Episode 34: Musician Tom Freund Hugs Trees (Live Audience)
Recorded with a live audience from the Living Green Community Center, Tom Freund, the "Hug Trees" guy shares his inspiration and motivation for writing his new Children's music album with Living Green Host, Meredith Medland. Learn more about Tom's relationship to God and Mother Nature, what martial art form motivated him to spend more time being still and how his daughter, Delilah and his wife, Francie fuel his passion for singing, family and enjoying the outdoors.
You'll hear about Tom's "adult" music albums, how he met Ben Harper and why Ben is producing his next album. You'll want to join in the audience applause as Tom candidly answers deep questions, strums fun melodies and wraps up the show with his latest "adult" single.
Guest artists on “HugTrees” include the ever-amazing Victoria Williams, who adds her beautiful voice and childlike playfulness to "Seashells." Rising star Brett Dennen pulls double duty by penning and singing on the rowdy "Party in the Yard" and the lovely and talented Abra Moore brightens up "Apple From The Tree." Go to www.hugtrees.org to learn more.
This program is brought to you by personallifemedia.com
Meredith Medland: You’re listening to Living Green, effortless ecology for everyday people. My name is Meredith Medland and I’m your host and I’m delighted to say that we’re coming to you live today from the Living Green Community Center in Santa Barbara, California. So we’ve got a live audience! Alright! So the big question here is, what comes in 11 parts and features a dog, cat, lion, apple tree, frogs and a cake? Do you give up? Well, the answer is “Hug Trees”, the new album from Tom Freund and friends. After conducting a summer tour with longtime collaborator, Ben Harper and his band, the Innocent Criminals, which was a critically hailed singer and songwriter, Tom comes right in and brings his jazzy and ritzy vibe over to the kids’ music side. A sought out, stand up bassist and multi-instrumentalist, Tom is a favorite of NPR’s Weekend Edition and has been championed by Los Angeles’ powerful KCRW FM.
Tom Freund: I started walking around and just this song out of nowhere came, “Hug Trees” and I just started singing this song to myself and sort of picturing kids hugging trees all around. It was really kind of like a little vision, it was like a little vision quest in the Natchez State Park. So I came back to my car and wrote down my ideas right away with my mandolin and a tape deck. From the first time I brought my guitar into my little girl’s school, even when she was in school at two and half and three, it was like spreading the message of fun things in the best sort of soulful way that I could muster up and with messages of nature. Felt like a…all of a sudden I felt like I had a responsibility. I think still meditation and moving meditation are kind of key. And also, walking meditation. Tikna Han always talks about mindful walking. That sort of may be what I was sort of trying to present in the forest there.
Meredith: And I’ve got to tell you if we’re looking ahead, a lot of the songs in the Hugs Trees album seem like they’d be perfect for TV commercials.
Tom: “That’d be great. If you’re listening out there, Audi, Volkswagen…yeah. I think it would make sense to have a sort of green, childlike quality song on your…”
Meredith: So we’re right here with Tom. Welcome to the show.
Tom: Thank you very much, Meredith.
Meredith: Alright. So we’re going to be putting in some great samples of some of the songs off Hug Trees but you just got done singing one of your favorite ones to the audience here. Can you tell us a little bit about how you made the transition into kids’ music?
Tom: Hear that? Perfect timing. That’s how the transition happened. A little kid came into my family, through my wife, and I just found myself hanging out with my little daughter Delilah and whether she was one year old and I was pushing her in the stroller or whether she was three years old and we were jumping on the bed, the songs just started really coming out and I eventually was like “Cool. I’m singing to my kid” and then I started kind of taking notes or putting them on my computer and recording little things here and there and I was like, “Oh! I guess I gotta make a record.” It was really kind of natural. I never thought I would do that. I never planned it really.
Meredith: So “Hug Trees” that’s the title track. Tell us a little bit more about how you came up with Hug Trees and where that came from.
Tom: That was kind of strange because I think my child Delilah was in utero at that point and I was on tour. And I had a day off and I went to --oftentimes I try to get into a natural setting on the day off, because at that point you’re so tired or concrete, and people and Denny’s, for that matter – no offense, Denny’s – you have to get into some soil. And so I went to the Natchez State Park, which I believe is in North Carolina I’m trying to remember now, and I started walking around and just this song out of nowhere came, “Hug Trees”, and I just started singing this song to myself and sort of picturing kids hugging trees all around and it was really kind of like a little vision. It was a little vision quest in the Natchez State Park. So I came back to my car and wrote down the ideas right away with my mandolin and a tape deck. So that was the very first thing but then I let that go for a while, obviously, had the kid and then it wasn’t ‘til I was sort of on the other end of it and hanging out with my little girl I just really started singing to her, whether singing to sleep or anything or just making fun stuff to make time go nicely.
Meredith: Make it go nicely. So you’ve got some other great artists on the Hug Trees album. Brett Denton is on that album. Abra Moore, Victoria Williams. What was it like collaborating with these musicians?
Tom: These are all some of my favorites musicians out right now. Brett Denan I became turned on to a couple years back and we collaborated a lot since then. He actually also contributed a song “Party in the Yard” which I thought had a really nice element to the soundtrack as well, because it involved turn off the TV, put down the remote get in the yard, that kind of message which I thought was great, in a very Taj Mahal, bluesy kind of way. And then Victoria Williams has been one of my favorite singers for a long time, probably 12 years, and I was so happy to work with her and I knew she would gel really well with the project because she, in her own voice, has this beautiful child-like quality. And I mean that in the best sense. At one point during one song, “The Seashell Song” I was wondering “well, how am I going to get 20 kids in here? No!” then Victoria called me that day, told me she was in town because she lives in Joshua Tree and she came on and kind of did this chorus of Victoria, which was perfect. And then Abra Moore’s a friend of mine from Austin, Texas who’s another one of my favorite singers. A really unique voice, as well as Brett and Victoria, they all have super unique voices. She lended a wonderful tone to “Apple from the Tree” and also the lullaby “Go to Sleep” also known as “Fay Do Do.”
Meredith: Fay Do Do. Excellent. So Living Green is all about the psychology of ecology and I’m curious, what are some of your attitudes and beliefs around ecology that you’ve picked up through producing this album?
Tom: Well it’s interesting because I do feel, from the first time I brought my guitar into my little girl’s school, like even when she was in school at two and a half and three, it was like spreading the message of fun things in the best sort of soulful way that I could the muster up and with messages of nature. Felt like a really…all of a sudden I felt like I had a responsibility and it wasn’t till I got doing it live, I was sort of starting to record the songs but until I really started doing it live and seeing these kids’ reaction and asking them, getting feedback from them, even mid-song, and asking them what do they see around them? What animals and what different kind of trees? Even down to the tree hugging, yes, which is one of my favorite pastimes.
Meredith: Now, you’ve got a great domain name. You have hugtrees.org and that’s where you’ve got lots of information. That was a great domain.
Tom: I don’t know how we got that actually. I would have thought for sure that hugtrees.org might have been taken but my business partner and I, Dave, he’s wonderful, involved in the project, he helped us secure it right away. I couldn’t believe it. Which I thought was cool because we are the dot org, gives it an essence of – usually I think of it as giving back a little and we are trying to give a dollar from each CD to one of three environmental groups. That’s a little bit we can do right there. We also kind of packaged it very eco-mindedly with like soy ink and I think it was triple recycled card stock and stuff.
Meredith: Excellent. So, listeners, if you want to purchase Tom’s album you can go to www.hugtrees.org. You can also learn more about Tom on his MySpace page or you can go to livinggreenshow.com and on the right hand rail we have all the episodes listed, so you’ll have an episode page that goes along with this show as well as written transcripts. We’re going to get ready to take a break to thank our sponsors in just a moment, but before we do that, I was wondering Tom if you could lead us out of the break with “Hug Trees”. Audience, what do you all think about that? Coming to you live from the Living Green Community Center in Santa Barbara, California my name is Meredith Medland and we’re here with hugtrees.org.
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[GUITAR SINGING CLAPPING]
Meredith: Alright. Thank you so much. You’re listening to Living Green, effortless ecology for everyday people. I’m your host is Meredith Medland and we’re so delighted to be here live in Santa Barbara, with you Tom. Thank you so much for being here Tom.
Tom: Thank you very much. It’s nice to be in the living room. Some of the inspirations for an album like this is Woody Guthrie to as far as James Brown or something. So I think having a living room series is a cool concept that would go with this, bring the family kind of thing.
Meredith: I love it. What are some of the things you’ve learned as a father as well as a musician about ecology and nature since you’ve produced this album?
Tom: Wow. Being the parent has immediately put me in an example position where everything I do is being watched and so I think that got me really first of all finding out more about stuff and more about even our yard and our compost pile down to the amount of cups we might use in a day. Whatever it was would come up several-fold because I was really like doing it in front of my kid. So there was some very cool element which was schooling me as well, during that. Living in a city, it’s Venice Beach, and it’s cool and groovy but it’s still LA. There’s still tons of cars. There’s a lot less up here but still tons of cars up here too, for that fact, but a lot more in LA. And, you know, we try to get out on a camping trip or two every couple months or get to a place whether it be Texas or Oregon, somewhere where we can get off the grid. It also comes down to food. What you put in your body is what you are.
Meredith: Pretty important stuff if you’re baking a cake.
Tom: Pretty important stuff. There is a giant sweet tooth element with kids so if I didn’t put sugar in the first verse of that song I thought I might get met outside of a kids’ show and gotten taken down the alley by some kids. So I had to put sugar in there right away. Sorry. There’s lot of alternatives. Sugar could mean anything; could mean honey, maple syrup, molasses, agave. It’s fine but I had to get it right out there so I’d be in with the kids and then you can get the message across.
Meredith: That’s right. You definitely, definitely did it right. What do you think? Good tunes? Are you enjoying it? Well, I absolutely love this album and so I just want to let all of my listeners know that I highly recommend it and I’m singing the tunes in my head. I was with Living Green chef Joel Chapman this morning on the beach at Henry’s Beach and we’re looking at tide pools and learning all about nature and just really going in deep and “Seashells by the Seashore” was in my mind as we were doing that. I’d like to talk to you a little bit about your spiritual practices and how you connect both as a musician to the melody lines and the music that you write as well as how you’re connecting to yourself and Mother Nature.
Tom: Okay. Well, these are all really good questions because even when I was explaining where that song “Hug Trees” came from and maybe the seed of concept of doing an album before my child was even born is very strange because it all happened -- if I hadn’t taken that hike in the woods and really gotten some quiet time and sort of sat under a tree and sat in a pine forest and relayed it to, let’s say, a vibration different than amongst city dwelling and therefore even more important to relate to whatever you may view as spirit or God, or Great Spirit. I sort of have a bunch of words. I sort of have maybe five words.
Meredith: What are your five words?
Tom: Let’s see. I find myself saying God a lot. I find myself saying Great Spirit. I find myself saying Mother Nature. I find myself…I kind of even see the term Mother Nature equaling Great Spirit or God. Those terms all kind of resonate with me.
Meredith: And when you’re preparing to make music and you’re connecting to your inner spirit or Mother Nature are there any practices that you put in place that you can share with our listeners?
Tom: Well I do think still meditation and moving meditation are kind of key. And also, sort of walking meditation. Tikna Han always talks about mindful walking. That sort of may be what I was sort of trying to present in the forest there. And I think getting quiet, no matter what it is. It’s cool, because that’s great, we can all.... I find like, I remember for a while there the only quiet time I could get was in the shower. Okay, I’m really good and I come up with great ideas in the shower but that’s cool but that’s sort of wasting water and that’s okay, it’s okay to get in the shower and find that but I think you can get into a really peaceful mode just by practicing breathing and body postures and yoga and Xiao Gong. Xiao Gong actually was really important for me. That was one of the biggest…I was in college and I was lucky enough to have this master [C2G] come from China where he’d teach a class of a thousand at a time to like 40 students in Claremont Colleges. We were so lucky. I don’t know if everyone knew that. I think some people were trying to get a free ride on it. But I and several of the people involved in the class were just completely blown away by the energy of this guy. So that was really great. Because he focused on -- it was the first time I heard the term moving meditation. So the idea of doing Xiao Gong and not being in meditation, as well as what we think of meditation by sitting and listening to our breath and watching thoughts go by without attaching to them and stuff like that, could also be done in a moving setting. That was sort of mind-opening to me.
Meredith: Thank you for that. We’re going to get ready to take our last break and then we’ll come back with about eight more minutes of content. You want to play us out on this next break? How about a little “Seashells by the Seashore” to honor that conversation? All right. My name is Meredith Medland. I’m your host of livinggreenshow.com. You can download more information via iTunes or the website. We’ll be back right after this and Tom will be taking us out.
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[GUITAR SINGING CLAPPING]
Meredith: Welcome back from the break. My name’s Meredith Medland and I’m your host here of Living Green. And we’re here with Tom Freund and you can go to www.hugtrees.org. If you want the album you can also go to cdbaby.com and also type in Hug Trees. You’ve got some exciting stuff coming up, Tom. You want to tell us a little about that? You’ve got a gig coming up in May at Stagecoach.
Tom: We have some cool Hug Trees events coming up. The CD’s sort of been out a little bit. We’re sort of officially having a CD release on June 8 at McCabe’s in Santa Monica. They do a great Sunday series at 11 a.m. It’s really cool. I went to see this bumpkin band the other day and they were hot. And kids rocking in the music store, picking up instruments and then also jamming to the bands. And then this other thing that’s really cool, coming up before that, is May 3rd and 4th. It’s the Stagecoach Festival, which this year it’s cool, the Eagles and John Fogerty are going to be there. It’s out in the Cochelo Playgrounds in Indio, California. There’s a kids’ section, there’s a kids’ stage. I think it’s called like the Half Pint Hoot ‘n Anny or something and I’m playing two days in a row out there. It should be really fun to focus on the kids’ side of things during that. It’ll be really cool, in sort of a country western atmosphere. Country western rock.
Meredith: Well thank you so much for all your focus on the kids. I want to transition a little bit to your adult music because you have quite a legacy of music for adults although I do have to say, as an adult, that I do love the Hug Trees album.
Tom: That’s the point. I’m glad you said that. That’s good. The joke is, as the new father that I am and was, it’s like you’re driving in the car, your kid’s demanding a certain CD, you better like the CD because it’s going to go 50 times before you get to your destination and usually they’re going to pick two or three songs that they like within that CD over and over. So I tried to make something that let’s say the parents would dig too, while on that drive too
Meredith: I sure dig it. You’ve gotten some great comments. The Washington Post has actually said about some of your adult music that your “lyrics are full of curveballs”. And MSNBC recognizes you for being “diverse and honest to the core” in your lyrics. And you’ve gotten quite a lot of accolades. I want to just make sure that our listeners know that your music has been featured in TV shows like One Tree Hill, Las Vegas, and October Road. And also one of your songs was in the MGM movie Charley Bartlett. And I got to tell you, if we’re looking ahead, a lot of these songs in the Hug Trees album seem like they’d be perfect for TV commercials.
Tom: That’d be great. If you’re listening out there, Audi, Volkswagen…yeah. I think it would make sense to have a sort of green, childlike quality song on your…to promote better health for the planet.
Meredith: That would be a great idea. Let’s make sure that they’re listening. So tell us a little bit more about your journey as a musician. I do know that some of our musician listeners as well as some of our friends in our live audience are like “Cool! You’re working with Ben Harper. That’s a big deal.” What’s it like?
Tom: You know, I first met him when I was in the Claremont Colleges actually and we did a record back then called “Pleasure and Pain”. This is like ’93 or something and it’s become quite a collector’s item because, obviously, he really blew up. And we sort of re-connected in the last five years or so. And I’ve done a couple of tours with him all over the country, kind of opening up and then usually sitting in on his set as well and him sitting in on mine, which is great, which is where we started and stuff. And it’s been really lucky to have him on board for this new record. He produced my new record. I think the working title right now is Collapsible Plans. And he produced it and played on it a lot and we were even able to lure in one of our idols, Jackson Browne, onto two tracks and he was one of the sweetest guys I ever met. So Ben and I were both… that took it to another level. I was already working with Ben and that was a real treat and then Ben and I are both like “Oh my God!” And Jackson plays a song on the break! So it was a real treat. We’re hoping this record gets out to the world pretty soon. It’s been done for a little while and we’re trying to figure out the next step with it.
Meredith: Congratulations on that. So let’s go back many years. I think it was about in 2001, you released Simpatico. Can you tell us a little more about that album?
Tom: Simpatico’s the one you were talking about, right? That was a cool -- directly associated with my living at the time. Was half recorded in Austin Texas, where I was really feeling some great energy from. Great writing. Great, great nature. Austin’s got it down in terms of a city. They’ve really got it down. They got down with the bike paths and huge parks and a giant spring in the middle of town for summer, so just in line with your show -- boy, I got to give it up for Austin. And I wrote a lot of those songs down there, like the song Simpatico and stuff like that. And then partially recorded in New York because I’d moved back up to New York to sort of see what was happening again in the business. I had been on sort of a major label and I found out that that didn’t mean much other than having some fun for a while and having a nice advance and stuff. It’s sort of a sign of the times, it was sort of the end of an era where getting “signed” didn’t mean a whole lot. It meant a whole lot for a couple things but if they didn’t follow through it could sort of even take you away from your mission for a while.
Meredith: Well let’s talk a little bit about your mission. We have just a few more minutes before we wrap up today’s show. And I’m curious. As you think about your legacy and creating your lasting legacy…
Tom: That’s a big word.
Meredith: It’s a word I’ve been pondering on for many years. And you’ve got a fantastic live audience with you here and I’m curious, if you flash forward ahead, let’s say twenty gifted, blessed years and what kind of life would you like to be creating on the planet and what are you leaving in your legacy?
Tom: Wow. That’s an awesome question. I would hope to be still doing what I’m doing. Which I guess is a really good thing. I enjoy playing music for people of all ages and sort of with a focus on trying to give people help on this planet of some sort, whether it’s just related to lyrics and music and giving them a good feeling and also if it’s some sort of message that I can be helpful in sharing of something that has to do with trying to help a planet that’s ailing in a lot of ways. Incredible force to turn it around. So I would hope to still be a part of that. And hopefully we’ll be in a place that looks a little precarious than it does right now. And I’m pretty confident in that. And I would hope I’m still doing that in a sense. And just having a family and hopefully living somewhere where I can dig my feet into the earth too. Or sand.
Meredith: Awesome. Thank you so much for being on the show today. I’d like to take this last moment for you to share anything else that you’d like with our listeners as well as if you could go through some of the access points for your CD’s as well as for your various music sights.
Tom: Sure. Well. First of all, in this living room, thank you for being here. Let’s hope it generates out to all Meredith’s listeners. I do have a couple of websites. There’s this new phenomenon, MySpace. There’s both my own page, which is Tom Freund Music at MySpace. Or if you go to MySpace you can also put in Hug Trees Music. Those are two good access points to check out a lot of sounds and sights. And then also my website, tomfreund.com and hugtrees.org should have info on -- I love that. The pitter patter of little feet. Get it don’t stop. – those should have info on shows coming up and how to attain CD’s and stuff. I’m really happy with this company, cdbaby too, they’ve been helping me sell a lot of CD’s and they’re really eco-minded and really kind to the musician too. They’ve been a great support.
Meredith: Fantastic. Well thank you so much. We’ve got a special shout out in celebration of one of our Living Green listeners. It’s her birthday so we’re dedicating this show to Nico for her birthday. So a big Happy Birthday to you. I want to remind you that text and transcripts of this show and other shows on the Personal Life Network are available at personallifemedia.com. If you have any comments or you’d like to be a guest on the show, you can reach me at [email protected]. And Tom, will you take us out with one of your more adult tunes? Maybe something off Simpatico? Something fun? All right. That sounds great. Thanks again for listening to Living Green. Effortless ecology for everyday people.
Meredith: You’re listening to Living Green. Effortless ecology for everyday people. You can learn more at www.livinggreenshow.com.
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