Last year, Dustin Galish instantly took root in a new adventure.
The Bowling Green, Ohio-based Tree No Leaves vocalist and multi-instrumentalist planted a vivid, lush conceptual world that challenges widely held notions about the cycle of life.
“I had a dream one night, and there was a narrative that showed up and made sense. I wrote it down in the morning and went into work that day, but continued to scribble on this piece of paper that was very small and kept cramming everything on it,” he said.
Galish showed his initial scribbles to artist Andy Thomas of Ando Illustration, and the two carefully cultivated an alternate universe for Tree No Leaves’ new thought-provoking concept album, graphic novel and multimedia experience, The Eyes of Xylem.
“The real raw theme is perception and the cycle of life. At the end of the day, all of us have a very different perception of what that cycle of life is, and it can be religious, spiritual or atheistic. We all deal with that cycle of life, and we’re all trying to come to terms with what it is. Some of us have a very cool explanation for it while others have a sad, barbaric or magical one,” Galish said.
Along with Tree No Leaves bandmates Steven Guerrero (bass, f/x, EBow), Garrett Tanner (sax, recorder), J.P. Stebal IV (drums, electronics) and Billy Gruber (congas, percussion), Galish magically chronicles a condensed life cycle across eight compelling, multi-genre tracks on The Eyes of Xylem, which is now available via all streaming platforms.
Also available as a four-track, clear 7-inch vinyl on Bandcamp, the insightful concept album lyrically and visually depicts the story of anthropomorphic tree characters, Willow and Elder, who rapidly experience a series of life-changing situations in a haunted town. Each track features an accompanying mystical illustration by Thomas that sets the scene for listeners as they join The Eyes of Xylem journey.
“My goal is to have two characters that experience the full cycle of life and death in a short period of time, but in an amazing way. They’re both experiencing things simultaneously while their perspectives of what they’re experiencing are different,” Galish said.
“I researched symbolism relative to trees and what they represented in different cultures. Willow and Elder represent the duality of the world in any place and in anything that exists. I think it’s important to understand people’s perspectives and how we’re all different, but we’re experiencing things together as part of the same cycle. ”
Looking Through ‘The Eyes of Xylem’
During their short life span, Willow and Elder receive nutrients, process thoughts and view the world through their eye-centered xylems, which traditionally serve as the vascular tissue that carries water and minerals from the roots of a tree. In the Tree No Leaves conceptual world, xylems function as a transitory window to the cosmos and provide a holistic sense of being that morphs from one life form to the next.
“I had come across visual elements of what xylems actually look like. They’re incredibly beautiful, and they look almost like a beehive. When I was researching plants and understanding how they retain minerals and take in water, I realized xylems are the middle ground between life and death, and they provide resources that are temporary,” Galish said.
However, the lasting impact of The Eyes of Xylem is anything but temporary. The rich, fluid Tree No Leaves album quickly seeps and stays in listeners’ veins as they absorb healthy amounts of prog rock, dancy funk, timeless soul and rhythmic world music elements with each spin.
Self-produced by Tree No Leaves, Galish and his bandmates spent eight months writing and recording The Eyes of Xylem remotely, but gathered together for a few socially distanced collaborative sessions to capture percussion and sax parts. In tandem, Galish also worked with Thomas to finalize the colorful, eye-centric artwork that visually depicts each track.
For listeners, the hypnotic Eyes of Xylem journey begins with the scintillating instrumental,“20/20,” as soulful sax, tingling chimes, fluttering synths and crashing cymbals create a sensory-filled, three-minute dreamscape. In a sense, Willow and Elder quickly experience birth and eagerly anticipate their first delightful sips of the tasty, intoxicating “New Wave Cocktail.”
Lingering, dark synth, thumping drums, delicate sax and throbbing bass flood the soul throughout “New Wave Cocktail” as Galish reflects, “Can you describe the feeling?/Looking down through the ceiling/Don’t know what to believe in/Who’d of thought thoughts could be so thin?/Floating low just to get high/Seeming so wise but tongue tied.”
“‘New Wave Cocktail’ is about Willow and Elder coming to the realization of their circulatory systems. It also pushes the envelope of weaving traditional Latin psychedelic music with some of that crooner stuff and blending those two worlds together,” Galish said.
Another pivotal Eyes of Xylem track includes “The Elephant in the Room” as glistening synth, spirited world percussion, magnetic fretless bass and smooth sax prepare Willow and Elder for their eventual transition to death.
Galish sings, “Feel my hands surround you while the colors fade to blue/I’m not trying to scare you/I’m just trying to read between the lines/The ocean tide surrounds you/Take a deep breath and sigh/It’s not right or wrong for us to make this night our home/Reality is changing me every time we die.”
“I have a love for electronic and looped music, and that’s something as a band that we got lost in over the years as we became more progressive in a way. This track is very meditative, and it’s something as a band that we all gelled on. It’s a pretty long song, but there are only three chords there, and we did a lot with those three chords,” Galish said.
The Eyes of Xylem adventure elegantly closes with a soaring, wistful instrumental, “Flight of The Carpentarius,” as the spirits of Willow and Elder take flight in the next cycle of life. Intergalactic electronic drums, echoing synths, soft bass, peaceful percussion, clanging cymbals and somber sax bid adieu to our beloved tree heroes.
“We had that intention of incorporating an ‘80s soundtrack, spaghetti western and sci-fi approach that builds a space at the end of the album. The word, ‘Carpentarius,’ is relative to Greek for ‘carpenter’ and ‘world builder,’ but also references John Carpenter,” Galish said.
Writing the Next Chapter
As part of the album’s multimedia experience, Galish will bring The Eyes of Xylem vision to life through a new 30-minute live concert film, which will debut March 9 at Howard’s Club H and via The Summit Shack’s Twitch channel. It also will be available on YouTube starting March 10.
Filmed by Loon Base Studios in October, the Tree No Leaves’ live concert film intimately captures the band performing The Eyes of Xylem in its entirety at Howard’s Club H. It also showcases Thomas’ compelling album artwork projected on a large screen behind the band throughout the performance.
“Every person in the band had a camera that was fixed on them at every moment. We were able to have that ability to see what everyone was doing at any time, and that gave it an intimacy that you don’t always get from a live show,” Galish said.
“We didn’t have a crowd, so there wasn’t a need to do any far shots. In retrospect, we wanted to create a different experience than the other things we’ve done in the past. By getting tight shots, I also wanted to give Andy’s artwork a backdrop that brings viewers into that world more.”
With the release of The Eyes of Xylem, Tree No Leaves eagerly anticipates returning to the actual live stage this summer. The band plans to perform several outdoor live shows and wants to safely share the new album with an in-person audience.
“The five of us haven’t been in the same space since we recorded the live show in October. Our main focus now is to do everything that we can to get back in the same space and perform the entire album from front to back,” Galish said.
“We want to create a double-feature experience where we play the album for a half an hour and then play the rest of our music for another half an hour. We’re going to develop the live visual element and do more projections because having time off has made us realize we want to do more of that.”