Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Yum Yum Tree – "Paint by Numbers" (2007)

Meet me halfway up the stairway
I'll be waiting for you

In the last 2 or 3 lines, you were introduced to Andy Gish, who moved from Houston to Atlanta in 1998 to attend graduate school, but who ended up dropping out and founding The Yum Yum Tree.

Andy wrote and sang the songs on that group's 2007 album, Paint by Numbers, and both her songwriting and her singing are excellent.  (Her bass playing is very good as well.)

Today's 2 or 3 lines presents the second installment of my four-part conversation with Andy.  (You can click here to read the first installment.)  We'll pick things up where we left off and learn about how she put together The Yum Yum Tree and who her favorite songwriters and singers are.

2or3lines: You mentioned grad school – is that why you moved to Atlanta?  Since you still live in Atlanta, I assume you are happy that you moved.

Andy:  In 1998, I moved to Atlanta for a graduate fellowship in primatology . . . 

2or3lines: Which is the study of apes and monkeys and other primates -- correct?

Andy:  Yes.  That worked out horribly and after a year I quit school.  But there was so much amazing music going on in Atlanta I decided to stay here. I knew ONE person in Atlanta when I moved here. When I left Texas I thought I was leaving music behind.  I never thought I would play in Atlanta, but surprisingly music is why I stayed here and why I ADORE this city.  

2or3lines: How did you get acquainted with other Atlanta musicians?

Andy:  I think that all of my friends in Atlanta can somehow be linked back to the ads that I placed or they placed in the “Musician Wanted” section of the Creative Loafing classifieds. [NOTE: Creative Loafing is an Atlanta alternative weekly newspaper.]  I met two of my dearest friends – who became members of The Yum Yum Tree – through one ad that mentioned the Jesus and Mary Chain.  I remember one ad I placed said something like “Searching for my Joey Santiago!”  [NOTE:  Santiago was the lead guitarist for the Pixies.]  Someone should do a study of those ads.  Figuring out which bands came from what ads would look like the world’s most complicated epidemiology chart!

Atlanta's Creative Loafing
2or3lines:  Tell me more about The Yum Yum Tree.  How did that band get started? 

Andy:  After Hannibal told me “You are the band,” he offered to help me get things off the ground by playing guitar for a while.  He had other commitments but he wanted to help.  So I had a temporary guitarist and I was a bass player – that left me needing a drummer.  A few months before I had played a bit with a guitarist named Scott Lewis who I met through the classified ad that mentioned the Jesus and Mary Chain.  Scott actually kicked me out of his band after a few weeks.  But his roommate, Matt Harr, was a drummer that I really liked. 

2or3lines:  How did you talk Matt into coming aboard?

Andy:  Drummers were in really high demand, but I was determined.  So I met Matt at a movie and tried to put on my charm.  I think he knew a little about the music I was writing but I don’t think I told him that I was going to ask him to play with me.  I showed up with my demo and told him, “So, I we’re recording in six weeks and have a show booked in eight weeks.  We’re called The Yum Yum Tree.  Do you want to be our drummer?”  I think I took him by surprise, but he said yes.  Scott was mad that I stole Matt as apparently he wanted to use him in the project I had been kicked out of, but I moved in quicker.  What’s funny is that a year or so later Scott joined The Yum Yum Tree and is still a very close friend.

2or3lines: You guys didn’t leave yourself a lot of time to come together as a group before that first recording session.

Andy:  What’s really magical is that Matt, Hannibal and I did record an EP six weeks after we got together, and played a live show two weeks after that.  Our song “Bad Idea” was immediately picked up by WRAS, which was the Georgia State University radio station. They played that song almost every single day for a year!  It was awesome.  And we didn’t even have a permanent guitarist.

2or3lines: It appears from the credits for your two albums – Reverse Engines and Paint by Numbers -- that The Yum Yum Tree has had quite a few personnel changes over the years. 

Andy: There were a myriad of people who played with The Yum Yum Tree over the years.  I had a lot of guitarists.  We replaced Hannibal with Kent Honea on guitar.  Kent finished our first album with us and became the key guitarist in the Yum Yum Tree.  Trey Tidwell and Scott Lewis traded spots as second guitarist for a couple of years.  Then about ten years ago, I took a break from the group. 

Andy Gish with Kent Honea,
Scott Lewis, and Matt Harr
2or3lines:  Were the members of the group not getting along?

Andy:  Honestly, I think none of us were having much fun and I had no idea what the next step was.  I’m not sure I was the best leader back then.  I was great at getting stuff done, shows booked, etc.  But I think because I never saw myself as a front person I was always really uncomfortable as a leader.  I remember being in practice one day and looking over at Matt and thinking to myself, “He’s really not happy and I have no idea what to do.”  We talked and decided that eventually we would part ways – not immediately, but in a few months.  I’ve never really admitted this even to myself, but I wasn’t planning on replacing Matt. I was just going to silently break up the band.  I just knew it wouldn’t be the same without him and I needed to pause and regroup.

2or3lines: So what happened next?

Andy: I spent the next year or so writing alone in my bedroom and going to friends’ shows.  The Yum Yum Tree had been so busy playing around the Southeast that I felt like I was never home.  I never saw my dog, I was always sick, and I never got to see my friend’s bands play unless we were playing a show together.  I knew I needed to experience life to write better songs again.  After I had gathered a fresh handful of songs with a new approach on angst, I started looking for people to play with.  I think I found Alex Pilson first.  We had played once together back around 2000, before I officially formed The Yum Yum Tree, and he was a great drummer.  Then I found myself in the predicament of not having a guitarist.  It seems unbelievable to most musicians that in the great void of drummers and bass players that I was always searching for a guitarist! 

2or3lines: That’s very interesting.  I didn’t realize that good drummers and bass players were so hard to find compared to guitarists.  So how did you find your new guitarist?

Andy:  I placed a classified ad in Creative Loafing again and Tim Hill responded.  We then met at a Starbucks.  I can’t explain this but before we even played together I somehow knew that Tim was my guitarist.  I went ahead and got a new practice space and that day because I knew I had a new version of Yum Yum Tree.

Andy with Alex Pilson and Tim Hill
2or3lines: You released Paint by Numbers – the title track is our featured song today – in 2007.  I assume you recorded Paint by Numbers with the new Yum Yum Tree lineup?

Andy:  I basically think of our first album as representing version one of Yum Yum Tree and the second album as representing version two – but actually there was a lot of overlap.  Some of the songs on Paint by Numbers were actually recorded by Matt Harr, Kent Honea, Scott Lewis and myself – version one of the band.  But I recorded most of the songs on Paint by Numbers with Alex Pilson and Tim Hill.  Before we finished the album, I decided to go to nursing school.  Somehow I thought being back in school would allow me for more time for the band.  Sadly, it did not.  Because of school, I kind of sat on Paint by Numbers for a while, and by the time it was mixed and ready to go Tim had other commitments.  So when Alex and I released Paint by Numbers we added friends Michelle Friedman and John McNicolas to support the album.  Tim actually did come back for a show in 2008.  So The Yum Yum Tree played its official last show with Tim Hill, Alex Pilson and Michelle Friedman.

2or3lines: You wrote all the songs on Paint by Numbers, and I have to say that I was very impressed by the quality of the songwriting on that album.  Were there any particular songwriters who inspired you, or whose songs were your models when you started writing your own songs?

Andy:  Gosh, it’s hard to say.  I listened to so much music that I think it just festered into something completely different.  We were always compared to Throwing Muses, MagnaPop, and Mazzy Star, but honestly the only one of those groups that I ever listened to before Yum Yum Tree  was Mazzy Star.  My songs have lyrical references to Ultra Vivid Scene, The Weakerthans, Jeff Buckley and Syd Barrett.  But I’d say my biggest influence was the Pixies.  I loved how bass played such an important role in their songs.  I loved how Joey [Santiago] just made up atypical guitar parts up that seemed unrelated to the rest of the song but fit so well.  

Andy Gish at a Weakerthans show
2or3lines:  That’s a pretty diverse list of musicians.  Maybe that’s why your songs don’t really sound like anyone else’s music.

Andy:  I guess the thing that influenced me the most was not really knowing what the hell I was doing.  Not really knowing what a C chord was.  Not knowing what I was supposed to do.  I guess that is how growing up in Texas influenced me.  In Texas you come up with your own way of doing things, you make your own rules.  You know, doing this interview has made me realize that my approach to songwriting is really quite haphazard.

2or3lines: Tell me a little about your songwriting process.

Andy:  I usually write an outline of the song on guitar and then give it to the guitarist to flesh out.  Only then do I write a bass part.  I used to think this was because I was lazy but I guess it makes for unique songwriting.  Because the original part is played on guitar, I’m forced to come up with something completely different for the bass part.  I’ve never really thought about it much.  With so much of my music, I kind of just do it without any plan and see what happens.  I guess for me that’s what makes it art.

2or3lines: One of the musicians I've shared your album with was very impressed by your bass playing. What kind of bass do you play?

Andy: That’s awesome.  I get a lot of compliments about my bass playing and it still makes me blush.  I will say I do play differently than most.  I think this is because I am actually left-handed but I play right-handed.  No one told me there were left-handed instruments until I was 22.  I had no idea there was another option.  I think this is why I can sing and play at the same time without effort – I use different parts of my brain.  I don’t think of myself as particularly skilled, I just do it my own way.  I have a handful of guitars, but I only have one bass – a seventies-vintage Aria-type violin bass -- which I play through a Fender Bassman 135 tube amplifier.  It basically a knockoff of the first Gibson bass, the EB1.  For me, the magic seems to come from the fact that it has a semi-hollow body without f-holes.  It’s warm and roars a little without being overly dramatic.  I love Fender tube amps and I think these two pieces together are just awesome.  They are all I will ever need.

Aria violin-style bass guitar
2or3lines: Do you have any favorite bass players?

Andy:  What’s funny is I pay no attention to bass players when I listen to recorded music!  That sounds horrible but I always listen to the guitarist.  I hate to say this.  It’s going to make me sound like a horrible person but it’s really easy to fake bass playing.  I really shouldn’t be saying this.

2or3lines:  You’re going to get kicked out of the bass players’ fraternity!

Andy:  [Laughter.]  I really think Kim Deal is a great bass player.  If anyone influenced me I would say it was her and the Pixies wouldn’t be the Pixies without her style of playing.  I also really love Hank Sullivant, who was the first bass player in the Whigs, and Dave Chase, a local Atlanta bass player who is just amazing.

2or3lines: What about your favorite female singers -- past or present?

Andy:  I adore PJ Harvey.  I love how she breaks rules and doesn’t seem to filter herself.  She’s really unique.  She’s not a “female” singer -- she’s just a singer.  

2or3lines:  One review I read compared your singing to Courtney Love of Hole.  I think your voice sounds a lot like Gwen Stefani at times, although your singing style may be closer to Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders.  Who do you think you sound like?

Andy:  Oh goodness -- it’s hard for me to say.  I wouldn’t have guessed any of those.  I think my singing style has mellowed and matured through the years.  I have a lower singing range, which I like.  So I understand the Chrissie Hynde reference and I’ll take that!  She’s awesome.   I was always really grateful for the comparisons I got to Hope Sandavol from Mazzy Star.  Her voice is so warm and velvety.  I love that my voice has a warmth to it.  I get that from my mother.  It’s haunting when we sing together.

2or3lines:  What about female songwriters?  Any particular favorites?

Andy:  I think that the female songwriters that I liked the most in the years before I started writing myself were Juliana Hatfield and Tanya Donelly of Throwing Muses.  I love their approach to writing a catchy rock song.  They are great with atypical hooks.  Lately, I can’t stop listening to Jessica Lea Mayfield’s album Tell Me.

"Paint by Numbers" is the last track on the Paint by Numbers album, and it's a winner.  Andy shows off her bass guitar skills during the extended instrumental introduction, and then shows off her vocal talents during the rest of the song.  Everything else about "Paint by Numbers" – the guitar work, the drumming, and the production – is first-rate as well.

Click here to go to the next 2 or 3 lines, where we'll focus on my favorite song from the Paint by Numbers album.

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

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