók to Stravinsky to Shostakovich… I was listening to a lot of those guys, hearing little bits and pieces that I could string into my music."

A Berklee College of Music graduate, the singer-songwriter was also inspired by legendary film score composer Bernard Herrmann, by contemporary bands like Blonde Redhead, Radiohead and Grizzly Bear, and perhaps most of all by his late mother, painter Karen Shelton.

"Aside from all the influence an everyday mom has, one of the things that was extra inspiring about my mom was her ability to make ordinary things very beautiful and her ability to use art as a mechanism to have strength and to move forth in life," confides Picker.

Unfortunately, his mother ended up committing suicide after having suffered over the years through such hardships as losing twins at birth, being in an abusive relationship, being diagnosed with cancer and battling depression. Hardships that found their way onto A Church That Fits Our Needs, Lost in the Trees’ second release on ANTI- Records following 2010′s All Alone in an Empty House.

"Empty House was me kind of struggling in present-day relationships and trying to figure out where the struggles had come from," Picker explains. "It was me reflecting on my past and examining my relationship with my parents and stuff like that, trying to figure out who I was and why I was that person. A Church is looking into something a little more abstract… It talks about the afterlife and my mother’s soul, stuff like that."

While deeply moving, the album is not as dark and hopeless as you might think. "It’s a decision I made early on, to come at it from a very positive angle, to create something that was beautiful and give myself an opportunity to reflect on the good qualities of my mom in the best light that I could," says Picker. "You know, there are moments of darkness and anger on this new record, but the purpose of it was to have a healthy, hopeful, celebratory outlook of my mother’s life."

In addition to writing the lyrics, Picker composed and arranged all the music on this new album. The other members of Lost in the Trees – Emma Nadeau (vocals, piano, French horn), Mark Daumen (bass, tuba, keyboards), Jenavieve Varga (violin), Andrew Anagnost (cello), Kyle Keegan (drums) – are nonetheless central to the project once it’s time to record the songs and bring them to the stage. "The creation of the music is somewhat of a lonely one – it’s just me in my bedroom. I write all the music, and then we get together and try to figure out how to play it live," he laughs.

Lost in the Trees
w/ Poor Moon
At Il Motore
April 7

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