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River from Tree 
Interview By Anthony Buccitelli
(conducted summer 99)

Wonderdrug Records 
          

Conceived in Westwood, but raised in Boston, Tree has become legendary in the Boston hardcore scene. Plagued by label problems, they have not released a studio album in three years, but Tree is far from deceased. They have just released a live album and are currently working on a new album. They were in the middle of mastering it, when I made my way into Mammoth Studios to talk to River, the band’s highly passionate and very out-spoken frontman. The rest speaks for itself…

A-You have just released a new live album, called “Radio Bootleg for the Restless Masses” which was actually recorded between “A Lot to Fear” and “Plant a Tree or Die”…

River-Yeah, it was recorded in the second week of September 1994.

A-Why did you decide to release it now?

River- We had to because our old catalog is tied up by CherryDisc.

A- What sort of problems have you had with the availability of your back catalog since Cherrydisc went down?

River - You can’t even get our back catalog in stores. People order it and we can’t get it to them. I was so sick of that bullshit that I made this tape (of the bootleg) to sell at the pot rally just to see how it would do. Most of the kids liked it a lot. It is a good intro if you don’t know the band, and our fans seemed to like it as well.

A-Now it has a lot of stuff from both your first and second albums on it, right?

River- Yep and then its got some stuff that’s just sorta random. Stuff that’s different from the way we play it on the albums. Like “Paper” and “Truth” which we put different versions of on “Downsizing the American Dream”. The bootleg was actually recorded after “Plant a Tree or Die”, but PTOD didn’t get released till 1995, because Cherrydisc fucked up…they really fucked it all up. (Shaking head)

A-Am I sensing some ill will between you and Cherrydisc?

River- Yeah, they just couldn’t do their job…they failed.

A- What happened there?

River- Well they would do stuff like tell us that an album was supposed to be out on a certain date and then we would push it and promote it and then Cherrydisc would push the date back by a month. Then that date would come and go and still no album. That would go on for months until finally the album would make it out in like January when it was supposed to be out in September. By then it would come out with a whimper instead of a roar because all the kids would be pissed at us  because it wasn’t in the stores when we said it would be. You know I felt good that they wanted to buy our stuff but they fucking yelled at me cause it was not out and there was nothing I could do.

A- So you have a new studio album coming out soon as well, who is putting that out?

River- Wonderdrug Records and Ourselves Alone…which is the label that we started.

A- What sort of stuff will be on the new album?

River- All new songs (smiles)

A- Well I gathered that much, but…well first of all, what’s the title?

River- I’m calling it “Our Day Will Come” and everyone hasn’t shot me down yet. Also I’ve already done all the artwork and put it on the cover so that is what it probably will be.

A-You did all the album art yourself?

River- Yep, I do all the art for all the albums and T-shirts and stickers, and crap like that…I’m the art dictator…I mean director for life. (laughs)

A- I have always thought that Tree’s art work was very eye-catching…

River- I’m an artist, I guess…that’s my forte. The other guys play instruments, I make art.

A- Do you want to talk about what sort of songs will be on the new album?

River- Yeah, good songs. (smiles)

A-Got any previews?

River- Well we’ve played a couple of them live. We’ve played “Orange Sunshine” and “Real” at some shows. “God Grows Grass” was on a 7” for Man’s Ruin Records. “VOC” was on a comp for Wonderdrug that was out last spring. Then there is some brand new stuff that we just wrote. It’s not a huge style change for us or anything just sort of a gradual progression of our music. We just try to get better at writing songs. If anyone doesn’t like it…sorry that is just how it is.

A- So there was about a three year gap between the release of “Downsizing the American Dream” and the bootleg. What happened there?

River- Well besides the hell we went through with Cherrydisc, we’ve toured a lot with bands like Ex-Cops, Clutch, Downset, and Coal Chamber.  We’ve been staying busy, but we just got fucked business wise by Cherrydisc.

A- Has your experience with Cherrydisc soured you to the music business?

River- Of course it has…it pisses me off. I started being in a band because it was fun and I got to be creative and get my views out. But the industry is full of people who don’t write the songs or sing the songs or perform the songs…but they’ll take all the money and they’ll make your life a living hell, robbing you and raping you. I mean, Wonderdrug is cool because they are nice and small and they are into the music. But the bigger it gets the worse it gets. I’m definitely bitter, so I am going to sound kind of negative, but the whole thing’s been an uphill struggle. We haven’t gotten any breaks. But once you have tasted the golden apples of heaven, you don’t go back, you go for the shit.

A- Has this experience helped you to build strength or character?

River- No it just drives me fucking crazy. I mean there’s people running around town calling me a rock star and dissing my band because we are somewhat successful around here. But come out to Arizona and watch us play for two after we’ve driven for twenty hours to get there and then come talk to me about how fucking rich I am. I still work 40 hours a week to pay my rent. We practice every night and play shows on the weekends. We make all the gear ourselves, make all the phone calls ourselves, do all the shit by ourselves, and then people tell me I’m a rock star. Thanks if you mean it the right way, but if not go get fucked.

A-You did mention that you have been playing more large scale shows, what is that like?

River- Well, we just toured with Clutch and Drown, but we didn’t do a very big tour. It is hard to get on tours because you need money. You have to be on a big label. Clutch wanted us to tour with them for the rest of their tour, but their label said that they couldn’t take us because we had no money for support. You really have to buy your way on to tours. Either you or your label has to pay big money for you to be on a big tour, like the Warped Tour. So it is hard for us, but we just try to make friends and for all the shit we’ve been through, we have a lot of friends and fans who help us and stick up for us. We do our best never to let them down, because fans make the band. If you let them down, you let yourself down.

A- How was it making the transition from club shows to big shows?

River- It sucks. It is a major tease because you get all psyched and you rock out at the show, but then the tour goes away and you go back to the clubs. It is a tease because it is so cool that you want to do it all the time. I wanna play Ozzfest. I wanna tour with all those bands. Then all those bands go on selling all the records, and we sit here on our asses wondering what the hell is going on with our catalog.

A- Have you had any particularly good or bad shows?

River- There’s millions of shows that are great. Let’s see, actually we just played a show out in Springfield, MA and it wasn’t great. Attendance was low, and we just played like shit. We just weren’t tight which sucks because I don’t want to turn around and look at these guys (the band), I just want to be in the pocket and fucking rock it. But instead I was just like “What the hell is going on with us tonight?”

A- Do you find you play better at higher attendance shows?

River- Doesn’t matter as long as the crowd is into it. Kids were sorta into it at that show, which was cool. But we played a show a while back at the Elvis Room where there was tons of kids jumping around and having a blast. That was a lot cooler a show.

A- Ok, just to change the topic a bit, I wanted to talk about politics. Now Tree is obviously a band of very strong politics…

River- No it’s just me.

A- So the other guys aren’t really…

River- They don’t really care. I have to convince them that like “There’s a white devil among us.” They just don’t know what the fuck I am talking about. So I have to explain it to them. But that is not their forte. I am the vocalist, I’m the verbal one. When I was growing up I was all into America and I was very patriotic. But when I started learning my history and I realized that like Columbus was the first transatlantic slave trader. Motherfucking scumbag wiped out all those Native Americans down on the islands. He fucking murdered them. He’d cut their hands off and let them bleed to death. He used to ride around on their backs like fucking animals. Motherfuckers came over here with the cross telling people to convert or die. And they still killed them because you know “They’ll have salvation in Heaven.” Motherfuckers.(shakes his head) Once I started figuring shit out and seeing through the lies…I mean I already hated all forms of authority. The system, the schools, the cops, the fucking judges…what the fuck gives them the credentials to be judges? Being a fucking lawyer? They may know the law, but they don’t know justice do they? Because in this country, you can’t get justice unless you’ve got the fucking money. Your freedom is directly proportionate to your wealth. Straight up. If you don’t have the money, you don’t get the proper representation in court and you go to jail. They build jails now more than anything else, it is the biggest booming industry in the country today. The land of the free? More like the land of the caged. So yeah, I’m into politics because if you’re not, you’re an idiot. If ignorance is bliss then go live in your fake little world somewhere and fuck over your neighbor and be all proud because you made some money by fucking over someone else. Good for you.

A- So you do a lot of benefits to help causes…

River- That’s what we’re all about is just getting our positive message out there. Especially because you won’t hear it on the news or in the fucking papers because they’re all controlled by the corporations and they’re not going to put out stuff that criticizes their monopolies. But that’s what it is, they’re brainwashing billions of people everyday and if you’re not brainwashed, you’re being bought off, straight up. Greed is a disease in America that’s just corrupting everything. It’s corrupted the world. So yeah we do benefits because money is a tool.

A- And you’ve done a variety of different ones such as the Hemp Rally, and the Rock for Wood to save Walden Woods…

River- Yeah, Henry David Thoreau was the shit.

A-What exactly appeals to you about him?

River- His whole self-reliance thing, how he talks about living life to the fullest and appreciating nature. Also not getting caught up in man’s little lie to himself that he is the master of the planet and realizing that we’re just another organism co-existing with nature.
   
I mean “Civil Disobedience”, man what a great essay that is, if anyone hasn’t read it, please read it. Thoreau went to jail too. They threw him in jail because he wouldn’t pay his war tax when President Polk went down and fucking attacked Mexico. Polk started this whole war with a lie about American blood being shed on American soil. This was a fucking lie and Henry David Thoreau would not support it, so they threw him in prison. Then Ralph Waldo Emerson came down and said to him “What are you doing in there? Why are you doing this?” and Thoreau was like “What am I doing in here? Man, what the fuck are you doing out there?”

A-Well you certainly are very passionate as well.

River- I can’t live any other way. I refused to live a fucking lie. I refuse to disguise shit just to have comfortable conversation. I’d rather just be on the level. I paid the price for that shit for years. At least I’m in a place now that I can use it to better myself and better my situation in life.

A- So you do feel that your politics have caused problems for you, what kind of problems have you had with other bands or fans or the authorities?

River- Well, we get blacklisted, we get dogged and disrespected all the time. We can’t even play in Boston.

A- Who has blacklisted you?

River- Clubs, promoters…

A- Just for your politics?

River- For that and just for who we are and how we do it. We haven’t got a break ever. And not to brag about my band, but we got skills. I’m beginning to wonder why, even though we can compete with a lot of bands out there who’ve got deals, we’re still sitting here doing our shit. So I’m thinking that maybe I shouldn’t talk about how the music industry is just a bunch of vampires, maybe I shouldn’t say that. (laughing)

A- So nobody’s willing to stand up and agree with you guys?

River- Some people do…But you don’t really get praise for doing stuff like we do. Which is unfortunate because I loved that shit when I was a kid. When I first heard MDC, Dead Kennedys, Minor Threat, and the Clash and the shit they were singing about…I was like “It’s about fucking time, man.”  I couldn’t believe it when I heard Dead Kennedys talking about the religious right saying “How do you know all the answers, when you don’t even know what the questions are.” I was like “Right on, I been saying that shit for years.”

A- What recent benefits have you been involved with?

River- We’re doing a benefit for Earth First up in New Hampshire and Maine. See this guy I know threw a pie in this bio-technician’s face. Bio-technicians are fucking over the whole world by playing God with their science. So my friend threw a pie in his face as a gesture of defiance and he got arrested and they charged him with a felony. So we’re playing in Portland, ME on May 28th and giving all the money away.

A- You have been involved with environmentalism for a long time, correct?

River- Yeah, we started Tree up to be like hardcore environmental terrorists. That was before I had heard of Earth First or any of those straight-edge vegan bands. When we started, nobody was doing it.

A- Has the fact that the environmental scene is mostly dominated by sxe vegans ever been a problem?

River- Yeah it sucks. Those kids are fundamental fucking fascists. They think they’re better than me because they don’t drink and smoke? What the fuck do they know about my pain and agony? Those fucking little shits! Fuck them! Straight up! It’s immature baby shit…I don’t give a fuck about their diets…it is just a fucking diet. They pollute their hands with toxic markers, and then they look at me? “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” and “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”  I don’t say that because I am Christian or Jewish or whatever, I just say it because it’s true. What gives them the right to judge anybody? I’m just pissed off because I’ve had to fucking deal with these kids. Who the fuck do they think they are? No one steps to you, but they’ll talk shit and “boycott” our shows.

A- Do you feel they have blacklisted you as well?

River- Fuck yeah they blacklist our shows because we drink and smoke. It’s because they are being little immature kids and maybe they’ll grow up, but maybe not. But it is no way to go around treating people. Earth Crisis used to go around coming down hardon a lot of people, but they fucking lightened their shit up real fast. They learned that you can’t go around like that because there will be fallout.

A- It is interesting that you say that because a friend of mine almost got into a fistfight with Earth Crisis for smoking a cigarette at one of their shows. He was there to see Blood for Blood and they started with him and some of his friends.

River- Yeah they’ll do that, but Blood for Blood smokes and you don’t see Earth Crisis going anywhere near that shit. Let’s see them start shit with Blood for Blood. They will never do it because they won’t start a fight that they can’t win. But if your friend isn’t a big guy, yeah they will knock the cigarette out of his mouth, real brave. I was in Syracuse, NY at one of their shows, with hundreds of their sxe crew all around, drinking in the parking lot. They were all staring at us. Now I am a small guy, but I was like “What?…What are you going to do?”
   
I just get so steamed when people think they are better than anyone else. No one is better then anyone else. If you start saying your better than anyone else, your just a fucking fascist and you’re my enemy. I will go to war with you. I won’t violently attack you, I’ll take you on verbally. They can bring any argument they want and I will counter it. Like if they say “Don’t poison yourself.” I just tell them not to poison their minds or other people’s belief systems just to sell some records.
   
If they say “Don’t eat meat or drink milk.” I would agree that it is fucked up that we eat other animals like cows. But who is to say that a plant’s life is less important than a cow’s. So should we not eat plants either? We have to eat something. I mean I agree that the meat industry is fucked. It is a total disgrace the way they treat the animals and our legislators should be taking care of that but they don’t because it’s all about money in this country.
   
Sxe is a revolutionary way of thinking and that is cool, but it shouldn’t be this “holier than thou” thing. I mean Minor Threat, SST, Control, the motherfuckers who started it all, were not that way. They just said they refused to be polluted with the brainwashing, the poisons, the sugar, the meat, and the stupid sex. They weren’t casting judgement though. They just wanted to make their relationships with life and women meaningful. But now it’s all about wearing the right clothes, being vegan and sxe, or you are not cool. What gives them the right to draw up all these rules? As soon as people start making rules, I just want to break them all. It’s like being in high school again. I just say “Fuck you” to all the rules. I got thrown out of all four high schools I went to because I disregarded every rule that didn’t make sense.

A- You talk a lot about personal strength in your music, what does that mean to you?

River- It is about survival. There are so many things out there that will try to stop you from doing what you want. You just have to endure whatever they do to you and not give up. I have faith in myself if nothing else. It is like our new song “Real” (sings part of Real)

Fuck yeah, you gotta be strong or the world will chew you up and spit you out.

A- Ok so now some national politics, a while back you wrote a song about the Persian Gulf War, did you know anybody in the Gulf?

River- A friend of mine was artillery. I heard he had some side effects like chills, sleeping problems, and stuff like that. But the whole thing was all about oil and about the U.S. being a world thug and a hypocrite. We armed that motherfucker and made him what he was and when he was mustard gassing the Kurds we didn’t give a fuck. But as soon as Kuwait gets invaded for selling oil too cheaply, we are all over it.

A- Ok here’s something a bit random, but did you play “Negative Hippie” at the Hemp Rally? And how did it go off?

River- (laughs) Awesome, the hippies loved that shit. The song is basically about the baby boomers more than it is just about hippies. It is about how a lot of people sold out on the ideology and on themselves. So many people were just hippies because it was trendy. But the hippies and those students out at Berkley protesting…they stopped the Vietnam War. The US government learned a lot from that. That is why hippies are seen so negatively today, because we have been brainwashed to see them in that light. If people think of hippies as scum or dirt, they have been brainwashed good because the hippies were out on the street getting their asses kicked by the police to protest a war that we shouldn’t have even been involved in. People were getting killed and fucked up for life over there and the hippies and the vets stopped that fucking war. But the government will never let that happen again. They have learned to control it. They learned a big lesson because they lost control.

A- In your opinion, how does the government control the population?

River- Things like brainwashing us to think that the hippies never did anything. They revolutionized the country.

A- Do you think that revolution stuck?

River- Yeah, look at the sexual revolution. The civil rights movement worked but that has been pushed back. The government has been doing everything it can to reverse all the progress they made. Newt Gingrich and all his little conservative clowns have been doing their best to reverse the sixties progress. For instance, they keep weakening the Clean Air Act, so the air gets worse and worse.
   
Do you ever notice how fat those guys are? Like Rush Limbaugh, who sat on his ass and collected welfare for years.  And Newt Gingrich divorced his first wife on her deathbed when she had cancer. Politics is all about fear and shame. I mean they brought Clinton up for lying about an affair, but they have all done it. I say “Larry Flynt for President”

A- Do you think he would make a good president?

River- No, but it would be interesting if he ran.

A- On your web page (www.treemusic.com), you preface one section by saying that 1999 is the countdown to the Armageddon, do you really think that is true?

River- I certainly hope so. I am hopeful for any kind of change because at the pace we exhaust the planet, we cannot last much longer. If the planet and our species are going to survive, it has to stop. It might as well be now, the sooner, the better.
   
The gap between the rich and the poor has gotten ridiculous. We are the richest country in the world. We are the biggest gluttons too. We use the most food, the most energy, and we pollute more than any other country. But there are people starving in our streets. I mean people in this country pay millions each year to try to get skinny because everyone is so fucking fat. They just stuff their faces all day and we still have people starving in our streets.
   
Money, race, and class divide this country. It is such a small minority that controls so much of the wealth that it is ridiculous. The rich always try to blame the poor by saying that poor people are lazy and don’t want to work. But if all these people are growing up in ghettos, being exposed to poverty and extreme violence their whole lives, they are going to be fucking angry. They’re going to have a chip on their shoulder, they’re not going to be the college-bound model citizens.
   
The rich keep that anger under control through racism. While they are getting fat, we are fighting over the crumbs. I few could just get our shit together, we could all have a piece of the wealth. Racism has been a weapon of oppression since this country was founded. Slaves and indentured servants would rebel together. The rich saw the problem and started engineering racism to keep the servants in line. They would treat the whites better than the blacks and severely punish whites for rebelling with blacks. They would just kill the rebel slaves, but the white servants would be publicly tortured. These were the seeds of racism.
   
The worst part is that this country is so beautiful and most of the people here are nice and just want to live their lives and have families…

A- Is that what you want?

River- Sure, that’s all I want. I just want to live a good life and maybe have a family.

A- Do you see that happening any time soon?

River- No

A- I s there any solution you can foresee for all these problems?

River- I am always looking for a solution, but I don’t know. You have got to hold on to hope though. You can’t despair. Once you despair, you have sold yourself out. You gotta keep struggling and keep up hope. It’s like my band, I mean the guys get disappointed sometimes because things haven’t gone as we planned. They start talking about getting full time jobs and aging out of the band. But this is our dream and we have to keep trying.

A- Do you think Tree would survive a lineup change?

River- It wouldn’t be the same. I’ve known all those guys for 20 years, they’re my best friends. Right now we’ve been playing with two new guys because two of the guys are on tour with Gang Green. It is not the same. This is the only band any of us have ever been in. We’ve kept at it through all the years. It is the best fucking job I have ever had in my whole life. (laughs)It doesn’t pay very well, but I would hate to lose it. It would break my heart.
   
So I just keep trying to write. I write songs every day. I make shit up when I am doing nothing or at work. I have a job laying cable. I pound eight-inch spikes into the ground all day and make up songs. (Sings part of a song) My co-workers think I am nuts, but inspiration hits you everywhere, you gotta work it.
   
I think everyone needs a creative outlet to be happy. It can be anything from sewing to shooting hoops. I think capitalism robs people of that. It steals their lives and their time.
   
Capitalism is based on exploitation because when you work you make your boss money and he pays you a fraction of that. So your work makes your boss $17 an hour and he pays you $6 an hour. Why does the boss get $10 an hour more than you for your labor…because he is the boss. So call me an communist if you want but I’ll stand up for the working class forever. I’ve worked all those jobs. I’ve eaten shit for a living just to pay my rent. (laughs) I used to work for a maid service and I would scrub rich people’s toilets. When I was in high school, I had to do a work-study program or get kicked out of school. So I worked at the Dedham Mall as a janitor. I was picking up trash when all my friends were picking out colleges. It was a humbling experience. It woke me up fast. It was kinda like getting punched in the mouth. I saw that something’s gotta give because we just keep getting more exposed to violence through television and the gap between the rich and the poor is getting bigger. It has to break soon.

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