Quick Q and A with Night Tree

Night Tree is one of the most adventurous bands to come along in some time.  The music that these six young musicians make happen on recordings and especially in live performances is something to behold.  Get to know what it’s like to be part of this band which includes Lily Honigberg on violin; Chris Overholser on violin, viola and mandolin; Zach Mayer on baritone and soprano sax and vocals; Sunniva Brynnel on accordion and voice; McKinley James on cello; and Julian Loida on percussion.  Their music is vibrant and exciting. Once you see them, you’ll be hooked and want to hear more!

To learn more about Night Tree, check out their website.

They will be performing at the me&thee coffeehouse in Marblehead, MA on Friday, September 7.

Watch this video and discover the wonderfulness of this band.

 And here’s another video which shows the band in action at a recent show in Sweden.

Can you tell us a bit about the very beginnings of Night Tree?  Were you all students together at the same time?

Night Tree started from a session of friends that quickly grew from two to six.  Julian and Lily had seen each other’s multi-media shows where they fused folk music with avant-garde music, classical music, improvisation, and visual arts.  They wanted to do a joint-recital but ended up turning into Night Tree.  At Julian and Lily’s first meeting a fairy like spirit was sitting across from them at their table and she asked them for the internet password, turned out to be Sunniva.  After this Lily asked Chris to join our sessions as they had known each other as toddlers but had lost contact for the past 18 years.  Then we asked Zach to join and he brought McKinley thus creating Night Tree.  We were all students from the classical, jazz, and contemporary improvisation departments, representing all of the departments at NEC (New England Conservatory).  We applied to be the “Wildcard” honors ensemble…and luck has it they chose us which kickstarted the band!

What led you to naming the band Night Tree?  

Members of the band were throwing around names and Julian recommended we try and find a name that would initiate an immediate visual reaction from people.  As a joke Lily suggested Night Tree and half the band loved it which turned out to be enough.  However, we have had many people from our very own producer to a coffeehouse organizer call us the wrong name in front of up to 600 people.  Some of our favorites are: Night Leaf, Music Leaf, and Night Train.

Your sound is very unique.  It combines lots of various genres of music and global influences. If you were to meet someone who had never heard your music before and asked you to compare your music to that of other artists whom they know, who would you cite?  

Depending on the day, I might say, “Have you ever seen a movie?  It sounds like that.”

Who are the primary songwriters of the band?  When they bring a new song for the others to play, do they present it in such a way to allow the song to morph and be shaped by other members?  It seems to me, as a listener, that collaboration is key to Night Tree and that your sound is shaped by all of you. 

Night Tree is made up of six composers and currently two songwriters.  Zach and Sunniva have been prolific as composers in the band, but Lily has written a lot of pieces as well.  Each piece is different.  The first album was basically made up of tunes that were brought to us as a melody or a melody and chords, but our second album has more pieces that were composed more strictly.  However, even the pieces that are more composed still have a massive influence of the band’s collaboration as well as our producer Seamus Egan’s collaboration with the pieces.  He has helped even out arrangements as well as bring the best out of our music.

It can be difficult to allow collaboration in terms of changing melody notes or chords for most members of the band.  Each composition tends to be coveted as the composer’s child.  It’s like a seedling they are trying to make grow into the biggest and best tree they can, and the band is trying to support its growth.  Some tunes don’t make it out of the rehearsal room, some tunes make it to a couple shows, and some tunes are played at every show.

Tell us about your connection with the Irish band, Solas.  How did that come about?

When we were named NEC’s Wildcard Ensemble we were given a series of shows, a professional photoshoot, and the ability to select any teacher in the school to be our coach for an entire year.  We chose Winifred Horan who runs NEC’s Irish ensemble and is the fiddler of Solas.  We worked very hard with her.  Nearly every member of the band was in her ensemble and she brought something great out of us.  In about November she started to see we were something different.  In January that fire grew and in February she saw that we were ready for something big.  She asked us to open for Solas on St. Patrick’s Day at the Portsmouth Music Hall for 600 people.  After the show and an ecstatic standing ovation, we asked Seamus to produce our debut album.  He said yes.  We asked him to produce our second album and he said yes again.  We were lucky 😉

You recently traveled to Europe for some shows.  How did those go?  How challenging is it for such a fairly new band to travel together with so many people and instruments?  Did you road manage the tour yourselves?  Did you have any great adventures that you’d like to share?

We toured Sweden for 11 days this past July.  It is a beautiful country with beautiful people and incredible food.  We played about 10 shows and a handful of them were some of our best and had some of our best audiences ever.  One that was particularly fun was playing at a teen’s fiddle camp-out.  They screamed after each piece, they sang so loud and with beautiful harmonies when we asked.  Energy was just exuding out of them which as performers, that’s the best feeling in the world when you know the crowd is totally with you no matter which direction you take the music.  That was very special, and we hope we inspired a younger generation to keep playing music and start their own band.

Yes, it is very challenging traveling with six people in a foreign country in which one member speaks the native language.  Yes, being a new band with members who are in their first band has its challenges.  Like any new relationship, we are still discovering each other’s needs, bad habits, and everything in between.  We did road manage ourselves, but since Sunniva booked the entire tour she did all of the managing and did a great job.  We also had the incredible help of Sunniva’s family and friends who lent us cars, beds, meals, directions, and joy.

A little Swedish Cliff-hanger: Lily is, we predict, one of the best whistlers on the planet, but she’s been too scared to whistle on stage until Sweden.  She began whistling on stage on our Sweden tour with the support of Sunniva’s mother and we hope she continues on American stages this fall!  So, come out September 7th and hopefully we will all be able to hear Lily’s incredible whistling!!

How would you explain the key differences between your first record and your brand new one?

Honestly, the new one is just more complex.  The arrangements are more complex, the melodies are more complex, the instrumentation is more complex.  Everything got a lot more confident, assured, and stronger.  The first album is really nice, but we feel this new album is possibly a little dangerous!  It has everything from Roots & Blues to orchestral strings arrangements to a full Afro-Cuban percussion section.  You just have to hear it for yourself.  Come out to any of our shows this fall to pick up the album or wait for its official online release on October 12th.

Any hopes and aspirations that you’d like to tell the world? 😉

We seek to spread joy with our music.

…and McKinley is looking to marry a Swedish boy, so if you know anyone, hit her up.


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