For Stephen Becker, music is a stream of consciousness. Originally working as the Trees Take Ease moniker, the Brooklyn based artist is stepping out from under the branches and releasing music under his own name for the first time. It marks a shift, a new beginning, that initially started out as a casual bedroom project but quickly blossomed into something significant. This new chapter starts with EP Nothing Sun Under the New.
Equal parts weird and sublime, Becker resides in a sonic universe that bends into a state of oblivion and relishes the fleeting moments. This uninhibited approach creates a kaleidoscope of textures where songs about frozen drinks and old teachers exist against a backdrop of propulsive synths, screwy percussion and lo-fi guitar hooks. “I think there’s a lot of power in the right melody and the right chord progression and the right sonic environment and that to me has as much emotional weight as anything that I’m saying,” he says.
Attending concerts as a teen with his Dad and playing in jazz band throughout high school led Becker to experiment with different improvised arts, rubbing shoulders with different genres and practises. This curiosity, along with his talents, secured him a place at Oberlin college in Ohio, studying guitar performance. There, Becker witnessed performances from the likes of Deerhoof, Frankie Cosmos, Yo Yo Ma and Fred Frith that inspired him to merge his skills as a jazz musician and guitar expert and dive into songwriting.
The transition led to “art songs” and “experimental folk music” that can still be felt in Becker’s output. “I got to a place in my studying that started to feel frustrating,” he explains. “I realised that I wanted to write songs and also embody all these other things that I was excited about, whether it was improv or contemporary classical music. I wanted to synthesise everything that I love.” With inspirations including the likes of Marilynne Robinson, Werner Herzog, Olivier Messiaen, Sibylle Baier and Nels Cline, the result is a glorious mish-mash of spontaneity, where songs flow more like free writing.
Becker’s journey into music was unintentional, accidental even. While his parents are both doctors, Becker sees himself as taking after his artistic Grandparents. His Grandmother is a visual artist, watercolorist and painter, while his Grandfather built violins and collected all sorts of instruments, most of which now reside in Becker’s own closet. He never met his Grandfather in person but he finds solace in the family connection. “It’s funny when your immediate family doesn’t really do what you do or understand what you do but you feel this lineage of carrying on,” he explains. “Who knows if I’ll be that to some future generation in my family – the quirky instrument-collecting Grandpa.”
This free-spirited, almost unconscious nature sees Becker create a playground of escapism, where snapshots of his life are exaggerated and fictionalised through an often ironic prism. He finds beauty in the in-between, where strange, abstract realms exist without the need for a clear narrative or rigid structure. Nothing Sun Under the New shines a spotlight on the beauty that can arise from a spur-of-the-moment mindset. By accessing this kind of process, Becker taps into something real and concrete, resonating through an introspective honesty. “I like to be freeform and fictional in my music, but my feeling is that within that abstraction lies a deeper truth, something more real than just the plain facts about me,” he says. “It’s a wash of sounds and lyrics, but the picture that it paints is ultimately more true and sincere than anything else.”