Friday, April 24, 2015

The Yum Yum Tree – "Februaries" (2007)

Take your longest sleep tonight
I’ll catch you where bluebirds fly

(Where do bluebirds fly?  Somewhere over the rainbow, of course.)

Last year, I stumbled across a compilation album titled Workers Comp, which was released by Recess Records (an independent label located in southern California) in 2001.

The first song on the album was "Calvary," by a group called Yum Yum Tree.  I loved the song immediately, and it's featured in the previous 2 or 3 lines.

I Googled the Yum Yum Tree to find out more about the group and found a number of references to a 2007 album titled Paint by Numbers, which I downloaded.  It was a very good album, but the songs on it sounded nothing like "Calvary":

It turns out there were two different bands who called themselves Yum Yum Tree.  The group that recorded "Calvary" was from New York City.  The group that released Paint by Numbers (and who called themselves The Yum Yum Tree) was from Atlanta.

I tracked down the Atlanta group's singer-songwriter-bass player, Andy Gish, and asked her if I could interview her for 2 or 3 lines.  Andy agreed, and provided detailed answers to my very long list of questions.  (When I get going with a musician whose music I admire, I don't know when to stop.)

Andy Gish
I've broken Andy's interview into four parts.  In part one – which you are reading now – we'll learn about Andy's childhood in Houston and her move as a young adult to Atlanta.

20r3lines: Andy, where did you grow up? Tell me a little about your childhood.

Andy Gish: I was born in Wadsworth, Ohio, which is a beautiful little town near Akron.  My family moved to Houston when I was seven.  Looking back, I think that move was actually pretty traumatic and probably changed me as a person.  
2or3lines: In what way?

Andy: Growing up as an only child in suburban Houston, I felt really isolated.  I don’t want this to sound overly dramatic but I really think that in that isolation music became my closest friend.  To this day it is the place I go when I need to talk something out.  It’s actually pretty damn therapeutic and still remains such a gift in my life.

2or3lines: I understand that both of your parents were musicians.  

Andy: Yes, my parents are both musicians and they both write music.  Neither of them were classically trained.  My mother plays bass and piano and my dad can play anything that makes a noise.  I once found him in the music room playing drums with his feet with a guitar in his lap and singing. I thought he had a whole band in there playing with him.  I remember one Christmas I was watching my dad play the keyboard part of “California Girls” by the Beach Boys.  He had never played this before and was just playing it by ear.  I once said to him “Dad, where’s middle C on the piano?”  He said, “Um, I’m not sure.”  He is completely unaware of how naturally gifted he is.  

2or3lines: How did you learn to play?

Andy: Our family way of learning was one person showing another person how to play a song they wrote and then just letting you go from there. The instruments were always there.  I love that they never gave me any lessons.  Instead, they played with their ears and their hearts.  I learned from them that if music feels right, it’s right.  Years later while recording with The Yum Yum Tree, the engineer asked me to show him a chord I was playing on guitar.  I showed him, and his eyes got huge and he said, “You know, that’s totally not a chord. It’s completely wrong, but it sounds so right!"

2or3lines: What musicians did you listen to when you were growing up?

Andy: When I was five, Sean Cassidy was my favorite musician and was my first concert – I rushed the stage! Blondie’s “Call Me” was the first 45 I bought with my own money. When I was seven, I thought Cheap Trick was the best band in the whole world.  I went through a brief period of listening to some hair bands with my friends and then when I was 12 I discovered The Cure and everything changed. I still remember hearing the beginning of “Killing an Arab” and saying to myself, “This is MY music!”  From then on I mostly listened to British music -- My Bloody Valentine, Radiohead, Chapterhouse, The Wonder Stuff -- and actually went to the UK as an exchange student just because of my love of the music they produced.  The Pixies and the Stone Roses were also favorites of mine.

The Cure (circa 1987)
2or3lines: Were most of your friends into music as much as you were?  

Andy:  My high-school friends and I planned our schedules around upcoming concerts, and we all stayed up late on Sunday nights to watch 120 Minutes. [NOTE: 120 Minutes was an MTV show dedicated to alternative music videos that aired from 1986 to 2003.]  Some of those friends were musicians, but I never really played with anyone from high school like most people do.  

2or3lines: Tell us about your first band.

Andy: When I was 15 I went to a street festival in Montrose -- which was the hip, artsy area of Houston -- and saw a band I really liked called The Devil’s Workshop.  They reminded me of Ultra Vivid Scene. About five months later I joined that band as the bass player.  I had to commute to downtown Houston by bus to practice!  All the other members were in their twenties and thirties -- I was literally half the age of the frontman/guitarist – and I played my first show at a bar a week before my 16th birthday. It was actually perfect.  I got to skip the awkward part of starting a band with your high school mates and I got to join a real band that played gigs downtown.  It was pretty awesome.  From that point on I really looked at high school as just a means to an end.  I had good friends there, but my real life was downtown practicing and playing shows.

Young Houstonians dancing at a Montrose club
2or3lines: When did you start writing songs?

Andy:  I think I wrote my first song when I was about ten,  but I did not write a song that I really liked until I was 24.  From playing in The Devil’s Workshop, I learned how to play in a rock band and how to record before I left high school.  However, it wasn’t until I moved to Atlanta, away from everything that I knew, that I wrote a song I actually liked.  I assumed that I was a performer and not a songwriter until then -- which didn’t make sense, because both my parents wrote music.  But in the quiet of Atlanta – when I was alone for the first time in my life -- I picked up my Hofner Galaxie 175 guitar, and I wrote a song I loved!  I literally couldn’t believe it.  Writing songs became addictive. I would stay up till 4 AM while in grad school and write song after song.  Somehow after playing and writing for all those years, I had finally tapped into something that had been festering under the surface.  It was an amazing feeling.

Hofner Galaxie 175 guitar
2or3lines:  Did you perform these songs in Atlanta?  Were you in a band at this time?

Andy:  No, not at first.  I started looking for bands to play with in Atlanta and I just couldn’t find what I wanted. In the meantime, I recorded a four-track demo of my songs and passed it around to Atlanta musicians to get their opinions. 

2or3lines:  What was the reaction to the demo?

Andy:  A local guitarist named Hannibal Heredia -- who would later become The Yum Yum Tree’s first official guitarist -- pulled me aside and said “Andy, stop looking for a band to join. YOU are the band.  These songs are good enough.  You just need some players.  Be the band!”  I will always be grateful that Hannibal gave me permission to be the band, because without that encouragement I really don’t know if I ever would have had the guts to start The Yum Yum Tree.  I would have played music, sure, but I don’t think I ever would have embraced being the front person.  In fact, I still find it hard to believe that I am the front person.

2or3lines:  Andy, I understand that you wrote today's featured song, "Februaries," as a tribute to your closest childhood friend, who tragically died when she was still in her twenties.

Andy: It’s hard to write a song about a person whom you loved and who has died.  It is surely hard to write a good one.  You end up being overly melodramatic and sad. . . . But I did not want the song to be sad. . . . I wanted to write a fun song for Michelle to celebrate all she loved and all we shared.  So I started off with a funky beat hoping for the best.  The rest of the song kind of wrote itself.  The end of the song kind of seems like a lullaby . . . not sad but just peaceful.  More about life than death.  Michelle was born in February – that is why the song is called "Februaries."

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

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