With their quintessential vintage West Coast sound, it’s fitting that Treetop Flyers laid down their outstanding country soul debut in the canyons of Southern California. Though based in London, the British five-piece – Reid Morrison (vocals/guitars), Sam Beer (guitar/vocals), Laurie Sherman (guitar), Mathew Starritt (bass/vocals) and the band’s lone American Tomer Danan (drums/vocals) – swapped urban England for the picturesque beaches and rolling hills of Malibu in order to record the classic sounding ‘The Mountain Moves’.
“Our music makes sense there,” explains Sam. Yet ‘The Mountain Moves’ hits home far beyond the reaches of Los Angeles. A record of hope, honesty and huge choruses, its universally reaching songs are strewn with sunshine-infused four-part harmonies, propelled by an irrefutable open-highway groove. Paying their dues to everyone from The Band and Neil Young by way of Little Feat and Fleetwood Mac, there are also gracious nods towards the more contemporary likes of My Morning Jacket, The Coral and Jonathan Wilson wrapped up in these 11 time-travelling tracks.
Sonically, ‘The Mountain Moves’ might be easy-going, but the process behind it wasn’t quite so smooth. Heading to California after a successful stint of shows at SXSW in March 2012, a hurricane alert and a harrowing airplane ride meant the band ended up stranded on the outskirts of Denver. When they finally arrived in LA, producer Noah Georgeson (Devendra Banhart, Joanna Newsom, Bert Jansch) hadn’t quite finished work on Banhart’s latest album, meaning Treetop Flyers had two weeks to kill.
They spent their fortnight of freedom roadtripping to Joshua Tree, making a Gram Parsons pilgrimage to Cap Rock and also stopping at Pappy and Harriets, a far-flung Mojave favourite of Queens of the Stone Age and Arctic Monkeys. They rocked up to the legendary roadhouse’s famous open mic night in their best cowboy threads to play an uncommonly lengthy set. The band eventually got to work at Zuma Sound, a brand new studio which had originally been built for Rick Rubin. However, not long into the album sessions, eviction notices started appearing on the door. “We kept on thinking, are we gonna be here next week? We’ve got ten more tracks to do…”, says Sam.
When they arrived back home, a summer of high-profile festival slots awaited them. They played under Van Morrison at Green Man, and shared a stage with Bob Dylan for the second time at The Hop Farm, after opening up for him at London’s Feis in 2011.
Ostensibly named after the Stephen Stills’ song ‘Treetop Flyer’, the band’s name also references the similarly titled low altitude American pilots who fought in Vietnam. “When the war was over they were forgotten about and came back to a country that had nothing for them. So they formed their own club, did work crop dusting and banded together,” explains Sam. “I felt that that represented us a bit.” Before Treetop Flyers got together in 2009, all five band members were entrenched in the West London scene, gigging locally in different acts, watching the likes of Adele, Florence Welch, Laura Marling, Mumford and Sons, Noah and the Whale and Jamie T rocket to the top of the charts. “We all met on the periphery of that scene,” says Sam.
Treetop Flyers became a serious proposition not long after they booked a rehearsal room in Shepherds Bush for a no-pressure jam session. From then on the band’s fate as a dreamy, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young style Americana act was sealed. Sam and Reid went on to write the band’s first song, the delicate comedown country of ‘Is It All Worth It’, together in an empty room in Sam’s house. “It was a moment where you realise that we can be a band that greater than the sum of their parts, and make a noise that none of us can predict,” he says of the Simon & Garfunkel referencing number. “We can all hope for it but none of us can do it alone.”
In order to get gigs, the band recorded a demo, which became their acclaimed debut EP, ‘To Bury The Past’. Every member of the band helps to pen the music. “Each and every one of us has a hand in songwriting,’’ says Reid. “It’s not a Treetop Flyers song until everyone has put in in their bit.’’ On the back of the EP release and their swiftly honed, commanding live show, they went on to win the Glastonbury Emerging Talent Competition. They’d managed to forget that they’d even entered, but when they were told they’d made it through to the final heats, they headed to Worthy Farm to play a special gig for Michael and Emily Eavis and a panel of judges. Their prize was six shows at Glastonbury Festival in 2011, including opening up the Other Stage to a couple of thousand people.
Fast forward a few months and the band set about making a list of dream producers for their album. Noah Georgeson was one of the first names to crop up. “I could hear how the songs would sound with him doing it,” explains Reid, a long-time fan. Figuring they had nothing to lose, the band reached out to him and, to their delight, he immediately agreed to work with them.
“He was incredible at tones and sounds and getting rid of stuff that didn’t need to be there – being a bit ruthless,” says Reid. “It was such a privilege and really relaxing. They were 12 hour days but you felt like you could go on.” The fact that the studio was positioned in the middle of a canyon didn’t hurt, with Reid watching eagles fly by the floor to ceiling windows as he did his vocal takes. Georgeson also helped with nailing the band’s live sound on the record, making sure every track sounded as vibrant and fresh on the console as it did during a show.
Opening with the driving ‘Things Will Change’ – the message of which is “things are shit sometimes, but they’ll be alright in the end” – the powerful pace of ‘The Mountain Moves’ doesn’t let up for the faultless classic rock of ‘Houses Are Burning’ or the Northern Soul leaning ‘Picture Show’. ‘Waiting On You’ is hope-laden tribute to Reid’s late father, which was recorded six months to the day since he passed away. “I always have my dad’s ashes in my guitar case, and he’s actually on the track, as a shaker,” reveals Reid.
With its cries of being “stuck down in a nowhere town”, ‘Postcards’ is a Stax inspired doo-wop shuffler of a song about the time the band spent in Denver on their way to LA. “No disrespect, but it was one of the most lonely places I’ve ever been,” explains Sam. The same can’t be said for the track and its welcoming blast of summer soul.
‘Storm Will Pass’ was finished late on the very last night of recording. “For some reason, the computer freaked out massively when Tomer was doing his singing bit,” remembers Reid. “It sounded like he got caught in this UFO space war. No one could explain what was happening. It was really weird, but it sounded incredible.” So of course, the band kept it in.
In addition to the stunning simplicity of ‘Is It All Worth It’, the delicate ‘Rose’ showcases the softer side of Treetop Flyers, a lullaby that betrays an admiration of the British folk sounds of the 1970s, with whispers of Nick Drake and Fairport Convention amidst the canyon croons. “There’s nothing complex about it, it’s just sunshine,” adds Sam of the track. “It’s a capsule of us then, at that time, which is what a record should be.”