Interviews

No Mountains, No Horizon | An Interview With Simon Huw Jones of And Also the Trees

British-born, rural-centric post-punk project And Also the Trees has been a forever favorite for us here at Post-punk.com. Their music ages like a fine wine, full of heavy body and immense passion, and for our money, they remain one of the most criminally underrated, yet most consistent bands from the original post-punk era. They’re also immensely prolific, having followed up 2022’s excellent The Bone Carver with a brand new album, titled Mother-of-pearl Moon, another shimmering and stunning masterpiece that has already captured our hearts and minds since its release last February. The album is their 14th studio record to date (16th if we’re counting two excellent acoustic records in 2009 and 2011, respectively), and was recorded quickly, with each track built around guitarist Justin Jones’ late dusk-’til-dawn electric guitar improvisations. The band’s knack for literary-influenced, dark jazz passages amongst a powerful post-punk bedrock forever adds an arresting element of drama to their recordings, and Mother-of-pearl Moon is no exception to the rule. The album’s heady mix of minimal electric and organic textures sits gorgeously alongside vocalist Simon Huw-Jones‘ deep, improvisational crooning. The brothers Jones are joined once more by multi-instrumentalist Colin Ozanne (piano, clarinet) and drummer Paul Hill, both of which have been full time members of the band for quite some time now.

And Also the Trees show no signs of stopping, with a handful of European tour dates and upcoming collaboration records on the horizon (to horizon). We had the immense pleasure of catching up once more with vocalist and lyricist Simon Huw-Jones about the new record, his pandemic-borne social media memoirs, and favorite classical composers, amongst other topics. Enjoy!

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Congratulations on the new record! How has the reception been so far?

The reviews have been exceptionally good! Unusually, I think that’s the first time that’s ever been the case. We’ve employed a press agent to work for us, because we’ve kind of been very much under the radar, as you probably aware, for years. To be fair, that was kind of deliberate on our part, because we lost our faith in the media and press, particularly in the UK, but things have changed in the end. The internet has opened things up for a lot more bands. It’s not the closed shop that it used to be with just three or four magazines and papers that were hopelessly in control about who you could read about. So this is a really good thing. We’re getting lots of reviews, and they’ve all been really positive. We’ve been kind of a bit surprised by how much people like the album. I think the people that like it truly get it and are really blown away by it, and the rest still think it’s a good album, even if it’s not what they necessarily expect from us.

It’s especially interesting for us, cause we didn’t know that it was gonna be an And Also the Trees album right up until the wire. It was planned to be a Brothers of the Trees album right up until we got up to the mastering process. We got it back and listened to it and I thought, “How can it NOT be an And Also the Trees album?” It’s like a kind of condensed, purified version of one. So, we went for that route, and and it was the right thing to do, because I think our our followers are very open to us being a little bit more experimental and different.

Yeah, I think the band has always flirted with different instrumentation, and to me, Mother-of-pearl Moon feels consistent with your body of work and evolution. I love how the band has always added new elements, more poetry, different textures, and so on. Speaking of which, I’d love to hear a bit more about Justin’s electric guitar improv passages that made up the backbone of the record. How did those passages get fleshed out by the rest of the band?

Well, yes indeed it started off with Justin’s improvisations. Most of them remained pretty loyal to to to the original compositions he had done. Sometimes, we even used the original pieces because the quality of recording was good enough. He would then send the the the improvisations to me and I would react to them, and I had quite a good success rate with these improvised reactions and vocal pieces. Then we sent the tracks to Colin (Ozanne), our multi instrumentalist, who put down some piano and clarinet, while Justin also layered some autoharp. Finally, while it was never our intention to exclude anyone, as we just wanted to write a quick album, things kept building and we brought Paul (Hill, the band’s drummer) into the mix. Being as the songs already had a bit of an orchestral sort of flavor to them, we thought it could be an interesting idea to use a more minimal drum kit for the pieces, using maybe just a floor and hanging tom, to see how it comes together.

Sometimes, less is more – simplicity can really work in your favor, since it puts emphasis on silence, melody, and the interplay can really shine that way. Where did you record the album, then?

Well, I recorded all the vocals underneath an old disused viaduct in the Muswell Hill area of London. It was a completely chaotic rehearsal room, but great for when you’re just recording a vocal. I did that with Justin, and then the the drums were put down in Worcestershire. Colin recorded the piano and clarinet in his front room, where he’s got a nicely tuned piano and the means to record himself quite well. Really, the album was done all over the place, which I know can be a little bit disappointing for some people, because they like the idea of the whole band being together and recording together.

I think we’re at a place where people can get behind whatever works best, as far as process is concerned. I do this the same way, very piecemeal. I think whatever works for the band and serves the songs is the best path forward. So, this is the third record with this lineup of the band, no?

Actually, Grant (Gordon) our bass player, wasn’t actually involved with the recording, which was not deliberate at all. Mostly, Justin also used a baritone guitar on the original improvisations, which covered the bass register. So, sadly, we didn’t actually need to involve him, which was a little bit weird for us, but we all understood that it was just the way things came together. With that in mind, this is the first time we’ve ever done anything like this really with just the three of us and Paul, even though his part is a bit different for him as well.

We didn’t want to exclude anybody and we didn’t actually want to bring anybody in just for the sake of it, either. The album was writing itself, we didn’t procrastinate over it, we didn’t rewrite anything, and I didn’t kill myself writing the lyrics. Okay, maybe there was one song, “The Whaler,” that was the difficult one for me, because I started out wanting it to be a love ballad during the improvisational period, and when I did that I realized I didn’t want it to be a song about a woman. It sounded too mournful, so that took me quite a long time to actually to get my head around that. So, I replaced the woman with a ship in the end, also because Colin plays a nautical-sounding clarinet part. I took the woman out and brought the ship in, and then and then my imagination did the rest. It took a bit of time, but it was worth it in the end.

How does Melville factor in here? 

*chuckles*

So speaking of lyrics, I know “Valdrada” was inspired by “Invisible Cities.” I’m not too familiar with Calvino’s source text, so I’d love to hear more about that track.  

So, it was interesting how I got ahold of that book. Here we have something like the neighbor’s box, which people use to put things they don’t want anymore. The idea is that people can put things there, and take other things, and the idea is that you put something back when you take something to keep it balanced.

Ah, yes, we have these in New York City too – little libraries and food pantries that serve the same purpose…

Yes! So, I found a lot of great texts  in those boxes. I really love the idea of getting stuff from those boxes because it’s so random. I’ve discovered some fantastic writers that I wouldn’t have actually discovered if I wasn’t just passing by when I was walking the dog. But actually, you know, I’ve said something wrong here – this book actually wasn’t from the box. This book was from the Red Cross Book Shop in in London. I just saw this title, Invisible Cities, and I thought that title alone sounded interesting, combined with the cover, so I bought it. I’d never heard of Italo Calvino, but the Italian writer apparently is extremely famous, and it seems everybody else I talked to knows of him. Anyway, the idea of his novel is that it’s Marco Polo, and he’s describing cities to the great Emperor Kublai Kahn of the Mongol Empire. What he’s actually doing is describing a city from his continent during every meeting that they have together. From what I understand actually, it’s  all different interpretations of Venice, but of course Kublai Kahn doesn’t understand this, and these descriptions of imaginary cities that he built up are really quite marvelous in the book

I try and read as much as I can, believing that you reap what you sow. I make a point to watch good films and read often because I rely on on improvisations and on my instincts quite a lot, so I believe you need to have good stuff in there in order to conjure the same. So, when I was working on that vocal, I knew I was already writing about a place, a city, and a journey through a city, and then “Valdrada” just came to mind. I tried to recall more about that particular text, but I remembered hardly anything from what I’d read, actually, so the rest of the details I added in myself. To that end, we can all add details to this imaginary city if we want to, because it’s all in the imagination.

That’s great. It’s almost like an exquisite corpse, in a way.

Yes, we’re all imagining different streets and different routes and different houses.

…all of which are valid because it’s such a big city, and everyone’s memories and experiences are different… I love that you discovered the book based on the cover. It’s a lost art in the internet era, being able to discover books and music and films just from digging around in bins. I really miss that, especially when we’re so bombarded by “choice,” but it’s all algorithms that often miss the mark, or don’t expose you to things outside of your comfort zone…. 

Yeah, the amount of bright lights that you see, and colors, and ads. Everything goes in one eye or ear and out the other. If you have something physical, it tends to stick more, I think…

So, Matthew Devinish worked on this this record, too. He’s been with you for a while now. What’s his production style like? 

He’s very meticulous. He’s obviously got a very good ear. We’ve been working with it for quite a long time and he’s always loved the band. He’s known us from the very, very beginning, from our first single “Shantell.” He was actually at the company offices when they had brought it back and played it to him. And he immediately knew it was for him and so he’s been with us for that long as an admirer. We started working with him as a sound engineer, God it must be twenty years now….

Wow, that’s devotion! How’s your writing process changed over the years? Has it evolved?

I tend to really rely on my instincts more and more over the years. I don’t write much. I just hope that something will come naturally. I do write things down first, lines of poetry and the like, if I have some inspiration, but generally I’m much more instinctive than I used to be. I used to sit in front of blank pieces of paper and and and kill myself over it all. It took me a long time to understand that I could actually trust myself a bit more than that, and I can just press the record button and see what happens. Justin’s the main creator. He’s the maestro. We should never forget that I do the interviews, but he’s the creator, and without that and without him there’d be nothing! He’s always been pretty prolific, thank God!

I think that was one of the only good things that came out of out of the pandemic was that we as a band had an unexpected amount of time and space to to focus on other things. There were less distractions, let’s say….

Yeah, I was pretty surprised by the quick turnaround on this record, just a couple of years after the last one! Speaking of extra time over the years, have you ever considered writing in another medium? I’ve been enjoying all the excellent social media memoirs – is there a goal for that, or perhaps another medium you’d like to work in overall?

Well, that’s just me writing down our story. I can be pretty slow and meticulous as well. I can rewrite and rewrite, but I’m enjoying that. It’s a different way of writing for me. It was never the plan to do this, I just started it off is just a random thing to do in 2020, because it was our anniversary year, and we couldn’t do any gigs. So I thought I’d just write a quick piece about the very beginning of the band and put a photo up on Facebook. People liked it and I thought it felt right to do another one, this time a bit longer, and then I’ll do another one and look back in my diaries to take bits out of there. People just seem very enthusiastic about it, and the more enthusiastic people were, the more seriously I took it. There have been lots of calls, people saying that it MUST be a book. I would definitely like to do that.

Of course! And Also the Trees has such a long history and people still seem to be discovering the band, so it’s great to be documenting so much of this for everyone to enjoy. It was very difficult for me to find information about the band in my early collecting days, the late 90s and early 2000s, and I’d have loved reading these stories as I was getting into your records. Of course, Lol Tolhurst from The Cure, who you’ve worked with a few times, has a few books out now as well, so there’s definitely a market. These stories are great and add a lot of value to the band, in my opinion.

I’m quite interested in the idea of developing it as it goes along, because originally I thought I’d have to go back to the beginning and rewrite it in more of the style that it’s turned into. Now I’m thinking it could be quite different if I keep it like that. The more I get into it, the more I realized that our experience is peripheral to our musical creativity, and like the landscape, the farmers, and the people in the village in the landscape, the more I can bring them into it, the more I can make this a little bit more than just a story about a rock band. I’m not sure but if I’m capable of doing it, but I think that could be quite an interesting direction to go in.

I wouldn’t change the early passages either… I feel like that’s perfect to have that sort of lucid beginning, that early punk ethos that’s such a big part of your sound, juxtaposed against your experiences in a more rural landscape. Most of these memoirs I’ve read are about big times and big parties in the big city, you know? I love that there’s always been more of a pastoral influence in your work and would certainly enjoy hearing more about those experiences. 

I think that’s surprised me because now, when I think about it, it’s it’s really quite interesting and quite different talking about where we came from. Really, the truth of it is that we really came from nothing. We were four kids who hadn’t had any musical education whatsoever, and thanks to punk rock, we just decided to form a band. I’ll sing because I’m the oldest, and Justin can play the guitar, which leaves Graham and Nick (Havas). Graham was going to be the drummer, and Nick was gonna be the bassist, but then it turned out that Nick was actually a natural drummer. None of us had any lessons. We all taught ourselves, we hadn’t been in bands before and we barely knew anyone in the music business. Our fourth ever gig was supporting The Cure, which is kind of incredible.. They liked our demo, invited us to play with them in in a university gig nearby, and loved us and invited us on tour. Justin had just turned 16, Nick was 15, Graham was 16, and I was the oldest at 19. We were just kids!

I always love hearing about that punk/DIY explosion. I think what you did what that energy, you really caught on pretty quickly and became great musicians. There are a lot of really beautiful musical passages in the early days, too. So I think it’s what you were saying about how you’re surrounding yourself with good art and beautiful surroundings, and you’ve been able to capture such a singular, passionate sound. I think that’s really quite impressive!

You know, someone asked me what gave me the idea to write about the British countryside…  And honestly, while I was sitting at my window looking out at it, wondering what the hell I could write lyrics about. It’s a problem for all bands you know…

I hear you! I struggle with lyrics all the time too! I just write a bunch of nice-sounding nonsense and cut it all up most of the time…

Of course! For me, I realized that I could just write about what was right there in front of me, and so be what it is. I always knew that there was something about Justin’s guitar playing as well that had a kind grand pastoral sound to it, a little bit like an electric guitar version of a typical classical composer, inspired by landscapes as well as what we’re feeling. It’s funny, because I don’t think Justin was deliberately taking influence from the landscape, but because that’s where we were, it was just a wonderful way for it to happen. I suppose like Detroit’s influence coming out in Iggy Pop’s music, I imagine he would write about the countryside if he lived in Worcestershire!

Well, I’ve always used the word “pastoral” to describe your work and it truly makes you unique. While we’re here, what kind of classical music inspires you, or if you could speak for Justin, perhaps? 

For me it was Ralph Vaughan Williams. The woman running our record company in Malvern played me a piece called “Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis,” and it blew me away! My mother always tried to get us to like classical music as children, which kind of put us off it originally, as I felt it was too inaccessible to me. However, when I heard that piece, it opened up the whole thing for me. After that I was listening to Mahler and other composers like Debussy and Satie. All of that came to me slowly throughout the eighties as I was discovering that classical music wasn’t as inaccessible as I thought it was.

Justin was more interested and driven, I think, by film soundtracks. He was very interested in John Barry and the composers that Fellini was working with.

I always wondered if either of you were fans of  the German band Popol Vuh, since I think they share some of the same pastoral quality in their work as well. 

I’m not terribly familiar with them, but maybe Justin had picked a few of their film soundtracks. I’ll have to ask Bernard (Trontin) from The Young Gods, since he’s a big authority on Kraut rock so he’ll have to point me in a good direction or lend me some things to hear.

Actually, skipping ahead a bit and speaking of Bernard, I was going to ask about the November project. Is there a third record in the works? 

Yes, we’re working with another musician now. He was playing with us live for a couple of shows, and he’s a multi-instrumentalist. He’s actually a French guy living here in Geneva. He’s very talented, and plays bass and a bit of everything actually. So it’s the three of us now, and that means it’s going to force our hand in a different direction.

Very cool. Looking forward to that! Going back to some of the archival work you’re doing, I was curious if there’s a particular song that really stands out to you as a favorite. That is, if you can even pick a favorite. Last time we spoke, I know you mentioned Angelfish on the whole was a record that you felt wasn’t really celebrated much, but either way, I’m wondering what you think are some of the most definitive or personal favorite moments from your career. 

I can’t really say for songs, as it changes. When I went to went to Matt’s wedding in Italy a couple of months ago, they played “The Beautiful Silence” at the reception afterwards on a big system. Normally I’d feel totally embarrassed or something. But people were dancing, and I thought, “Jesus, this sounds really cool. I love this song.” So that moment really caught me by surprise.

So, if I had to name one song at the moment, it would be that one, but actually all the new ones as well. *chuckles*

I’d love to talk a bit about your photography, which has been wonderful to see in a lot of the And Also the Trees artwork. Did you provide the photos for Mother-of-Pearl Moon as well?

Yup, all the photos on the cover and throughout the sleeve are mine. I don’t very often go out to take photos. It’s just a question of whether I bring my camera along when I go out. I’ll often take my camera on tour with me, which is pain because you have to always be careful about where you leave it. Sometimes I’ll take the Nikon I’ve had since I was twenty and won’t take any photographs at all! However, the last time we were on tour, I got in the mood and took a load of them. It’s all very spontaneous for me, I don’t go out to take photos on purpose – I just take my camera along with me.

Is there anything else you’re working on at the moment? 

I’m gonna be on another album soon with Catherine Graindorge, a Belgian violinist. She reached out and wanted to collaborate with us, and as the singer, they passed it on to me. She also worked with Iggy Pop recently. She’s actually brilliant. She’s a fantastic violinist and a very nice person. Her project is called Songs for the Dead, which sounds rather morbid, of course, but don’t let that put you off…

No qualms here!

Truly, it’s quite deep, but it’s not depressing. I wrote a lot of lyrics for it. I’m singing on three or four pieces, and I always try and balance my lyrics with light as well as dark. They’re based on two things – firstly a poem written by Allen Ginsberg about a dream he had about Joan Burrows called “A Dream Record,” where they have a fluid conversation even though she’s not alive anymore. The other side of the album is based on the classic myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. That was the brief I was given and it’s marvelous music. I think it’s going to be an interesting album. We also worked with Pascal Humbert on bass, he was in 16 Horsepower and was in a French post-punk band whose name I can’t remember right now…

TANIT! I love Tanit. They’re a band I’ve often DJed in sets with your band, come to think of it! 

Oh wow, that’s lovely. He’s a great guy!

Well, this project sounds right up my alley – it’s more what I’m interested in listening to these days. It’s nice to hear artists playing with different influences instead of touching on the same thing everyone else is doing. Post-punk is just such a wide genre, which leaves lots of room to enjoy different sonic spaces. So, last but not least, time for the ever-present question… What touring are you planning in the coming months?

Well, we’re playing in Belgium in a church in Namur, which is gonna be nice, I think. Then we’ve got four or five dates in France in April. We’re also working on a German tour and all sorts of other things in the pipeline. But organizing all of this is very difficult at the moment because everyone now wants to tour at the same time after years of not being able to do so, so everything is all backlogged. You have to book gigs nearly a year in advance now, otherwise everything’s booked up already…

By that point you’ve probably already moved past the material and want to do something new… But then the cost has also gone up with labor, which then drives the price of tickets up to the point where the whole thing just feels kind of hopeless, honestly. 

It’s especially terrible in Britain because of Brexit, which has made everything much more difficult for bands. Everything is just more complicated and more expensive. It’s an absolute shit show. The cost of going to the States as a band makes it impossible, unfortunately.

It’s like you knew I was going to ask you about playing here, which I do almost every time we talk! Actually, I’m bummed I couldn’t make the shows you did in 2014 with The Cure. My cat had just passed away, so it just wasn’t in the cards. I had a ticket and everything! 

They were good gigs. They played for so long. I must say I hadn’t seen them for many years so I didn’t expect that. My big love affair with The Cure was up until about The Top era, when we were still supporting them. Soon after, they started playing in front of thousands of people, writing really brilliant pop songs, and maybe then I might have been questioning what it was all about. But then, at those gigs in 2014, which were for the anniversary of that era, I just looked at the audience, which was really quite small for them. I just looked at all the people in the crowd who were just loving it. They were just in awe… I figured, how could this not be a good thing?

Really, I’m just hell bent on seeing you play one of these days… Willing to travel at this point, hah! 

We’ll have to get a gig in Iceland so we can meet you halfway! §

Check below for the full album artwork and track listing for Mother-of-pearl Moon as well as a list of upcoming tour dates:

And Also the Trees – Mother-of-pearl Moon

1. Intro
2. The Whaler
3. Town Square
4. Mother-Of-Pearl-Moon
5. This Path Through The Meadow
6. Valdrada
7. No Mountains, No Horizon
8. Visions Of A Stray
9. Field After Field
10. Ypsilon
11. Away From Me

Purchase via Bandcamp

And Also the Trees Spring 2024 Tour Dates

APR 2, 2024 | La Nef De L’Eglise Notre Dame D’harscamp – Namur
APR 3, 2024 | La Laiterie – Strasbourg
APR 4, 2024 | La Lune Des Pirates – Amiens
APR 5, 2024 | Limoges – Centre Culturel John Lennon
APR 6, 2024 | Le Trabendo – Paris
APR 7, 2024 | Cabaret Vauban – Brest

Visit And Also the Trees’ website for more details

Frank Deserto

Bassist of The Harrow, curator/writer at Cherry Red Records, and blogger at Systems of Romance.

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