Anyone who listens to the #Tweetcore Radio Hour knows that I’m a big fan of Joe Peacock’s music. His albums Mirror Neuron Generator and Before the Robots Told Us Where to Go are musically complex and lyrically adept, echoing and combining the styles of mainstream classic rock acts as wide-ranging as Genesis, Steely Dan, and the Clash. Recently, he teamed up with singer/fiddle player Louisa Davies-Foley to form the alt folk duo Missed Trees. Their evocative debut EP, Animals, is now available and includes three songs that, in the band’s words, “tackle the conflicts between the natural behaviour of wildlife and human beings.”

How did Missed Trees come about?

Louisa and I have known each other for over ten years and for quite a few of those we’ve been saying we should do something together. When I really got back into songwriting in a big way over the last couple of years, I started badgering her more and more to sing and play fiddle with me. We did a one-off performance with another friend nearly two years ago where we played a couple of the songs off this EP and then last year we started rehearsing properly and getting ready to gig more regularly and release music.

You describe Missed Trees as an alt folk duo. What makes it “alt”?

To be honest, it may not be completely correct, but I’ve always come from the indie/alternative world of music and Louisa comes from a more traditional folk background, so I just put those two things together to describe it. Louisa’s called it acoustic folk with an edge, but that’s longer to say.

When I hear the name “Missed Trees,” I think of the old saw about missing the forest for the trees, though I suppose I’m getting it backward. Missing the trees for the forest, maybe? What does the name mean to you?

There’s a play on words in that when you say the name, it sounds like “mysteries” but it is also about the depletion of the natural environment and a yearning to get back to more of a connection with wild places and being more in tune with the planet. I’m a city dweller now, but I grew up in the countryside. I wouldn’t want to live there now, but there’s something very calming about “forest bathing” as the Japanese call it.

The title of your new EP echoes that of my favorite Pink Floyd album, but where they were using animals allegorically, your songs are fairly literal. Your press kit mentions that the lyrics “look at bees trapped in a cathedral in a rainforest, gorillas in Africa with Dian Fossey fighting for their survival and the tragic story of a circus elephant being hanged in Tennessee.” What drew you to these stories—and the over-arching theme of conflicts between wildlife and humans?

I like stories that leave a real impression on me. I’ll read something and if it shocks me or makes me think I really want to tell people about this, then it’s definitely a contender for me to write a song about it. I didn’t write songs specifically for the EP, but when we were looking at what to release these three went together well. We have 13 songs in our live set, so rather than putting them all into an album, we’re going to release a series of EPs that are thematically linked. I have written a few more songs with animals in them, but they weren’t quite ready to go on this EP – maybe there will be another one called Animals 2 at some stage.

You can tell from what I said about the name of our duo that I am very into nature and I used to work for a wildlife conservation charity. I find it shocking that people can treat animals so badly – for me that’s just as bad as treating people badly, so it seems like a powerful subject for songwriting. Why should romantic relationships have such a grip over our feelings and be the only thing we can express emotions about through music?

How is making music as part of a duo different from making music as a solo act?

I have to be a lot more patient! I write at a prolific rate and could release 2-3 albums a year, but we’re making sure we play songs live and get a feel for how they work before committing them to recordings. That’s a much more organic way of doing it. I also get a fresh pair of ears on everything we do and Louisa will make suggestions that definitely improve the songs, such as ensuring that we get more variety in the dynamics and melodic structure between verses. I write the songs, but it’s definitely a team effort in making them sound as good as they can.

In terms of your solo material, you describe yourself as a genre-hopping musician. What accounts for your tendency to hop from genre to genre?

I think that’s from the music I’ve always been exposed to. My dad was a music journalist, so there was always music on in the house growing up, but it wasn’t just one genre. My parents listened to everything from the noisiest punk to the smoothest soul singers, through opera, reggae, jazz, folk, psychedelia and pop. I’ve taken that on into my listening. Although I probably most identify as an indie rock lover, you’ll find me listening to a very varied selection of music and that perspective stops me from being too narrow in how I think about composing.

Do you feel like jumping from one genre to the next within the space of a single album amounts to ignoring – or even doing away with – the concept of genre, or is it something else?

I’ve never really thought of that. I love to be surprised by music. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the subject matter of a song, a particular chord change, tempo changes or switching genres, I look for music that keeps me guessing. I love artists like Bowie, Prince and Pj Harvey whose music sounds totally different all the time, but you can always tell it’s them no matter what genre they’re playing in.

Returning to The Missed Trees, Animals is much more squarely rooted in a single genre. Was that a conscious decision? How did it inform your songwriting?

Writing on the acoustic guitar is something I’m doing more and more. I just love it because it’s so raw and instant. I have lots of songs with more complex arrangements for future solo projects, but we made a conscious decision to be an act that sounds like we do live on our recordings. We wanted people to know what they’re getting when they come and see us and the EPs help promote the live work. For the moment, we’re a duo and you’ll just be hearing guitar, fiddle and harmony vocals on our releases.

Lyrically, you cover a lot of ground, much of it dimly lit. You’ve written about, among other things, people dying on Mount Everest, a woman accidentally poisoning her father with arsenic, and Anne Sexton, a friend and contemporary of Sylvia Plath. To bowdlerize another song of yours, is everything morbid?

Sometimes, I’ll play a new song to my wife and she says: “That’s lovely. What’s it about?” Then I tell her and she’ll be all: “Why can’t you write about something a bit cheerier?”I try to write about things that are interesting and that we can learn from. I’m not trying to depress people, but to make them think. The song “Dian” on this EP is actually about someone who made a massively positive difference in saving the gorillas, even if she did die younger than she should have.

Music can make people feel very strong emotions, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all. I don’t want to make easy listening background music. We can all grow stronger through tragedy and my favourite song in The Missed Trees live set lyrically has a really positive message! We generally finish off our gigs with a cover of “Don’t worry, be happy”, to put people in a happy mood as they leave.

What’s your approach to writing?

Generally, I prefer to write the music first, or at least have a basic idea of the main riffs and then fit the lyrics to the mood and feel of the music. I try to write music that, even without the lyrics, provokes some sort of feeling in me. The lyrics often come from disappearing off down internet rabbit holes and finding things that interest me. I sometimes think of a hook first, but often I just write down thoughts about it or snippets of quotes about a particular person or event and then put them together like a jigsaw until I have a coherent song that tells (often part of) a story.

What makes a good song?

That’s very subjective. Sadly, the pop industry seems totally dominated by songs having to follow a formula and everyone having to work from that, but, as someone who’s very far removed from that, I have very different views. I do like writing perfect verse-chorus-verse etc pop songs sometimes, but I don’t want all songs to follow that structure, otherwise it gets too predictable and boring. There have to be some moments of sonic magic, be it in the vocal harmony or the music and also some interesting lyrics for me to love a song.

Any plans in the works for future projects?

I have another solo album written, but not all recorded to the required standard yet. It’ll be much more rocky, guitar based stuff than Mirror Neuron Generator. The next single needs producing and mastering, but could be out in the next couple of months. The Missed Trees have enough songs to do another three or four EPs, so we just have to get them recorded and mixed/mastered. There’s no shortage of material. I just have to find the time to get everything finished.

Thanks for taking the time to talk to me!

One thought on “Stories that Leave a Real Impression: An Interview with Joe Peacock

Comments are closed.