For more than a decade, The Hollow Trees have been entertaining families with their music. You can call their sound “folksy” not only because their songs draw upon a variety of American folk and roots styles but also because of their warm and friendly sound. The L.A.-based band’s new album is even entitled, “Hello Friend!” The group’s co-founder, Gregory McIlvaine (aka Gregory Hollow Tree), recently filled us in about the new CD.
It has been a few years since your last album. How did the band approach making this one?
The idea was to make a fun and friendly album that captured the spirit of the band and the good times of our live shows. We’ve been doing shows with this lineup for about five years now, so it’s very comfortable and natural. We have a lot of fun playing together, and I think that comes through on the record.
Are the album’s 14 songs ones the band has been playing live?
It’s a mix. Some of the tunes, like “I Can’t Dance (I’ve Got Ants in My Pants)” and “It Ain’t No Fault of Mine,” have been in our set for a couple years now. Others, like “Guitar You Going To Sing Along,” were worked up for the recording.
The new album impressively blends original songs with cover tunes – including some rather old, obscure ones. How do you pick songs to cover?
I look for songs with strong melodies and clever lyrics. Our view is that kids are smarter than folks often give them credit for, so we don’t shy away from big words or complex ideas. If I hear a song that makes me laugh or surprises me, we will work it up and try it out. “Backward Bill” is a song that Traci (Traci Green aka Traci Hollow Tree) suggested and it turned out great. A song like “My Dog Has Fleas” is super smart, funny and catchy, too, so I feel lucky that we found it and got the chance to record it.
Do you find that kids don’t really pay much attention to whether a song is old or isn’t in a familiar style, as long as the tune is fun and they can relate to it in some way?
Yes, for sure. Kids react to the beat, melody and the story or images in the song and don’t really care where it comes from. For instance, “Poor Papa” is a very old song with references that are a bit out of date, but I find that the kids are able to focus on the story and they all end up feeling sorry for Papa! I wrote our song “Hello Friend” with a Carter Family vibe in mind, so even though it’s new, it could be old.
What makes you and the band most excited about “Hello Friend!”?
There are two things we are super excited about. The first is the strength of the songs. We’ve had a very positive response to all of the new tunes, especially “What Do You Want on Your Taco?” and “The Whole Thing.” The second thing is that the sound of the record reflects where the group is now and everyone in the band gets a chance to shine. Traci and I both sing some songs, but Mike [Flanagan] and Katie [Cavera] also sing one each. Instrumentally, we feature accordion, plectrum banjo and mandolin in addition to guitar, bass and drums. Add in lots of backing vocals and that’s a unique combination that gives the record a characteristic sound all its own.
The Hollow Trees include guitarist/vocalist Gregory McIlvaine, singer Traci McIlvaine, mandolinist Mike Flanagan, banjoist Katie Cavera, drummer David Green, bassist Adam Levy and accordionist Phil Parlapiano. They perform at the Theatricum Botanicum (1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga) at 10:30 a.m. Aug. 7. Tickets are $9, free for ages 2 and younger, and can be purchased at www.theatricum.com or, if available, at the door. You can also catch the band at the kids club at The Americana At Brand (889 Americana Way, Glendale) at 11 a.m. Aug. 30.