Every once in a while my worlds collide. Last week due to a fortuitous email and a block of open time in my schedule, I was able to see an afternoon show of a band that I had heard once or twice called Branches. I knew they were folk and Cali based. That was about it. I was in for a real treat. After the show I took a few minutes to chat with the lead singer and songwriter Tyler Madsen. He was generous with his time and thoughtful in his responses. Hopefully I can do our conversation justice here.
First let me describe their sound a little bit. They said in the press email that they sounded a bit like the Head and the Heart and the Lumineers, so of course I was interested. Honestly, they’re not wrong. The only descriptor I would add is a little of the NeedToBreathe or Green River Ordinance. If you’re a regular reader of this site, you know those are all bands we love. The harmonies between Madsen and Natalie Nicoles were the highlight of the show for me. The songs were varied while all being “folk” and the beats, driven home by Nicoles formidable and varied instrumental abilities, kept the audience engaged.
I was curious to learn more about the formation of the band. Branches was formed at Azusa Pacific University. From there, the band has taken a variety of forms performing in different formats from three to six. The five-piece version I saw was well balanced. As for his personal start, Madsen told me that he got his start playing guitar in junior high thanks to the advice of his father. After playing in church for many years, Madsen and company made their first EP Oh Light.
It’s evident even on a first listen that Branches are heavily influenced by church music and the broadly-defined “gospel” genre. Madsen described his background in church hymns and a love for pop music as formative in the development of the band’s sound. Both elements are equally present in both the structure and flavor of the music.
One of my favorite things to hear Tyler talk about was the music itself. He lit up in describing how he conceptualized the music. One of my favorite tracks they did was written to perform all around one mic in bluegrass style. He said he wants to write “songs that people want to sing along to.” I think he hits that exactly! It’s the perfect blend of poppy sing-a-long goodness. In a sort of flourish of hipster delight, Tyler mentioned that he wants to “bring music back to melody and voices.” There’s just nothing more hipster than a be-bearded man taking an acoustic guitar on stage to save music from the misguided.
As I mentioned the harmonies are the best part of Branches. Even though they have various levels of professional training (including Natalie who was a vocal performance major for a time in college), what makes their sound so unique and the blending so good is that they are “best friends turned band mates.” That intimacy and connection comes through in every track. Their show was fun because it’s evident they love what they do. Tyler’s self-deprecating humor was enough to be funny but not too much to be awkward. That kind of charisma and charm from stage made a room full of “new fans” feel intrigued and drawn into this infectious sound. Tyler said that “touring and writing is never strictly business…” and that was evident from the first plucks of the banjo until the last beat of the drum.
I’m looking forward to hearing more from Branches. They’re still in the writing process on a full length album they hope to release next year. Until then, please support them by attending shows (especially you west coasters). Also, regardless of where you live, swing by their bandcamp page and pick up a copy of some of their recent releases. Trust me when I say you will find yourself singing along in no time.