Interviews: Charlie Karls of The Giving Tree Band

The Giving Tree Band - Circus Photo 1by: Thomas D. Mooney

We caught up with Charlie Karls, bassist for Americana folk band The Giving Tree Band, late last week. The band is performing tonight (Tuesday, March 24) at The Blue Light. In addition, The Cerny Brothers will be playing.

The Yorkville, Ill.-based band brings an authentic disposition to the folk ballads they’ve constructed over the course of past decade. Their four studio albums are built around simple honest truths. Their organic arrangements and instrumentation are warm and inviting. Their harmonies are as lush as they are real–there’s no studio magic giving false impressions. 

The band is releasing Like A Freight Train, a live album, on April 07. Watch/Listen to them perform “These Days”–the Jackson Browne song–from the album below. 

New Slang: You guys are at South By Southwest as we speak. That’s become such a hectic environment. There’s so many people. So many bands. There’s so many shows. What’s your feel on the whole thing? You feel there’s a bit of oversaturation?

Charlie Karls: There is a little bit of oversaturation. But it’s not about the oversaturation. It’s about who you meet in there. It’s saturated with some of the best minds and talent in music. If you are good at preparing yourself, knowing what you should do when you’re down here, you can find who to talk to. You can find people who can help your career. People who can impress you with their own talent. It just takes some time to research, some dedication to find those gems in all of the chaos. It is chaos [laughs]. But there’s still meaning in that chaos. We’re grateful to be down here.

NS: I know most bands are packing in a bunch of shows in a short amount of days. How many are you guys doing?

CK: We’ve got one official showcase and two unofficial day party type deals. You know, those are shorter sets. We’ve done a little busking on the street to work on our set. Things like that. But it’s really whatever we have energy for. Fortunately, we’ve got a lot of energy [laughs].

NS: It can be difficult when you’re in a band to actually catch other bands. You can hear some that are playing with you, but it can be hard to go and discover others. But, have you found anyone that caught your ear?

CK: Yeah, it can be hard. I personally haven’t had too many opportunities to go and hear, but I’ve heard a lot about Gary Clark Jr and Shakey Graves. Those guys’ names have been circulating. There’s so much to see. It’s not just bands, but it’s a lot of good music. So if you get the opportunity to see someone, it’s most likely going to be good. We’ve all seen some terrible stuff too, but everybody is trying their best. In a way, terrible is kind of the norm because there are no soundchecks. There’s only so much you can do in preparation in advance to be able to deal with some of the stumbling blocks of getting good sound. You have to give people a little bit of leeway. If they even sound half good, they probably sound way better in a much more controlled environment. There’s not much control for the artist.

NS: Yeah. That’s definitely part of it that frustrates a lot of bands. They aren’t getting their sound just right. Anyways, you guys have a new live album coming out. Like a Freight Train will be out in just a couple of weeks.

CK: Yeah. April 7. 

NS: Yeah. What’s the story behind this? How many songs? Did you guys record this in one night or was this over the course of a year or something?

CK: It’s going to be 15 tracks. It’s recordings from a lot of different places. It’s meant to be played as one long concert. The audio is edited to sound like one show. You’re getting what it’d be like to see us perform a show. There will be a film that accompanies it shortly after. It’s kind of a documentary that we’re still working on. It’ll be available online. Actually, this album is an online only release too. We’re gearing up for a new studio release later this year too. But it’s one of those things where as time goes by and you’re getting good recordings from places, you think, “Alright, we can use this. We can turn this into something that people have been asking for anyway.”

NS: Yeah. In one of those trailers for the album–I can’t remember who said it–but one of you guys said something about being out on the road and playing shows across the country has made the songs more believable. Do you think that’s not just true for the audience hearing the songs, but for you guys in the actual band as well?

CK: Yeah. I would say it’s more believable for me. The songs, they’re about love and trying to make a good impact in the world. They’re about trying to make a better place. Being out on the and having the opportunity to do that kind of stuff, to meet people and have a good impact, it does make it more believable for me and the audience. It’s not uncommon of us to be somewhere and see someone in need of help. If you’re out in traffic and stuck, what do the guys do? They pull out of the van and push them across the interstate. We’ll help them change a tire. If they’re in need of a meal, we’ll help them out. We’ll give them a ride if it’s cold out. We don’t just do that out on tour either. We do it in our normal lives. It’s our whole life. We try and make the world a better place.

NS: Yeah. You mentioned you’re working on a new album as well for later this year. When are you guys shooting for that to be released?

CK: The release date is still unannounced and everything. We’re still working on the songs in the studio. So it’s in process. But we do have high ambitions to get it done this year and hopefully out in the fall. Maybe as early as the summer. It just takes time. It’s something you want to do well and you have to take that time. As I’ve heard a lot here at the festival. You can get things done three ways: fast, cheap, or good. You pick two. We want to get it done well–and cheap [laughs]. Unfortunately, we don’t all make a lot of money.

NS: Yeah, I definitely understand[Laughs]. Your last album was Vacilador. I was reading about the album and how you guys decided to go with that as the title and the theme more or less. Long story short, vacilador is a Spanish word for an explorer who goes out trying to find something that he knows he’s not going to find. But in the process, he learns that the journey and the experience is the important part and it was never about the end.

CK: Yeah. That’s it. 

NS: Well, do you feel like that theme and thought process isn’t just about that specific album, or even you guys specifically as a band, but really, what it is to be a touring band?

CK: I think it even goes further than that. My whole life, I’ve been searching for a way to do music. I know the other guys in the band have been searching as well. You’re wanting a good career in music, but what you end up doing is these other things. Like you end up becoming a good graphic designer. You end up becoming a good recording engineer. A good producer. You start becoming these other things because that’s part of the journey. In order to create good music, you just do whatever else comes your way. And even though your end goal is to become a successful musician, that totally looks like something different from what you thought going into it. That’s the thought of the vacilador. It’s an adventurer who goes out looking to find something that they may think they can find, but it’s probably not out there. What they bring back is totally different from what they went searching for in the first place. 


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