Since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down our favorite music venues, restaurants, businesses, and schools, many of us have viewed life through one type of screen or another, be it computers, smartphones, tablets, televisions, or just plain windows. But if we’re honest with ourselves, most of us have been viewing life through a filter for even longer. Filters have become a way of life and so many of us don’t realize it, as we live our lives through social media, podcasts, and playlists. Even attempts to get out into nature are chronicled, step by step, on Instagram.
“Eyes,” the new song by Seattle indie band, The Copper Trees, calls us back to basics. The song’s depth lies in its simplicity, beginning with a jangly, sparse piano, joined by two earnest voices, sometimes whispering, sometimes speaking. Listening to it makes you feel as though you’re eavesdropping on an intimate conversation.
Watching the accompanying music video intensifies that feeling. Filmmaker Ryan Cory captures the essence of the tender song by drawing viewers into that conversation, using dreamy, black and white close-up shots of The Copper Trees’ two members, Kate Neckel and Eric Lilavois as they connect with each other, and viewers, in a way that tears away the filters we hide behind, via Zoom meetings, text messages, and social media.
Separately, Kate and Eric are renowned in their respective fields: Kate is an acclaimed artist, photographer, and musician, whose work has appeared in magazines like Vogue, GQ, and Vanity Fair, and whose art has been commissioned by the likes of Viyet/Sotheby’s Home and the New York Times. Kate’s creative resume includes stints with rock icon David Byrne and fashion designer Zac Posen. Most recently, she teamed up with Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready for “Infinite Color and Sound,” a massive interactive art and music project that exhibited in New York, Seattle, and Big Sky (Montana).
Eric is an acclaimed producer, musician, and songwriter, whose work has appeared on shows like NBC’s The Voice, Counting Cars, and Pawn Stars, and has worked with countless bands, including My Chemical Romance and Seattle-based rocker Ayron Jones. Eric also owns the iconic London Bridge Studio, which helped amplify the “Seattle Sound” carved out by Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Mother Love Bone and Temple of the Dog. The “Who’s Who” of bands that have recorded there represent an array of genres, from rock (Fleet Foxes, Dave Matthews Band, Brandi Carlile), to rap (Macklemore), and more.
Kate and Eric recently chatted with Northwest Music Scene about what drew them together musically, their writing and recording process during a major pandemic, and the sweet message they’re hoping to share as The Copper Trees.
NWMS: “Eyes” seems very personal, almost as though we’re eavesdropping on an intimate conversation. How did this song come about?
Kate: When Eric and I initially met, he was going to work on my EP. “Eyes” is a song I brought in, but it had different lyrics. The melody was in place. We played through the song a couple of times that day, but I wasn’t feeling it. Eric made a comment about, “People don’t look each other in the eyes enough anymore.” It wasn’t quarantine time yet, but we were being mindful about keeping our distance even then and we were talking about eye contact. So, I left the studio that day and the words stuck with me. The song kinda wrote itself. I brought something back to Eric and he added the verses and “I see the sun reflected in your eyes” – you tell the rest, Eric.
Eric: It took a life of its own. Based on the sentiment that we don’t look each other in the eyes anymore, we crafted it the studio where we sang it together, live, and we set up across from each other so that we could look each other in the eyes and that’s where that intimacy in the track comes from, really embracing that true sentiment, so you’re right. Everybody has experienced that, and I hope they’re reminded of that when they see the video and listen to the track.
NWMS: It’s one thing to work together, side by side, but when you stood across from each other to record it, how did it change the nuance of the song? Did you both feel this connection that changed the tone/feel/nuance of the song?
Eric: Oh, 100%. You can hear it in the breath in the song – just that connectivity. That was one take.
Kate: One take. What you’re hearing is the first time we sat across from each other, locked eyes, and then we just did it. I remember, I almost felt like I was going to cry. It’s like when you land in that spot, your heart gets tightened, there’s this intense connectivity. It’s all that you’ve hoped for as an artist and as a musician. When you land in that spot, that’s where you want to stay.
Eric: Yeah. And it laid such a foundation for everything we’ve been creating. It was that solidifying moment where that connectivity was sealed.
NWMS: Tell me more about the other songs on the album.
Eric: There’s a lot of contrast. There’s a lot of sweetness. There’s some pretty neat love songs. There’s some tension there, too. It’s a great little palette of emotions. We painted with a lot of different colors but it’s also cohesive at the same time. There’s sweetness, there’s tension, but there’s also a couple of super-raw moments. There’s one or two voice memos, even, that we just didn’t feel we wanted to try and replicate in the studio, songs that we’d sent to each other. We felt they should exist the way they were created. There were other things that we sat with, refined, and polished, but all in all, it’s a representation of what we’re trying to do with The Copper Trees.
NWMS: Even before the pandemic, so many people were seeing things through their smartphones and tablets. And it seems as though we’ve disconnected, through social media. I find this very timely, almost like a message to tell people, “Hey, look up. Look at the people you’re talking to.” Did any of that thinking go into your creative process?
Eric: Yeah, that’s it. That really nails it. That was the impetus for the whole recreation of the song – just that one conversation between Kate and I. People don’t look each other in the eye enough. It is so timely and like Kate was describing, especially amidst this time period where we had to be a little distant. It forged an even deeper connection between us because we were so excited and anxious to work together and then this thing (pandemic) happened and a little bit of that (connectivity) gets taken away from you. It reinforced and pushed us to see. At any other time period of your life you may take some things for granted. You take liberties on your time. This was the kind of situation where this pandemic forced us to go, “we’ve really got something here” and this domino effect throughout everybody’s lives right now. It certainly is for me, personally. I’m calling people I haven’t talked to in a long time. I’m hearing from friends I haven’t heard from in a long time. You’re looking through a camera on a Zoom call and you’re like, “Wow, this is dumb. I’ve missed opportunities to see this person in person!” Hopefully, that’s a lesson for all of us when, hopefully, the world comes back around, that we don’t take that stuff for granted.
Kate: It was very intentional, with (filmmaker) Ryan Cory, once he heard the song, he connected with the sentiment and the feeling of connectivity. It was very intentional to shoot the video. We talked a lot about French New Wave cinema – the gaze – I really was so impressed with the way he captured the feeling of the song with the way he captured us in the video. That was all very intentional, really pure, and raw. His vision connected with the song. It was a real honor to work with him and have him bring the song to life in such a connected way.
Eric: It felt effortless in the same way it felt creating the song in the studio. It felt in alignment. He really latched onto and understood what we were trying to communicate.
Kate: We’d never painted together. That was the first time we painted on the floor. I showed up with a bunch of paint and Derek Klein at Olympic Studios said, “Go for it! Use the floor, use the space.” It was such a beautiful flow of connectivity and creativity once again.
NWMS: Take us through the recording process — especially during this time of quarantine.
Eric: Every recording process is different. Every production is different. Things can go in a lot of different ways. Some artists do an enormous amount of pre-production and preparation before going into the studio. Kate and I communicate a lot. We’re in touch every day. We’re sharing different musings. We’re constantly working on our aesthetic, our work, our art.
Kate: We’re sending voice memos back and forth. I’ll wake up with phrase or a word and text him, “Hey, here’s a sentence I can’t get out of my head.” I’ll pass it off to him and he’ll come back with a song. We do a lot of that work first.
Eric: As things have gotten a little safe here and we’ve been able to get back into the studio in person, then all of that work accelerated. We’re able to do a lot in very little time. It’s really intuitive.
Kate: It’s really dialed in. There’s a lot of pre-production and discussions and then we head over to London Bridge and are working with a great engineer named Julian Anderson. We just lay it down, no-frills, just stripped down. Don’t add on anything that doesn’t need to be added on. Just try to capture the essence of the songs. It’s very intuitive. The process has gone much faster than I thought it would (the actual studio time), and I think it’s because we’ve had all this time to talk ahead of time.
Eric: One of the other things – Kate and I are very adaptable in the sense that we can work on a song in ten different ways while we’re going back and forth remotely, and when we’re in the studio, and eleventh way comes out and we’re like, “Yeah! This is it! This is how it should be.” Or, we got back to the second way that we did it. (laughs)
Kate: Yeah, the song tells you what it wants to do. You land in that spot and you both feel connected, like, “There it is!” The song talks to you and tells you. It’s pretty cool.
NWMS: I love that – the song tells you what to do. It’s like the two of you are opening yourselves up and letting the song tell you where it wants to go.
Kate: One thousand percent.
Eric: Exactly. (at the same time)
Kate: It totally tells you and I’m like, “I got you. I’m taking my hands off.” It one thousand percent tells you. I love it so much.
NWMS: How does this project differ from other projects you’ve done?
Kate: For me, it’s unlike everything I’ve ever done. This is what’ I’ve been wanting to do so badly for so long. It’s a dream, to be able to have an equal collaborator/partner who is one hundred percent invested and connected and cares so much about these songs we’re creating. I feel like it’s allowing me to express myself in a whole new way. Nothing I’ve done compares to this.
Eric: I feel so similar to what Kate is saying. I’ve worked on a lot of music. I’ve worked on a lot of projects. There’s something so special and unique in the connection that we have and the way we view and approach creating and art in general. That word gets thrown around, but it encompasses a lot. Music, visuals, just the feelings and philosophy that you put behind what you create and what you put out into the world and how you express yourself. Kate and I are locked onto the idea of how that all comes together. It’s absolutely unique for me, that sense. Like she’s expressing, it’s a project I’ve been waiting for to really sink my heart and my teeth into. Both of us are doing that and the songs are the evidence, and the visuals, it’s like it’s leading us, too, and it’s really beautiful. I cannot wait to share these songs with people. I think that what you’re expressing in talking about “Eyes,” I think that in other areas of life that these songs are going to reveal to people lots of emotions that they can tap back into. Let’s do it! Let’s all get a little more childlike and remember – remember to paint, remember to write some poetry, songs, remember to read. Share things with your friends.
One more interesting note:
Kate moved here from New York City with her family about five years ago because she felt a vibe about the city during a visit with her sister and talked her husband into taking a chance. Eric moved here from Southern California with his family because he felt the same vibe, although he’d been traveling back and forth for several years, working at London Bridge and his studio in LA. Each has carved respectable careers. But listening to them talk about how they came to create The Copper Trees, one has to wonder whether it was actually that “vibe” that’s responsible for finally bringing these two creative souls together.
You can listen to “Eyes” right now on Apple Music, Spotify, Pandora, Deezer, TikTok, Google Play, and Amazon Music. Watch the video for “Eyes” on Facebook and YouTube. A full album is scheduled to be released later in the year. Follow The Copper Trees’ creative process on Facebook, Instagram: @thecoppertrees, and Twitter: @TheCopperTrees.