Last year, when established indie rock act Scattered Trees lost two of its key members (brothers Jason and Baron Harper), the remaining three band mates—frontman Nate Eisland, his wife Alissa Eisland, and Ryne Estwing—made a rather dramatic decision to lay down their decade-long moniker and sound, and start an all-new band. The new act ON AN ON has already been making waves in the blogosphere with the advance release of their single “Ghosts”, with a highly anticipated new album Give In due out in the states on Jan. 29 and in Europe in March.
Nate says of the bandmates’ collective decision to start anew: “We, the three of us, had been trying to do something musically that maybe was just never meant to be with Scattered Trees—or it was too far of a jump or too far of a leap for Scattered Trees to make. But we really appreciated the chance to start over with something fresh.”
ON AN ON are embarking this week on a nationwide tour with indie-rock act Geographer. Before they hit the road, Nate was good enough to take a few minutes with MIMO to talk about the new band’s sound and direction.
MIMO: It’s a daring decision to start a new band under a new moniker when you guys were a band for a number of years building a following. Is your goal to continue to connect with the prior fans, or just basically start with a new fan base?
Nate: I think that there is a connection to the old fans…there’s this balance, we appreciate the fans of Scattered Trees, because that was what made the wheels turn for us for a long time. So there’s always a sense of gratitude there. But we as artists, it was very clear to us that we needed to move forward with something else and move on and start fresh for our own artistic souls.
I’m still writing most of the songs for ON AN ON and everything, so I think that if you liked Scattered Trees, you’re probably going to like ON AN ON. It’s that kind of thing, even though it’s different in a lot of ways. But for us, the three of us in particular, starting a new core of a new band, we’re really excited to be able to push farther and to do things that are more satisfying artistically to us then maybe we could have in other groups that we were in, in the past.
MIMO: How would you describe the sound of ON AN ON as opposed to your earlier sound? Do you feel like you can categorize it or define it? What’s different about it?
Nate: It’s hard to categorize just the sound…I think there was definitely a core in Scattered Trees of singer/songwriter, kind of. I was writing these songs, and I was finishing them, and I was bringing them to the band, and we were trying to make them more interesting…But with ON AN ON, we got to start something that we could make more collaborative and more of a team and share the load a little bit creatively. I think that it was cool in a way; it’s satisfying to be the songwriter that makes the decisions and what not, but also it’s just a lot of pressure and it’s not as fun. And so with ON AN ON, we’re having so much more fun and we’re so much more excited about our own satisfaction creatively, and just doing things that we’re really into, and not feeling like we need to have this be a progression from the last ten years of music that we’ve been making. We get to just do what we want to do and just obey our instincts, and that’s all.
MIMO: Well, I think that probably bodes well for the band because it starts with a passion of the band mates. If you’re doing something you’re passionate about, I think that’s going to play out into the overall vibe of your band.
Nate: I totally agree.
MIMO: What were some of the highlights of the recording process for you guys? Do you have like a favorite aspect of making this record?
Nate: I think as a group, the three of us loved being in a completely different environment. We got to sort of shed some of the stuff we didn’t like about the groups that we were in in the past and how we would make records. For me, there was a really great moment, a sort of like an epiphany moment. I was working with Dave Newfeld, the producer; he’s a genius by the way. He just created such an amazing environment creatively. But he really challenged me on a lot of stuff because I had come up since I was 14 or 15 being the final say. I was calling the shots, and in a way that self-taught mentality, there’s some purity there, and there’s some interest there. But also there’s something to be said [about] depending and trusting on someone who is twice your age and has been doing it as long as you’ve been alive. And it’s still making shit that’s amazing. It was great.
But for me, there was this one moment in particular, we were tracking guitars, and I had an idea, and I went in and I laid it down and then I said, “Give me another couple takes,” because I felt like I was a little shaky…So I went in and did a couple more, and the last one I did it was really solid, and I felt good about it. And [Dave] had me listen to the first one and the last one, and he was like, “I like the first one.” And I said, “Why? I felt like I nailed that last one.” And he was like, “Well just listen to them. You can almost here that you were nervous in the first take. You hit all the notes. All the part was there. But there’s this tension that’s inherent that makes it through the microphone when you’re not so calculated about it.” And that was a turning point for me, because I was just so hung up on executing…it was a huge revelation for me for him to be like, “What you are doing is really, really cool. Don’t over think it and over process it because in the end it just will neuter it.”
MIMO: So is there an underlying theme to the record as far as the songs themselves? Is there a common thread?
Nate: I don’t think there’s a clear common thread. It’s definitely not a concept album; it’s not that linear. There are a couple of songs on the record that I didn’t write, too, so that’s been really awesome to have Ryne write and contribute lyrics and stuff like that…But I think my writing in particular has been kind of [covering] a lot of the same sort of big ideas; life, death, love, and war, things like that. But I think my perspective on those things has really changed a lot in the past few years, a lot…It’s much more settled, it’s much less angsty.”
MIMO: What should fans expect with your upcoming tour dates?
Nate: We’re really excited about that to be able to hang out with people and show them what we have. We have a lot of songs to give, and hopefully they respond well. I think that Geographer is a perfect band for us to be out with in America because I think their crowd would enjoy what we’re doing and we definitely enjoy Geographer. So it’ll be great to see them every night just to watch them play a show. I don’t know what to tell you to expect from our show as much as there will be a lot of honesty. It’s honest and it’s sincere and it’s immediate and flawed and good. It’s up to everyone to decide what they think of it. But you can expect it to be sincere.