Lost In The Trees: A Golden Memorial Of Orchestral Folk

Mar 25, 2012
Originally published on March 26, 2012 6:51 am

The newest album from the folk outfit Lost in the Trees is a very personal one. Ari Picker, the creative force behind the band, began writing the songs for A Church That Fits Our Needs after the death of his mother, Karen Shelton. She was an artist herself, one who struggled with mental illness throughout her life. In 2008, she killed herself.

"When you grow up with enough emotional obstacles, your body and your mind become adapted to that in some way — you learn to deal with it efficiently," Picker says. "When I found out about [her death], my brain just went into creative mode."

The resulting recordings exist somewhere between folk, rock and chamber music. Picker says he imagines the album as an earthly refuge for his mother's troubled spirit.

"I wanted to give my mother a space to become all the things I think she deserved to be and wanted to be, and all the beautiful things in her that didn't quite shine while she was alive," says Picker. "I feel like that's what a church should do: They should give you the space to reflect and be the best person you can be."

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If you're just joining us, this is WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Laura Sullivan. And it's time now for music.


SULLIVAN: This is a new recording from a band called Lost in the Trees titled "A Church that Fits Our Needs." The creative force behind the band is Ari Picker, and this new album is a very personal one. It's a 10-song cycle inspired by the death of his mother, Karen Shelton. She was an artist herself who struggled with depression, and in 2008, she killed herself. Ari Picker wrote this album, not in mourning, but in tribute.


SULLIVAN: Ari Picker says that his mother's suicide, while a shock, didn't entirely take him by surprise.

ARI PICKER: She was an extremely sensitive and emotional and artistic person. And as much as she can make ordinary things beautiful, she could always slip into some fairly dark places as well. So that threat was always there. I grew up with it. And it wasn't necessarily a big surprise when it happened.

SULLIVAN: How did you cope with her death?

PICKER: I guess, you know, when you grow up with enough, I guess, emotional obstacles, your body, your mind becomes adapted to that. You know, I guess you make art out of it. I mean, that's what she did with all the tragedy in her life. And I think that was the biggest influence on me was using art as a defense mechanism, putting that kind of intense energy into making something beautiful.

SULLIVAN: Well, out of that loss came this album, "A Church That Fits Our Needs." Did you start working on it right away?

PICKER: It kind of happened right away. You know, when I found out about it, yeah, my brain just kind of immediately went into creating mode. And it's like therapy, I guess.


SULLIVAN: Mm-hmm. Certainly. One of the first songs that you wrote is called "Icy River."


PICKER: Well, when you're writing about death, you know, part of it is very physical, you know? So burning her body in the furnace, I mean, that did happen. She was cremated, and dumping her ashes in the river that I grew up next to. But there's also something very intangible about it. You know, where does someone go when they die, and, you know, how do you picture your loved ones in the afterlife?

So I talked about that as well and, you know, burning away all of the tragedy and leaving only this kind of golden glowing light, which was all the things that were really beautiful about her.


PICKER: You know, people talk about, you know, people who commit suicide. And you immediately think, like, oh, they were weak or they gave up. And you can get really angry about it, or you can choose to remember the times that they were strong enough to hold on, or they were strong enough to stick around. And I really admire those parts of my mother.

And, you know, she was a single mother. She was an artist, so we were broke most of the time. But she needed art to survive in order to raise me, and I really admire her for that.


PICKER: That's the part of her that I really want to remember. And that was a decision I made when I was starting to write the record, is coming from a place of positivity and remembering her beautiful qualities.

SULLIVAN: My guest is Ari Picker, the front man for the band Lost in the Trees. Their new record is called "A Church That Fits Our Needs." Much of your album is a very grandiose sound. I mean, this is not simple folk music. And I was - and I read that you were studying Stravinsky and Shostakovich in preparation when you were putting this record together. What were the elements that you took from their work?

PICKER: Well, you're trying to think of melodies that represent the color and emotions that you're feeling. And Stravinsky and Shostakovich and Bartok and those kind of more modern composers were really speaking to me at the time of writing this record. And I wanted - I just think that music's beautiful and it's jarring and it's intense. And it has a discipline to it that I think's really beautiful.

I just kind of set myself out to learn how to do that, and there's a lot of growing pains, obviously. I mean, that music's really difficult to write, so - and I wasn't raised with orchestral music or classical music, and I didn't have any musical training growing up. So it's just admiring that kind of music and trying to include it in my songs.


SULLIVAN: There was a New York Times reviewer who posed the question: How much naked pathos is too much?

PICKER: Right.


SULLIVAN: This is a 10-song collection about death. I mean, it's a beautiful look at death. But did you ask yourself that same question when you were making the album?

PICKER: Yeah. It's always a balancing act, you know? Like, you know, is it too sensitive? Is it too theatrical? Is it too this, or too that? And, yeah, I guess your editing brain steps in and tries to handle that question as best as it can, but you also need to write the record you need to write. And I guess that's what I did.


SULLIVAN: Well, it seemed to work out pretty well. Where are you going to go from here?

PICKER: I don't know. I mean, a lot of the music I've written in the past five years has been about these domestic circumstances. And I think I'd like to branch out and maybe do something different. I'm not sure. I don't know if that's a musical path or something else.

SULLIVAN: Maybe you need to go fall in love.


PICKER: Well, I have done that. I'm married. And you know what? I think I'm a totally goofy, happy person on the outside of this. And I think making this record gives me the space to be that person. And so I hope no one out there thinks that I'm a doom and gloom guy. I'm really not.


SULLIVAN: Ari Picker leads the band Lost in the Trees. Their new album is called "A Church That Fits Our Needs." And you can hear a few tracks on our website Thank you so much for joining us.

PICKER: Oh, you're very welcome. Thank you so much for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.