Artists often face the creative contradiction of not knowing what message they want to put out into the public consciousness. The Elephant Trees have no such problem. Friends since school, Martha, Tom and Sam are the unstoppable force behind this genre-bending three-piece challenging the status quo. In this conversation, Music for Youth learns more about their collaborative journey and why they believe in the importance of evolving in tandem with an ever-changing world.
It’s been five years since Martha recruited Tom and Sam for a Guiseley High School music project. Back in those days the three of them bonded during lunch breaks spent in the music department. Following their school project, after which they all agreed “this was fun, let’s keep it going,” bedroom recordings have turned into studio sessions, as the group goes from strength to strength.
Hailing from Guiseley in North-West Leeds, Martha, Tom and Sam lived within eye-shot of a distinguishable grove of trees, known locally as The Elephant Trees. They decided to give their band this name after deciding it was the most fitting title for a music group born and bred in their hometown. “You can see these trees from any direction in the Leeds area,” explains Sam. “It is one of the first things you see when you’ve come back from a long drive or been on holiday, so it became a symbol of our home.”
What started out as a school project, with Martha as singer/songwriter front woman accompanied by two rock instrumentalists, has since transformed into a much more inclusive and complex creative community. “Our sound has changed so much over the past five years,” says Tom. “For one thing, Martha has continued to develop as a producer and now she’s got to the point where any idea she has in her head can be brought to life, it’s incredible.” This peer assessment is backed up by Sam, who adds; “These days, we bring different influences and sounds to the table than we did at the beginning. We allow ourselves to be more expressive and make the sort of music we would want to listen to, rather than pigeonhole ourselves.”
It would appear Martha, who brought them together in the first instance, is the driving force behind the band’s songwriting process. “The normal process is, we pluck one of many ideas from Martha’s head and then we will all work on it until it transforms into more than the sum of its parts,” say both Tom and Sam. Although Martha generates most of the initial ideas for lyrics, the instrumentation is wholly collaborative. “A lot of our sound will come from an idea that we have taken into a practice room and tried out in different ways.”
Together, they share an eclectic combined music taste, with Everything Everything, Twenty-One Pilots, Laura Marling, Bring Me the Horizon and Florence and the Machine all cited as influences. Despite openly remarking on the difference in personalities, all three share the same burning desire to create a welcoming and inclusive space for listeners, encouraging like-minded individuals to embrace their true identity. It seems like at the top of The Elephant Trees’ agenda is striking a balance between activism and art.
The tight-knit trio intend to move with the times, adjusting to the ever-changing landscape by continuing to grow and learn together. Over the last year, the content of The Elephant Trees’ music has been addressing more pressing societal issues. “Recently we collectively agreed there’s no point doing this if we’re not as true to our beliefs as possible,” explains Tom. “We’ve made a conscious decision, as representatives of the Women in Music community, the LGBT+ community, among others, that we want to use our platform to champion the issues that matter.”
Their creative decision to call out modern day troubles is palpable in the band’s latest release, Survival. The song calls attention to Trump, climate change, same sex relationships, austerity and mental health; the powerfully potent message joined by an infectious hook and face-melting beat. As well as a nod to the work of Extinction Rebellion, Greta Thunberg is noted as a huge inspiration for Survival. "Greta is someone who has really given youth a voice; Martha would credit Greta for motivating her to write Survival,” Sam explains.
The trio have grafted nonstop to get to where they are today, recalling times they would play “any and every gig” in the early days, sometimes performing 3 or 4 times in a weekend. Special attention is given to their live presence nowadays, with all members regularly pausing mid-flow to consider: “How would this sound live?”
After gaining management attention in 2017, The Elephant Trees have gone from gigging in local community centres to performing at The Royal Albert Hall, in the space of three years. “Our live presence is a big part of our appeal,” they explain. “Our energy, not just in the sense that we have a lot of it, but there’s a shared energy and authentic connection which audiences pick up on.”
Looking back, there are some obvious stand out shows which all three members deem unforgettable. “Performing at Leeds Pride in 2018 was a special one for us. We were playing as the parade arrived at the stage, so we were performing to a crowd of thousands. That was amazing.”
Another memorable live performance was their appearance in the Music for Youth Proms, at aforementioned - The Royal Albert Hall, something they agree was unlike anything they had done before or since. Having first become acquainted with Music for Youth in 2018, after a song Martha had submitted was chosen to be reworked with The Royal Northern College of Music Session Orchestra, the band has been involved in several of the charity’s events. “All of us believe it’s important for us, as musicians, to experience different aspects of the music world, which is was what Music for Youth offer.” Recounting their experience at The Royal Albert Hall, Sam says: “The performance gave us a chance to do something vastly different to what we were used to doing: the charity gave us agency and it was an amazing platform.”
As the band continues their upwards trajectory, Martha dreams of them performing on the lnternational Space Station one day. It is this kind of naturally creative curiosity that gives The Elephant Trees’ their edge. In terms of more immediate goals, the group reveal how they would be grateful to continue making music, turning it into their full-time occupation: “We would love to do this forever, as our jobs. To maintain our creative freedom and be able to keep saying what we want to say is the dream.”
Reflecting on the journey so far, as well as what lies ahead of them, Tom is quick to add; “We are so lucky to have so many people behind us. If it was just us three doing everything, we wouldn’t have able to achieve half of what we have done so far.” It takes team work to make the dream work and all involved with The Elephant Trees movement are greatly appreciated by the three bandmates. “You can’t be a band as just musicians. It takes a whole team and we know that. We have our manager, Tash, and lots of others who support us. Even back when we relied on our parents for lifts before we could drive, there’s always been more than just the three of us involved and we couldn’t have done it without them.”
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