Trees of Life: Metasequoia releases ‘In The Redwoods’
Local roots-reggae-rock band Metasequoia will host a release show for its latest album, “In The Redwoods,” Saturday night at the Upstairs in downtown Ithaca.
The quartet will perform the album in its entirety, promising "a couple of surprises along the way!” Feed The Fire, another Ithaca band, will open the show.
In a recent Zoom interview, Metasequoia singer-guitarist Roo Earthling and keyboardist-singer Star Hanner talked about the new album, which the band recorded at New Vine Records studio in Dryden.
“During the pandemic, they were offering live streams in a safe space for musicians to come and perform and have the opportunity to get their music out there as well,” Earthling said of New Vine. “We did a live stream for them back in 2020, and they loved us immediately and said ‘We want to sign you guys.’ So after some discussion, we decided to partner up with them and get the album out.”
After recording its previous album, 2020’s “Trilling,” in its home studio during the pandemic, the band was grateful to work in a professional setting staffed by experienced producers and engineers.
“We were pretty limited in what we had to work with for ‘Trilling’ – the quality is definitely better and the production is much bigger on the new one,” Earthling said. “We had a full team that was there to help us and even coach us a little bit, giving us another brain to bounce ideas off of. They’d say, ‘Maybe try this or try that,’ and that was really great to have.”
The band invited trombonist T.J. Schaper (The Comb Down, John Brown’s Body), who had guested on “Trilling,” to again contribute horn parts to several songs on “In the Redwoods.”
“He has such a unique ear for our music,” Earthling noted. “He was the first horn player we've heard with our music and we just immediately smile every time we hear it. And I love what he did on this one, as well.”
Given the album title, not mention songs such as “Growin’ Leaves,” “Photosynthesis,” and “Vegetable Medley,” it’s no surprise that nature is a recurring theme on the new record.
“I really try to be clever in my writing,” said Earthling, who writes all the lyrics for the band. “I use a lot of metaphors, a lot of nature, a lot of personification of nature and animals as well.”
He acknowledged that the pandemic’s impact led him in a more introspective direction. “A lot of this album is inward-looking, (about) healing and problems that are going on inside your head,” he said.
He added: “You have a lot of power as a band being on stage to deliver some kind of meaning to people that are connecting to you. And we try to always do it with a positive message, even though the song might have a negative connotation.”
The band writes its songs in a couple of ways.
“Sometimes Roo will come in with a song pretty much written, and then we just add our parts, feeling out what works on our instruments,” explained Hanner. “Occasionally we'll be like, ‘It'd be really cool if the bass did this or if the keys did that,’ and we take each other's ideas and use them or make them better. And then sometimes he'll come in with nothing and we're like, ‘Let's just play an E minor, and see what happens.’”
Earthling added: “Sometimes songs just like really write themselves. Maybe it’s just me going through trauma or something that’s just like, ‘I gotta get this down' and it just grows out right on the paper. Other times we come into the studio and it’s like, ‘Hey, guys, I got this riff, let's work on it.’ And it develops and develops and everybody puts their own idea on it. Then I put words to it and I just have pages upon pages of lyrics that I just read from and rework and make them fit.
“My favorite songs are the ones that write themselves because I feel way more connected to them,” he continued. “Personally, anyway – I know they probably mean something different to each of the members.”
Earthling founded the band in 2007 and saw it through a few lineup changes as well as relocation to Nashville over the next few years before returning to the Ithaca area. The current lineup of Earthling, Hanner, bassist Zach Kevan, and drummer Jeff Rouse has been together for about two years.
The group’s sound has shifted over the years, with reggae and rock influences waxing and waning.
“We used to be a really heavy psychedelic jam band, depending on the members,” Earthling said. “Once I took the band to Nashville, the reggae songs kind of really hit because there wasn't much (of that) going on down there. We kind of push more towards that direction, and with the message we're trying to deliver in our songs, I think it helps meld a better symbiotic relationship with a sound and message.”
“This iteration has also brought some different sounds,” he continued. “Especially with this new album, we’re not as heavy into reggae – it’s more of a fusion with it, and trying to just incorporate everybody's strengths into the sound.”
“We still jam a lot on stage, though,” Hanner added. “Playing live is always a little different than the recording.”
As for the band’s name?
“Well, we originally started out as The Hash,” explained Earthling. “We did a name change right around 2010 when we finally brought a solid drummer in, and it just gave us a better PR look, and helped us get shows almost instantaneously.
“We had a buddy who worked the greens on a golf course – he went to school to learn all about that – and he offered us the idea of Metasequoia as a name,” he continued. “It's the genus name of the redwood tree. We have the Dawn Redwood here in this area, which turns red in the fall.
"But it really kind of fit our sound as well, where we have a strong foundation of what we're trying to deliver. And each member is almost a branch going their own direction, but still contributing to the whole of the sound.”
If You Go
What: album release show for “In The Redwoods”
When: 9:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: The Upstairs
Cost: small cover