Listening to the music of the Charleston trio Marytree, you could be forgiven for thinking it’s the mid-’90s again. The band’s sound is not so much grunge-inspired as it is grunge-infused. All the elements are there: the dark, minor key melodies, the liquid acoustic guitars melding with the gritty electric, the low-end rhythm section churning beneath it all. It’s a style heavily indebted to the music of the Pacific Northwest, a fact that Marytree singer/guitarist James George acknowledges unapologetically.
“It’s really a simple as this: We like to write music that we’d like to hear,” George says. “This music is our common ground. [Drummer] David Dietze brings the metal element, our bassist [Brandon Hicks] has roots in punk rock, and all of that coming together is what creates Marytree’s sound, which does fall on the grungier side. It’s just us writing what we want to hear back.”
Out on Fri. Jan. 13, the new album Chipper comes after a bit of a shaky debut a couple of years back. George says that he’s a lot happier with this one. “There’s a lot more energy in the music and the performances,” he says, “and I think it really comes through well. On the last album, we had to go with what we had because our computer crashed in the middle of recording it. Hindsight being 20/20, always back up your files. We had to use what was left, and you could very much tell that. This is our first polished, mastered, legit record. I’m prouder of this than anything I’ve ever been a part of.”
Recorded at Encore music in Mt. Pleasant, Chipper is 10 tracks that the band spent about two years on, and despite all the grungy musical touchstones, the weariness and despair that are often prevalent in the genre are absent. It’s a lot more upbeat, hence the title.
“We wanted to keep it chipper,” George says. “We wanted it to be fun. We wanted it to be friendly. The last two years recording this album, some people would call that work, but for us it was just a blast. There was a period where we just started taking things a little too seriously. So we thought, ‘Let’s bring it back to the positive. Let’s be a little brighter about ourselves.'”
But if we’re being honest here, there’s one other reason the band chose that particular title. “It’s also called that because Bubba the Love Sponge, a radio host out of Tampa, heard our music and told us we needed to put our arms in a wood chipper so we’d never be able to play music again,” he says.
Amputated limbs aside, it’s an interesting spin on a type of music usually associated with depression and angst, but George doesn’t think it’s necessarily anything new. “I think we’re just putting our own spin on it,” he says. “I don’t think it’s something that we came up with — it’s just our perspective.”
One of the more unusual aspects of the band’s music is how they use space. The songs have an airiness to them that forsakes the usual wall-of-guitars approach for something a little more dynamic. George credits both the trio format and their newly up-front harmony vocals for that shift in Marytree’s sound.
“A three-piece keeps it simple,” he says. “It allows us to concentrate on the important things. And on this album, we were able to make the music prettier. We like to find the balance of power and pretty, and Brandon’s harmony vocals are something we exploited a lot more this time. They allowed us to bring a whole new dynamic to the music.”
When it came time to release Chipper, the band had another perspective that they felt very strongly about: They wanted to have their release show in a record store, specifically Monster Music & Movies. “There aren’t enough people going out to record stores and flipping through things physically and having things in their hands that they can hand to someone else,” he says. “People can download music and listen to it on their phones, but there isn’t that physical connection. So we wanted to bring that awareness to people to get them back out to the record stores. But each of the cassettes has a download card, so we’re touching on both those worlds.”