Umbrella Tree, "N-N-N-N-N-N-N" [Fresh Vid]

Seth Graves | Nashville Cream | 11-18-11

In this modern-ass era of JEFF-mania, PUJOLpalooza and Third Man’s weekly instant headlines, some of us damn near forgot about local Bohemian bookworm-pop outfit Umbrella Tree. That is, until they resurfaced this week with a spankin’ fresh vid for ”N-N-N-N-N-N-N” — which, contrary to its theme, proves the band is not dead. It also marks the official debut of the band’s fourth member, previous collaborator and current bass player Ryan LaFave.

The track is from their upcoming Kickstarter-funded To the Memory of a Once Great Man, which — as we mentioned a couple weeks ago — can be pre-ordered exclusively on the aforementioned fund-raising platform.

Umbrella Tree - To The Memory of a Once Great Man (2012)

Ky Gil | All Media Reviews | 11-17-11

This seems to happen a lot with bands I enjoy, but for whatever reason don't manage to keep up with as daily or even weekly as I might want to. Despite "like" ing them on Facebook. But their Kickstarter Campaign isn't too far away from becoming a success in that they have $875 and only need $1000, and they have still almost 2 weeks left.

Umbrella Tree are a band I want to say someone recommended to me on the Sound Opinions forum like 2 or 3 years ago. Likely 2009, but I'm not certain.

edit; yeah early in 2009. In my review of their last record, I wrote this:

ooh..not at all disappointed on 1st impression here. They share qualities with some of the Indie/Psych-Pop bands like The Jealous Girlfriends and The Ebb and Flow, as well as the epic piano-driven nature at times of Wolf Parade. But not having it become too lengthly..much like a group like Big Fresh. Less-is-more. Gonna have to spend a lot more time with it, but I enjoyed more or less the whole thing. The piano and male/female vocal arrangements worked really well. 70/100

And since then, I have become more familiar with them, one thing being Timbre I believe played on one or maybe both of their albums.

But at any case, I'm definitely curious about this new record of theirs, even though I haven't really listened to their music in probably over a year. Given this new record is coming next year, but also next week potentially for the kickstarter pledges, it probably wouldn't be a bad idea to revisit their other albums soon.

Umbrella Tree Spotlight

Fletcher Watson | The Deli Magazine | 5-17-10

There's a little three-piece band in Nashville called Umbrella Tree, and they are good.

They are currently working on their fourth album, which is titled To The Memory Of A Once Great Man. "It is all about Napoleon," front man Zack Gresham told me. "Lots of 505 through a Space Echo. Pretty effin cool."

I highly recommend this band. Their albums are always well crafted, and their live performances are authentic and genuine. One gets the feeling that Umbrella Tree embodies the spirit of the late 1800s, the style and grandeur of the early part of the 1900s and the technology of the modern age.

What's more, Zack tells me that, "since the new stuff is so beat-y and dance-y, we will be posting the vocals and solos and such for remixers and their ilk to download."

Albums, What Kind Of Books Do You Read and The Letter C, released in 2006 and 2009 respectively, are also outstanding. Check them out before their new album drops this summer.

Their website,, is up and running, but the official launch date is set for the near future. Go ahead, click on it. You'll like them.

Umbrella Tree, "The Letter C"

Josh Cacopardo | Patrol Magazine | 9-13-09

The term “progressive rock” is little more than a witless oxymoron these days. After all, didn’t rock n’ roll spend some fifty years labeled as a progressive form of music before someone decided that we needed to divvy it up into nit-picky sub-breeds? Anything that was rock should, by nature, have been progressive. But that’s hardly the case in today’s market. Some rock music is nostalgic. Some is experimental. Some is classic. And, of course, some is just plain crap.

What, then, legitimately falls into the category of progressive rock in the music world of 2009? Enter Umbrella Tree and their latest album, The Letter C. The two-man-one-woman band from Nashville deliver a refreshing and—dare I say—reformed concoction of eclectic tunes, finding roots in Decemberists-style gothic lyrics driven by a sound not unlike Arcade Fire with hints of The Deadly Syndrome. Their sound is nothing if not complex and, though complexity itself doesn’t necessarily have much to do with quality, Umbrella Tree seamlessly bridges the gap between the two.

There isn’t a single track on The Letter C that sounds like the next, yet each song is very distinctly Umbrella Tree. From the climactic build-up of “Show and Tell” to the eerie theme of what we’ll call the “Periscope Trilogy” to the flawless vocal tradeoffs and harmonies between band members Zachary Gresham and Jillian Leigh, this record redefines track diversity. Yet with consistent use of minor keys, spectral synthesizers, and bizarre lyrical storylines, the musical assortments still fit snugly into a single sixteen-track package. Throw in phrase changes, the rock equivalent of song “movements,” and the occasional blending of one track to the next, and Umbrella Tree has very nearly, though most likely unintentionally, created something of a mini-rock opera.

Despite The Letter C‘s concept-album ambitions, the scattered lyrics keep it from quite making the cut. Each song tells its own offbeat story, and though the “Periscope Trilogy” takes occasional pains to tie them together, they ultimately stand alone. The opening track, for example, tells the captivating story of a king who grows increasingly paranoid of his subjects, while “Uncle William” spins the tale of a man who used to talk to gods until receiving a head injury that caused him to lose his religion. The only apparent common threads being those of psychosis and nonsense. There’s a bit more realism in songs like “I Wish I Was But I Regret To Inform You”—the familiar, sad tale of unrequited love, retold with a sweetness that thankfully transcends cliché—and the heart-wrenching laments “Samuel Crawford’s Widow” and “Letter To Mary,” both of which exhibit perfect blends of funereal poetry with aching melodies.

The only questionable thing about Umbrella Tree and their latest release is: why haven’t more people heard of them? One possibility is that their label, which they appear to have founded themselves, doesn’t offer much in the way of band promotion. Or it could be that their band’s official website doesn’t even show up in a Google search of “Umbrella Tree.” Of course, it’s always possible that the band just doesn’t want to be bigger than they are, although it would be a travesty for such unique musicianship to be confined only to word of mouth and the few reviews that still exist in internet archives.

No matter the reasons for the band’s tragic lack of publicity, one thing remains certain: if there can be any definition at all to the genre of prog-rock, then Umbrella Tree must join the greats at the top of that list. Contemporary artists who are not only willing to push the boundaries, but to gleefully leap over them, laying down quality, honest music—even if a little weird—are few and far between. If what we all used to know and love as rock n’ roll is ever going to dig itself out of the drudgery it so often finds itself stuck in today, if there is to continue to be any progression at all, we can anticipate with much joy that Umbrella Tree will also continue to be one of the key players.

New Music Reviews

Ernie Paik | Chattanooga The Pulse | 8-26-09

The Nashville trio Umbrella Tree might appear to be a band for children - its live performances have included puppet shows and onstage tea parties, its cover art looks like a page from a children’s storybook, and I have a hunch that its name might be taken from the kids’ TV show Under the Umbrella Tree. However, its latest album, The Letter C, casts a hazy, complicated mood within, with a theme of nautical uneasiness, words of wistful longing, songs in minor keys, and a few moments of R-rated anger.

The amount of attention the band has put into this package is impressive; accompanying the 16-track CD is a DVD that contains videos (of the modestly homemade, no-budget, yet well-edited kind) for all songs, along with live footage and extra videos.

On an album with pop instrumentation, including prominent keyboard lines and tasteful cello flourishes, unexpectedly, the most distinctive element of the band’s sound is the drumming; Derek Pearson avoids common beat patterns, and the album is mixed to allow his cymbal crashes to very slowly dissolve, leaving a mist of mystery. Singers Zachary Gresham and Jillian Leigh alternate duties or blend together, and the softie in me is drawn to the more straightforward ballad-type numbers, like the hard-to-resist “Starfish,” tenderly carried by Leigh, over the album’s mildly off-kilter numbers.

The group’s approach is somewhere between rock and pop and on The Letter C, it seems like the band doesn’t feel the need to take sides, which can be a little frustrating at times. To clarify, there are times when the ebb and flow of the album seem to need a liberating rock release, and at other times, one might want a pure, hook-laden pop song to carry the momentum. Overall with Umbrella Tree, there seems to also be a “cute” vs. “dark” battle, but on this effort, darkness definitely wins out.

Umbrella Tree :: The Letter C

Amie | Duck And Cover | 7-24-09

I get my music in a myriad of ways, most of it dubious and downright sneaky. But sometimes I manage to procure a legitimate review copy of an album. It just so happens that my Twitter obsession helped me fill the shoes of "honest blogger" for once. If Twitter needs another success story, I'm willing to throw Umbrella Tree into the pile. By following a fan's tweet, I got in touch with the band and was very soon getting an earful of their latest album, The Letter C.

At first blush the album appears to revolve around a nautical theme. Swaying 3/3 signatures will suddenly shift like the seas into rockier, more disjointed patterns. And with track names like "Ocean Sober", "Starfish", and interludes called "Periscoper" (A through C) it's easy to assume they're taking us down in a lemon-tinged submersible. The lyrics, however, tell a darker story.

Despite the cover art, The Letter C isn't about going to sea; it's about what happens to the rest of us. And while the ocean is an oft used metaphor in music, its depth promises continuous revelations. Swimming among the arias and ballads, the bold melodies and orchestral accompaniments, we hear from characters in the tone of their own broken colloqualisms. In this way, Umbrella Tree casts its players with heartfelt imagination; players who, like those living in a small fishing village, exhibit two primary emotions: hope and aloneness.

The Letter C--a two-disc set including a DVD full of videos--is a troubling album masquerading as a comedy. And like an actress or widow, it puts on a brave face and steps into the light.

Umbrella Tree, ever vivid and quirky, offer a world of new sounds—and sights—on The Letter C

Jewly Hight | Nashville Scene | 7-23-09

Listening to Umbrella Tree is a commitment with no easy outs. That's partially because singer/guitarist Zachary Gresham, singer/keyboardist Jillian Leigh and drummer Derek Pearson completely give themselves over to their live performances—Gresham acting the part of the wiry, animated ringmaster, Leigh the mysterious, girlish coquette and Pearson the focused brute with the precise touch.

And the other reason? The three of them never, ever break character or signal that they're being ironic. That would let audience members off the hook, and give them the smug satisfaction of being in on the joke—if it were a joke.

"We're not interested in being ironic," Gresham says. "If ironic things occur within a more sincere context, then that's fine. But irony just for its own sake...I mean, it's poison. If [the band] is successful in seeming consistent, it's because when we're performing and we're doing big things...we're trying to be caricatures of ourselves and not really trying to put on a different character.... The point is I don't feel like it's put-on."

Various aspects of Umbrella Tree—from stage costumes to their detailed, meandering songs—suggest the way children, left to their own devices on a rainy day, engross themselves in fantastically imaginative worlds. Everyone else only discovers how fun the make-believe game—or the band's music—is by forgetting themselves and playing along.

Not that Gresham, Leigh and Pearson write juvenile fare. For every halfway silly song ("Souls Are Warm Like Eskimos") there's an expletive ("fuck," for example, in "Spit Like a Soldier"), a nuanced character sketch ("Uncle William") or a song that brings fears to life ("Child Bride").

In the four years that the band has been playing shows around Nashville and releasing albums on local indie Cephalopod (What Kind of Books Do You Read? in 2006 and The Church and the Hospital in 2008), they've offered something different and engaging from every angle.

"You're playing and you know that 50 percent of the people watching you are people you know personally—or more than 50 percent," Gresham says. "There's a tendency to go up in your blue jeans and your T-shirt and play a show for your friends, even if you're doing very good things. And this is not to knock that, because...many of my favorite bands in Nashville go up in their jeans and T-shirts and do it, and they kill me. But we didn't want to do that because we...all feel like a performance is a separate entity from a recording. And if you can make a really fun performance happen, then you're really embracing the fact that you are a visual artist when you're onstage."

Umbrella Tree's new album, The Letter C, expands mightily on the visual aspect of what they do. It's a CD and DVD: 16 tracks of shape-shifting, literary-minded—and thoroughly arresting—indie prog-rock, and a video for each and every one, all directed by Pearson.

The music videos don't feature anything as mainstream as the band members playing their instruments, which isn't surprising given how little they're invested in "making it" commercially. "You can't bank on that, you know," says Gresham. "And that's very liberating not to bank on it.... Then it becomes an art project, very explicitly an art project. And then you really can go as crazy as you want."

Umbrella Tree CD/DVD Release Party

Kyle Swenson | The City Paper  |  7-22-09

Nashville freak folkies Umbrella Tree take the stage at the Mercy Lounge this Thursday for a CD/DVD release party. The trio's new album, The Letter C, continues in the same vein as their previous work--loose and off-beat compositions held down by the distinct vocal dueling between guitarist Zachary Gresham and keyboardist Jillian Leigh. The latter's angelic voice feints and weaves around Gresham's spooky warbling, creating an odd balance of abrasive intonation and harmony.

New tracks like album opener “His Majesty Grows Suspicious” and “Souls Are Warm Like Eskimos” are each a mixed bag of country, chamber pop and noise and would easily fit on the group's strong debut What Kind of Books Do You Read? or follow-up The Church and The Hospital. But the band's third release is also an ambitious jump from the norm. In addition to the audio component, the band has coupled the record with a collection of videos, which will be shown on Thursday night as well.