Ari Picker is as genuine and unfailingly heartfelt as his music would have you believe. His folk orchestra project Lost in the Trees is winsome and soft, but imbued with wrenching emotion and cathartic release. Picker composes symphonic ballads out of pure necessity, to deal with the tragedies of his past -- the twin sisters who died before he was born, his abusive father and the divorce of his parents, his mother's mental illness and battle with breast cancer. Yet his speech is peppered with an easy laugh, betraying his sweet nature. His voice evokes a brogue-less Damien Rice and his immaculate compositions at times recall Owen Pallett. His first release on Anti Records was All Alone in an Empty House. It's lyrically sorrowful but intensely beautiful, a syrup of Ipecac for your emotions if you will. Picker studies film scoring at Berklee College of Music, and tells us he's in between semesters, wrapping up a record, and then heading to the Midwest for shows next week with his 6 piece band in tow; at the Hangar 9 in Carbondale and of course, our own LouFest on August 28.
Diana Benanti: Where are you and what do you see?
Ari Picker: I'm in a meadow. In North Carolina, I see grass and trees and some birds and a Porta Potty. [laughs]
Are you searching for inspiration in this meadow or what?
No, the studio that I'm working at is right here, there's a meadow outside of it. I'm working on the new record right now, we're wrapping it up. We're actually mixing it tomorrow.
What can you tell you about the new album?
Songs. I can't tell you yet, it has to be sort of a surprise. It's a continuation of what I was interested in previously; how classical music has evolved. I've been listening to more modern music. I think this record is an extension of the last one. I don't want to say too much, I'll demystify it and disappoint someone. [laughs] I was listening to a lot of early baroque music while I was making last record, and a little bit of romantic music, so that's like Vivaldi, Beethoven, Chopin. This time I'm listening to more Bartok, Shostakovich, stuff like that. I think the harmonic structure of that kind of music is just a lot more dark and golden sounding.
Say you have a fan that isn't into classical music, what would you tell them to seek out?
Like, where to start? I don't know, I think I would tell them to listen to some film music first. Like Bernard Herrmann, or something like that, that might get them interested in going backwards a little bit.
Can you share what some of your favorite soundtracks are?
I really like The Burbs, with Tom Hanks. [laughs] That soundtrack is amazing. I don't know if anyone will remember it, but that one, and I like a lot of Bernard Hermann stuff, so that's like all the Alfred Hitchcock movies. And then I like the Wes Anderson soundtracks, there's not a lot of original music but I do like how he mashes up classical music as well as songwriters. I think The Royal Tenenbaums soundtrack is a really seamless sounding record, there's tons of great stuff on there, he's got classical; I know Ravel is on there, you've got Paul Simon on there. I like that stuff, that was a big influence on me, or at least it was when it came out...it still is.
He just has such a way of giving you a sense of place, and the music that you hear in his films never really sounds the same again after you see it in that context.
Yeah, yeah that's true.
Have you finished your degree at Berklee?
I still have one more semester. I'm in between semesters right now, I finish mixing the record and then I go straight back to class. And then this little run up to you guys. So it's a pretty busy time. If I sound discombobulated that's why.
Since you're at a music college, are you surrounded by people who are in bands, or do you get any flak for being featured on NPR?
Berklee is kind of a bubble, they're pretty good about jazz and world music, but as far as indie music or pop music, they're horrible at that stuff. I see like, I don't know if anybody has recognized me or knows what I do. They're in their own world.
How and where did you write this album?
A lot of recording in North Carolina, I just kind of bring a mic with me wherever I go and work stuff out. There's stuff that was recorded in my bedroom to stuff that was recorded in a giant studio with a full string section. A lot of different sounds, and a lot of different quality of sounds, so we'll see what it sounds like when it's all put together... It's always pretty piecemeal, there's what sounds like a full band here and there. I was writing it as we were recording it, which, has good and bad things about it.
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