I first heard The Whispering Tree at NERFA (North East Regional Folk Alliance) nearly two years ago. They were presented at a DJ showcase and I immediately thought ….hmmmm….something different here! Pay attention! So glad I did.
The Whispering Tree is classically trained vocalist Eleanor Kleiner and French bassist, Elie Brangbour. The interview below only touches on their musical journey around the world and back again. Take some time to listen to the beautiful tunes on their website. Discover why Keyboard Magazine praised them by writing: “The Whispering Tree tastily combine wistful folk, mellow rock and pinches of gypsy jazz and bluegrass into a compelling compilation of tightly written tunes.”
One listen to the beautiful song “Where Have You Gone” will make you a fan of The Whispering Tree. Check out this haunting video for the song.
I understand that you and Elie met at music school in London. Were you both studying classical music?
Actually we were both attending a contemporary music school in London…we ended up playing a lot of 70’s funk and soul.
How did you discover that you had a mutual love of folk-rock music? Did you share any of the same favorite musical influences and what about those influences are best reflected in your music?
We do have a mutual love of folk rock and roots music but I would say I’m the one who takes our music in the folk/rock direction. Elie grew up on death metal and prog rock and probably has a more diverse musical taste than my own – before we met he was composing across a wide range of genres including electronic and classical music so his talents bring a different angle to my more folk/singer/songwriter style.
Your music is often described as dark, moody, and haunting yet many of the writers who have reviewed your records have agreed that you still leave the listener feeling upbeat. Now that’s a real special characteristic. How do you manage that? 😉
I’m not really sure! I’ve always preferred ballads even as a child, but “sad” songs never leave me feeling sad – they resonate with me on some level and that sense of connection is uplifting even if the subject matter is “sad” or the song is in a minor key. Beautiful things uplift me – whether they’re considered sad or happy is kind of secondary in my opinion.
The name The Whispering Tree was coined because of your participation in an ancient indigenous ritual in South America. We’ve got to know more about that!
The name was partly inspired by my experiences with plant-spirit medicine like Ayahuasca, which is a shamanic brew of psychoactive plants from South America. I had taken part in a ceremony in Bolivia a few months before moving to London and meeting Elie, and I feel like it was a pivotal moment for me and a very powerful experience.
The Whispering Tree had a seven-month gig in Macau (China). How did that come about? Your music is largely dependent on your lyrics, was that a challenge for your audience? Or did you alter your show to present a different kind of music?
We found this gig on craigslist, where we find pretty much everything in our lives. The Venetian Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas was opening up a huge new casino in Macau and they were hiring people to be singing gondoliers – basically dressing up like a gondolier and paddling around a giant re-creation of Venice on a gondala and singing Italian songs to passengers. It was very surreal.
Your version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” smacks of gypsy jazz. Do you cover any other tunes in surprising ways like that?
That’s definitely our most distinctive cover but we also do an up tempo version of Leonard Cohen’s “Everybody Knows” which is fun.
What’s your take on the acoustic / folk / Americana scene these days? How would you describe your music and how it fits into the scene.
The folk scene is full of inclusive and supportive people. A few years ago we decided to strip down our live set and started performing predominantly as a duo instead of a full band and that’s when we discovered NERFA and the folk/acoustic music scene. Folk audiences are by FAR the best audiences we’ve come across. The difference between playing a regular venue and a folk venue is truly astounding, you couldn’t ask for a more receptive group of people. I think playing as a duo made our performances a lot more intimate; there’s nothing to hide behind and it makes us both dig a little deeper and connect more fully with the music and the audience – and people respond to that.
Do you see your music as changing in any significant ways? How is your latest release The Escape different from Go Call the Captain?
I don’t think the music has changed much but I think every time we record we get a clearer idea of what we like and don’t like, so I’d say we were better prepared this time around and more educated.