For most bands, it takes years of gigging and building a local following before they’re ready to embark on their first tour. Berkeley’s psychedelic indie-folk band Big Tree went about this whole process in reverse order. For five years they jumped around from location to location, doing a lot of touring in-between, never really having a local scene. In 2011, they finally settled in the Bay Area for an actual home to call their own.
“Going back and forth and not really having a sense of identity geographically was just becoming exhausting. It’s really hard to finally get settled and have a community and then pack up and leave again. We love touring, but you can’t do it all the time,” says lead singer/pianist Kaila Mcintyre-Bader.
The band officially started in New York. Mcintyre-Bader and bassist Luke Bace (and later guitarist Danny Pirello) met in college and formed Big Tree with a group of musicians. Though their blend of psychedelic rock, folk, soul and sunny-pop wasn’t necessarily a bad fit for New York, they felt that they struggled to fit in personality-wise, particularly when they moved to the exceedingly hip Brooklyn.
“I kind of felt like our enthusiasm didn’t fit in, like we were way too excited and happy to be in a band and playing music. I feel like if we acted a little cooler, things would have worked out better for us there, but we were like, ‘Yeah! We’re so excited to be here!’ And everyone was like, ‘Really?’” Mcintyre-Bader says.
They ended up in Connecticut at one point, and even Marin, before they officially moved here. (Mcintyre-Bader grew up in Marin.) Even though one of the problems the band faced with Brooklyn was the high cost of living, somehow the equally expensive Bay Area felt different.
“I feel like if you look hard enough in the Bay Area, you can find a quality of life for the amount that you would pay in New York that is 10 times better. You get a lot more out of it. You can get a cute little apartment and ride your bike everywhere. It’s nice,” says Mcintrye-Bader. “I wanted to come back to the Bay Area. I told everybody, you don’t have to come with me, but this is where I want to be and I think we can all really thrive, where I think our music could do well too.”
Before the band left New York, they asked a girl they barely knew, Anna Ghezzi, if she wanted to join Big Tree, tour across the country and move to California. Surprisingly she said yes.
“I was totally expecting her to say, ‘Absolutely not!’ because that was insane. She was teaching at the time. She was like, ‘I’m ready to try the music thing, take it a little more seriously,’” Mcintrye-Bader recalls.
Their drummer, on the other hand, decided to quit on the way to California. Though he finished the tour out, Big Tree was going to be drummer-less as soon as they settled into their new Californian home. However, drummer Matt Schory saw Big Tree play—at the one California show their old drummer played before returning home—and was anxious to join.
“When we moved here, the hope was very much to be a part of a community. At the same time we had really no clue what that meant and what the community was. It just happened that our sound and the sound that a lot of people are going for out here are somewhat complementary,” Bace says.
Although the blend of indie-folk, psychedelic-pop and overall sunny sound fits right in with the Bay Area music scene, one element Big Tree are still adjusting to is how laid back everyone can be.
“Sometimes we play a show that I think is good, and has high energy, but people are so mellow in the Bay Area, it’s not apathetic, it’s a degree of mellowness. I kind of want to challenge people to be like, ‘Hey, get crazy and bump into each other a little bit!” says Bace.
Big Tree (with Curious Quail, Dogcatcher and the Plastic Arts)
Art Boutiki, San Jose
Fri, 7:30pm, $10