by Broose Tulloch
Five years ago Graham Hnatiuk was a well-respected Winnipeg blogger attending university when he had the epiphany to drop out and rock on. But first he would have to overcome a crippling (and at the time, untreated) depression.
“I would lie down on the street, listening to music and convince myself this was out of reach, that I could never create magic like the people I was listening to were,” Hnatiuk recalled.
“In 2009, I actually left school to do this,” Hnatiuk told Stylus. “I had extreme anxiety about about it, but somehow I was able to drop out, cash my tuition cheque and buy an electric guitar and Vox AC15 from Long & McQuade.”
Over the next couple of years, Hnatiuk immersed himself in his new art, learning how to play guitar, figuring out how to sing and “writing several notebooks of bad poetry.” He emerged with a number of songs he was willing to share, and began performing solo at open mics while recruiting members to form a band that would become Hearing Trees.
He met drummer Kyle Kunkel and bassist Joel Heidinger through ads on Kijiji. Ava Glendinning was a jazz guitarist looking to switch to rock, and as fate would have it, Hearing Trees’ guitarist had just left the band to pursue jazz.
That was mid-June. The quartet played their first show a week later at Ozzy’s as part of Manitoba Music’s New Music Wednesday series.
“We quickly developed what was the beginning of an identity,” said Hnatiuk. “And probably more importantly, we liked each other.”
14 shows and six months later, they found themselves on The Uniter Fiver, an annual list of five new artists to watch for, and playing to a near-capacity crowd at the Park Theatre.
By this time they were already planning their first recording session, with Les Jupes’ Mike Falk producing.
“It wasn’t the best idea to try recording ourselves,” explained Hnatiuk. “I happened on Les Jupes’ Negative Space EP and loved the vibe. So I contacted Rusty [Matyas of Imaginary Cities], who produced it who, in turn, suggested we work directly with Mike Falk [Les Jupes guitarist/vocalist].”
Despite a busy schedule running Head In The Sand records, and recording with his own band, Mike Falk found the time to produce Hearing Trees.
“Falk made us a better band fifty-fold and it started showing right away, a few days later when we played the Uniter Fiver show.”
“It’s been a good match,” Falk told Stylus. “[Graham]’s a strong lyricist and the band is hard working. I like their marriage of good lyrics with creative rock songs. They are trying to forge their own sound and be challenged to become a better band. It’s always great when a band comes in with that attitude.”
The band describes their sound as “poetry over instrumentals” rather than songs.
Hnatiuk explains the difference, “With poetic songs, there is still a semblance of structure. [With poetry], things need to fit in a certain way, a pattern, a cadence. With poetry over music, it is unhinged and raw. Poetry over music can also change, whereas lyrics you get locked into. There’s nothing quite like poetry fresh in the moment of recent memory, and I find that drives a great performance.”
Despite being the driving force and primary lyricist, Hnatiuk is quick to assert that this is a band project.
“I can’t have a backup group. I’m not that good,” admitted Hnatiuk. “I can’t tell people what to do. I can’t write all the parts. I’m not a great guitar player by any stretch. I’m not musically trained, I can’t tell you what scale or even what key Ava might be playing in.”
“I do everything by feel and emotion, what sounds good to my ear, what feels right. But nobody else in the band is like that. Adding Ava and Joel bring an intricate melding of guitars; Ava listens so carefully and thoughtfully to the chord progression and Joel is a great songwriter in his own right and we turn to him to iron out dumb things. Kyle adds a beat and a creativity that doesn’t come from just keeping time. These guys don’t just add input, they are the input.”
“More than anything these three people have become my best friends,” Hnatiuk added. “This music and album really is the crowning achievement of many years of struggle.”