Legs Like Tree Trunks call Pittsburgh home — sometimes | Music | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Legs Like Tree Trunks call Pittsburgh home — sometimes

"I'm a firm believer that the music you create is inspired by literally everything you've ever come into contact with."

Holding up the Brillo box: Legs Like Tree Trunks (clockwise from top left: Matt Holden, Dave Shepherd, Tyler Donaldson, Dave Cerminara)
Holding up the Brillo box: Legs Like Tree Trunks (clockwise from top left: Matt Holden, Dave Shepherd, Tyler Donaldson, Dave Cerminara)

Legs Like Tree Trunks vocalist and guitarist Matt Holden has never really had one specific place to call "home." After spending most of his childhood in New Zealand, Holden moved to England, then across the pond to Boston and Philadelphia. He finally made his move to Pittsburgh to get his degree in sociology at Pitt. 

"I'm a firm believer that the music you create is inspired by literally everything you've ever come into contact with," he says, "be it other people or music or movies — any type of creative endeavors." 

It's the same sense of adventure and exploration that defines Legs Like Tree Trunks. It was during his sophomore year that Holden, now 21, met the three other musicians that would eventually form the indie band. Bassist Dave Shepherd responded to one of Holden's Craigslist ads, and the two began playing together as an acoustic guitar-and-upright bass duo. They would later recruit drummer Tyler Donaldson, who had previously played with Holden in a band called Ready Room, and Dave Cerminara to play guitar.

Now, less than two years later, the fledgling band is preparing for its upcoming week-long winter tour, scheduled around conflicting winter breaks and real-world jobs. Maintaining a balance between work and music is tough, Holden says. "We can't really get nearly as much done as we want to or could be able to. If we weren't all in school, we'd be [on tour] six months out of the year, but we can only get a week here or a week there."

It's a time period of personal evolution for them all, he says. With most either having already graduated from college or preparing to, they're each undergoing some serious life changes — something Holden says is reflected in the new material the band is writing for its upcoming full-length record, expected sometime this summer.

Although its most recent record, Future Reference, was just released in September, it's actually been over a year in the making. The band started recording the drums for the five-track album during the summer of 2011 but had to wait almost an entire year to return to the studio and finish it. It all comes down to distance, which makes writing and recording difficult for Legs Like Tree Trunks.

Cerminara and Holden both live in Pittsburgh, but the rest of the band's members spend most of their time in different cities — as far away as Philadelphia. "If we play two weekends a month on the road, then we can get by without practicing, so that's kind of been how we've been making it work," Holden says.

The four musicians combine an eclectic mix of influences and backgrounds in jazz, hip hop, metal and music theory to create what the band likes to call "mathy, folky indie rock." The four friends are always sending demos back and forth. "But when we're all able to get together it just ties it all together," Holden says.

When the band released Future Reference, it opted to offer it online for free. "I think people buy physical copies of music to remember a specific [time] seeing a band play," he posits, "which is why you have this kind of huge rise of bands putting their stuff on Bandcamp for free, and then touring and selling it on vinyl or tapes or CDs or whatever. It's a totally different model nowadays, really."

The band's members have one goal in mind: getting people to hear their music. That translates to playing shows anywhere and everywhere, despite having to sustain life on ramen noodles, scotch and the kindness of strangers. "It's pretty much all about making new friends and eating new sandwiches," Holden quips.

For a bunch of 20-somethings, he admits, they're all pretty responsible; it's a struggle to think of any wild tour stories. "The challenge is leaving tour and coming back home and doing the real-life shit," he says, "because I'd rather just escape from it all."

Although "home" for the four-piece might not always be Pittsburgh, Legs Like Tree Trunks owe much of its success to the local music scene.

 "The city is overwhelmingly young and creative," Holden says, "and there's also a lot of money being invested in the arts, which is really helpful for artists. There's just a great kind of creative, collaborative energy here."

It's the same family nature found in Pittsburgh that Holden says is really fostering the growth of indie bands, both locally and globally. There are more opportunities for bands to find and reach new audiences, and Legs Like Tree Trunks have done their best to take advantage of all it can.

Recently the band recorded a session at the Daytrotter studios in Rock Island, Ill., released in October of this year. The studio and website invites bands — ranging from big names like Mumford & Sons to fledgling acts — to stop by while they're out on tour and play a quick, raw acoustic set.

According to Holden, the experience was a big deal to the band because the website has always been an outlet through which they've discovered some of their favorite bands. Daytrotter aims to cultivate and support emerging indie bands — something that Holden tries to do through Legs Like Tree Trunks.

"That's really what's happening in indie music these days: Everybody's paying it forward for the love of music," he says. "We're all relying on the kindness and energy and spirit of everybody else in this music scene all across the country, and the world in some aspects. Everyone's helping each other promote their art and themselves instead of treating it like a competition."

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