Photo: Danielle Parsons
Mini Trees, the solo project from Los Angeles-based musician Lexi Vega, makes indie pop and alternative music that often confronts heavy topics with haunting melodies and vocals. As a listener, you'll easily be swept up in the storytelling of the lyrics and Vega's evocative voice.
Mini Trees will appear for a headlining show on Wed., Dec. 1 at Club Cafe. Before then, Vega answered 5 Questions for the Pittsburgh City Paper
1. Have you ever been to Pittsburgh before? If not, what’s the first thing you do when you visit a new city?
I haven't ever been to Pittsburgh before. I've spent very little time on the East Coast in general, like, just throughout my life. So I'm super excited just to get to explore. I think my go-to when it comes to traveling, especially to new places, is food. For the most part, I kind of eat anything. So I'm always interested in what people from that particular town or city recommend. That's kinda just my style of travel anyways. It's just go where the good food is and then figure it out from there.
2. What was the songwriting process like for you on this album, Always in Motion. Do you have songwriting rituals that you have to engage with?
I wrote this album during the pandemic. Well, it's not over, but during the shutdown, with all plans to tour and play live just going out the window. I figured it was a good opportunity to shift gears and go into writing mode again with the goal of writing a full album. It was pretty intentional. I'm kind of a single-focus person in a lot of ways. I think once I decided I'm going to write an album, it kind of just came together. So usually the ritual looks like setting aside time. Trying to set aside time pretty much every day to write and sometimes nothing comes of it.
But it's a good practice to just consistently try, and sometimes something starts coming together. Typically I'll start by recording some demos and getting some chord progressions down and starting to work through vocal melodies. And a lot of times I'm just mumbling through vocal melodies, cause I don't have lyrics yet. And so typically when the song is fleshed out instrumentally with melodies I'll kind of come back to it and write lyrics for it, sorta just depending on how that song is making me feel, and what's coming to mind as I listened through it. So it's a little bit backwards of how I think a lot of my friends write, where maybe it starts with lyrics and they build a song around it.
I think I've always sort of started with just the music and the melodies and then continue writing from there. So it was a quicker album cycle process in terms of how quickly it came together. But I think I didn't have much else to focus on during that time. So it allowed me to really put everything into the album.
3. What role did music play in your early life?
It's always been part of my life. Both parents were musicians and my sister and I just grew up surrounded by it. My mom, she sang in a Japanese jazz-pop fusion band up until the mid-80s, and then she had my sister, and she stopped. She was a musician, and then my dad, who passed away when I was a kid, he was a session drummer and a touring drummer. So growing up, he was gone on tour a lot. We would get to travel with him and follow the band around and visit new places and go to different cities. So it really was instilled in me at a young age that, like, this is a real career.
Getting to know these incredible musicians really inspired me as a really young kid. It really didn't take long for me to start showing interest in learning instruments myself. So I kind of got started on the drums because my dad was a drummer and there were just drum kits around. And then I think as I wanted to start writing music, I sort of made my way over to learning guitar. I was always recording little songs that I would come up with. So yeah, it's always been a part of my life for a long time. I played drums for other people but then I'm thinking, you know, in the last like three or four years, I kind of felt like I wanted to create. That’s what eventually led to starting this project. I was sort of missing something when it came to the expression of songwriting. That's kinda what led to here, and I didn't realize I would enjoy it so much.
4. Which song on the album is your favorite to play live?
So I think that’s a hard question to answer because I always want to think about the songwriting. There are different memories and thoughts and feelings that come to mind with each one. But I think live, it's been really fun to play this one song of ours called “Doomsday.” It's probably one of the fastest— tempo-wise— songs that I have. And it is one where we get to jam and have fun, and it’s kind of dancey. Ironically it's about having pandemic anxiety and heavy subject matter but masked in this really fun summery, pop-y kind of dance song, which is a contrast that I've always liked in music.
I think of it as a way to just kind of get your wiggles, or maybe not wiggles, cause that seems more positive. It gets your stress and your anxiety and your nerves out in something that's fun. That’s how I processed and dealt with some of my intense pandemic anxiety, just writing about it and sort of facing it head-on. I'm looking forward to getting to play it more on the road.
5. My favorite song on the album is "Otherwise," can you talk a little bit about how that came to be the song you wanted as the final song?
That's really cool. So that one is, I think in some ways, it kind of made sense to fall at the end of the album because it is this longer kind of droney song that has this huge crescendo at the end. It felt to me like a cool way to tie it all together. Musically it made a lot of sense to fall at the end too because, throughout the album, there's a lot of wavering and going back and forth between asking a lot of questions and wanting to find peace with all of these essentially unanswered questions I've had throughout my life with various struggles and things like that.
I think that at times there's some solace in not knowing those answers and recognizing I'm never going to have those answers and never going to know why certain things happen the way they did. The story behind it is one of my friends had lost her mom during the pandemic, and in trying to comfort her and be there for her, I realized oftentimes I don't know what to say because I'm still struggling with my own loss and my own grief. So there was this tension of, how do I tell a friend that everything is going to be okay when I'm still dealing with that myself. It is certainly a heavier song, but I think at the same time, my intention with it was to sort of end on a note of "I'm still working on this, I'm still figuring this out and that's okay." It's okay to not know where it's going to go or not know exactly why all this happened, but just to be okay. And to be comfortable with the unknown.
Mini Trees with S. Raekwon. 8 p.m. Doors at 6:30 p.m. Club Cafe. 56-58 S. 12th St., South Side. $12. 21 and over. opusoneproductions.com