At Home with The Giving Tree Band

By: Michael Kaiz

Click here for a full gallery of photos from Crooked Creek Studios!

Winding down Crooked Creek Lane is like venturing back in time. An apparently simple house in the cul-de-sac at the terminus of the road has been home to the Fink Brothers, Todd and Eric, for fifteen years and is the epicenter from which the music of The Giving Tree Band flows. Over that time, the band has molded this humble abode into the foundation upon which they stand.

They've named their home Crooked Creek Studios for the name of the street upon which it lies. And it truly is a studio; the entire house is wired for the purpose of making music. Their sound during rehearsal is mixed on the same board, through the same monitors, by the same sound engineer as it is during their shows. The consistency between the room in their basement and the stage setting they perform from allows their endless hours of practice to breed an eminent confidence in their live shows.

There is a control room on the second floor that serves as the hub of the production element of the home. They record their rehearsals in a multi-track format and send the channels upstairs. Their loft studio can send guitar, violin and banjo signals either directly to the control room or down to isolation rooms in the basement that harbor vintage Orange guitar amplifiers and other electronic goodies. The grand piano, which couldn't make it further into the house than the room off of the entryway, has microphones running to the control room. There is even an isolation booth for drums right off of Z's bedroom.

I suspect that the recording process is not that different from the rehearsal process. For the Giving Tree Band, it is just getting the family together and playing music. The ease of pulling together to create music eliminates any pressure that another band might feel to make efficient use of their time in the studio or practice space.

Living in the house is a two-way street, the band grows from the house and the house grows from them. During a recent run of shows, the below grade regions of the house suffered water damage due to heavy rains. The band doesn't call anyone in to fix it, they make the repairs themselves, giving their love back to the house. When I arrived, the smell of fresh cut cedar wafted through the air as Woody and Z hung new panels on the walls. The wood they use is recovered timber; Eric collected doors for a number of years before moving in, those doors now adorn the entrances to the many isolation rooms.

There is never a dull moment at Crooked Creek Studios; all the members of the band have an incredible work ethic, continually following the path towards grander days. Their talents fit together like pieces of a puzzle. Ironically, Woody has found that he has a knack for working with wood. Todd has handled the duties of a manager for years, only recently receiving support from Arnie Weil, while Eric has been the producer of the band's albums.

Eric gave me plenty of insight to his recording process while we chatted in the control room. The arrangement is very important to him, he would rather one of the bands many voices remain quiet for a few measures than have multiple instruments competing in the same register. It's quite a challenge in a band that at times features guitar, violin, pedal-steel guitar, banjo and mandolin, so Eric has focused on this element of the band's recordings. Recently he has been working on tuning the EQ to the key the songs are played in and effectively strengthen “the heartbeat with blood flow.”

The division of labor in the household is akin to what you'll see in a frontier family. Without modern infrastructure, the pioneers of the American West had to depend on each other, and they complimented each others' weaknesses with their strengths. It's a model that works in band life. Musically, the members of the Giving Tree Band complement one another, and the power of the unity is strengthened by how they bond as a family in non-musical activities. During my visit, Todd prepared a dinner for all who were present of palak paneer and quinoa. The collective of musicians gathered in the combined kitchen and living room and ate their dinner together. During the meal, I noted that the record player in the corner was the focus of the living room. Todd commented, “That’s our TV.”

This family leads a healthy lifestyle, the energy they exert in their stage performance demands it. They keep a vegetarian diet, abstain from alcohol and drugs, and practice yoga and meditation. During their rehearsal session, which commenced right after dinner, Z and Carl were left with a free minute while Todd, Eric, Woody and Phil worked on a particularly intricate movement of a new song. The rhythm section put the time to good use, treating the Persian rugs in the room as yoga mats. When the rest of the group was ready to try the part as a full band, their bassist and drummer were right back in the swing of things, their energy aligned and renewed.

Welcoming, confident and easy-going are words that can easily be assigned to the members of The Giving Tree Band. Carl was a recent addition to the lineup; after he answered an ad, the entire household got in the van and drove north to Wisconsin to pick up their new brother. The new bassist hopped into the tour vehicle with a bag of his possessions and hasn't looked back since. The guys are more than happy to play a portion of a song over and over again during rehearsal so that one of them can work on their part, like a living breathing loop pedal. They even welcomed a journalist, myself, to observe how they live and to be in the room for a 3 hour rehearsal of a song that had not yet been played live. Always moving forward, they show no hesitation.

The Giving Tree Band is a rare grouping of individuals who refuse to be kept from their goals. Every aspect of their lives is innately tuned, like the tip of a spear, carving a clear path and meeting little resistance on the air. All the effort, the life force of the band, comes to fruition on the stage. When they're diving around like ninjas in a kung fu film while playing delicately crafted musical treasures, there is a lifetime of work that is condensed into those fleeting moments. The professional integrity that the Giving Tree Band practices is unequaled, and it is firmly rooted in a house at the end of Crooked Creek Lane.

Continue reading for a full set of photos from Crooked Creek Studios!

The Giving Tree Band Tour Dates :: The Giving Tree Band News

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