In 2008, Lost in the Trees' third recording, All Alone in an Empty House, was released on the small North Carolina label Trekky Records. Not long after its release, LITT leader Ari Picker debuted his first symphony in Chapel Hill. He wasn't writing new songs, he told me back then. The urge to focus on composition and explore other facets of music were too alluring.
After all, he'd been writing songs almost nonstop for a half-decade with his prior band, the Never. Lost in the Trees debuted as a bedroom songwriting project in 2004, returned in 2007 with a cinematic polyglot EP called Time Taunts Me, and just completed the aforementioned magnificent folk-meets-classical long player.
But Picker's songwriting drought didn't last long. He pulled together two new cuts — the blown-out Neutral Milk Hotel-like "A Room Where Your Paintings Hang" and "We Burn the Leaves," a majestic elegy borne on graceful strings and accordion — for ANTI- Records' 2010 re-issue of Empty House. And the next full-length is written, too, he says.
Sonically, Picker promises a bit more angularity and dissonance, on account of his more recent explorations of modern composition and more contemporary popular music. "I guess I always backlash against myself," Picker says. "I think Empty House was a little soft and polite. I think this next record will be more sharp."
"A bit more rock 'n' roll?" I ask. He laughs. "Rock 'n' roll in the sense of Stravinsky versus Bach."
Empty House is famously about Picker's tortured childhood — his twin sisters who died in infancy, his father's emotional abuse, his mother's mental instability — and, perhaps more importantly, about Picker's own struggle to accept and overcome a difficult upbringing. Each song, no matter how dark it seemed, always sought to offset the gloom with some redemption or healing.
Now, Picker says, he's more willing to commit to a single emotion within a song. "Writing a song you can really concentrate on an idea and just let it be what it is," he says. This should enable the songwriter to dig deeper, darker caverns while he scales higher, brighter peaks — just not all at once.
The band itself has changed, too. Once a solo vehicle with a revolving cast of as many as 13 at a time ("I think 35 people came and went from Lost in the Trees," Picker estimates), Lost in the Trees is now a manageable seven. Most members are multi-instrumentalists, though, so Picker's compositions aren't driven by the band's logistics. "I don't think it hinders my writing, or influences it really," he says, though he concedes he tends to stick to three string parts.
The septet's flexibility is what has enabled Lost in the Trees to roll its show on the road, effectively. That solidity is also paving the way for the band's future evolution. "It feels a lot more like a band, like a family of people than it ever has before," Picker says.