Making chilly synth RnB since before they formed…. almost


Photography by Sonia Melot


There’s this old huff that you may well have heard. It’s scoffed by those who refuse to believe that any good music has been made this side of 1990, and it goes something like, “God, there’s so many new bands these days, people will be getting records deals and fans before they’ve even bloody formed next! HA HA HA HA!” Being a new music magazine, we hear this a lot. It’s funny, y’see, because it’s impossible. But Visions of Trees still came close to proving otherwise. They booked their first show before they’d even met.

“We met on a Wednesday and did our first gig on the Friday,” says Joni, the man responsible for the duo’s RnB beats and crystalline electronics. “I’d booked the show weeks before but had not managed to sort something out. Luckily at the last minute I met Sara.” And luckily Sara was a trained vocalist. Better yet, she just so happened to be in the market for a new project that was “something a little different”, had a couple of spare days to practice, wasn’t some old bag or one of us sane folk who would have run a mile if asked to form a band that needed to play their first show in forty-eight hours.

“I don’t know why I didn’t do that,” she says with a smile as the duo wait to be photographed in an east London studio. “I was in a good place, apparently. I met Joni one day, we got together and wrote some lyrics the next day and then played the show the day after. I didn’t even think about it, and then afterwards I was like, ‘how did we do that!?’”

“If I’d not met Sara in time, I dunno, I would have probably put on a dress or something,” grins Joni.

And that’s where Visions of Trees testing the possibility of the new bands grumble ends. That first show, at The George Tavern, London, was a year ago now, and the fans that Joni and Sara have attracted since have been dully earned. A record deal of some sort practically feels overdue. “We’re currently gearing up for our first proper release, actually,” says Joni. “But I don’t think we can say who it’s with just yet.”

In the meantime, a limited EP release on little known US label Royal Rhino Flying Recordings (“They got in touch and we put that out within three months of being together,” notes Sara), a handful of self-manufactured cassette tapes and a lot of remixing have kept the band at the forefront of blogging minds. Especially the remixing. So far Joni has reworked tracks by Comanechi, Everything Everything, Memory Tapes, Teeth and a Slash song featuring Black Eyed Pea Fergie, as well as “a lot of more underground stuff.” But Joni didn’t always know his way around sampling gear. He grew up in Iceland where metal rules. Forming a punk band was almost inevitable. “But I wanted to leave that for a bit and explore something else,” he explains, and swapping shredding guitars for blinking synths seems to be the natural way of things these days. Crystal Castles’ Ethan Kath did it, and so did Derek Miller of Sleigh Bells, who Visions of Trees unknowingly share a fair amount of mythology with.

Like that New York duo, they were born out of one punk dude’s boredom of the scene he was in; both feature learned female singers who’ve been formally trained (Sara is a recent performing arts graduate); and both started with the same one prerequisite.

“All I knew is that I wanted to work with a female singer, but I had no idea what I wanted to do, really,” explains Joni, echoing what Miller told us back in May. “I just had a couple of tunes and a few ideas. Since Sara and I met though, we’ve always had a bit of a concept of what we want to do. We’ve got a vision and we’ve just been building on that since.”

Visions of Trees sound remarkably like the sum of their parts. Joni still listens to Slayer and Sepultura but also Destiny’s Child and commercial RnB with Sara, explaining why their sound, which has until now been mislabelled ‘chill wave’ (“because we toured with Memory Tapes,” figures Joni), has a knowing, glossy sheen. And while a track like ‘Kings’ has a kind of major label, velvet soul that Drake would love to robotically auto-gargle over, ‘Synchronized’ is cold and desolate like Joni’s Icelandic, childhood surroundings, and yet true to the band’s love for pop in its breathy vocal hook. ‘Cult of Cobras’ is icier still, ‘Empty’ belongs on Salem’s macabre debut album, ‘Sometimes It Kills’ sounds like two cavorting Terminators. On the band’s older, vocal-less tracks (Joni might not have had a band when he booked that first Visions of Trees show but he did have a Myspace page and a few instrumentals already worked out) hooks, when they come, do so in the form of twisted, demonic samples. From The George Tavern onwards, melodies have been the band’s central focus.

“That’s the biggest part of the tunes,” says Joni. “We purposely go for big melodies. The music can be dark sometimes and euphoric other times, but the melodies will always be quite big.”

And that’s Visions of Trees: a duo brought together by necessity, fate and abandonment, who make the kind of icy, slick RnB pop that might just make 2011’s impending Ones To Watch lists an eerier, more fascinating place to be.

By Stuart Stubbs

Originally published in issue 22 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. October 2010

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