On the latest album from North Carolina folk-pop band Lost in the Trees, Past Life— released in February—frontman Ari Picker seems to have achieved a mighty powerful catharsis. Although 2008’s All Alone in an Empty House and 2012’s A Church That Fits Our Needs possess an undeniable orchestral folk beauty, those works are a bit melancholic—the latter, for example, was based largely on Picker’s mother’s suicide in 2008. But on Past Life, it’s clear that Picker has finally reached a point where he can move on, at least creatively.
“I recognized what the past two records were and that I needed to move on from that,” Picker says. “So with this one, I started moving in that direction and not really saying no to anything. So it was more freeing and joyful, certainly.”
Past Life is upbeat to the point of being downright ebullient at times. The mid-tempo piano-folk number “Sun” captures feelings of hope and rebirth through a simple description of rays of sunshine; the groovy guitar licks on the echoing pop-tinged title track are the embodiment of ecstasy itself as Picker fondly recalls an imagined past life. And on “Glass Harp,” a hypnotic series of harp notes repeats throughout the track, and augments the song’s story about pardoning others of guilt. But even when the songs contain heavy notions like these, they still tend to feel light and free-flowing. That was by design.
“Writing the songs was easier because I was coming at it from a more … not impersonal, but a little bit more external viewpoint, I guess is the best way I can put it,” Picker says. “Songwriting was easier because I was reaching out and grabbing stuff instead of digging deep inside myself for it.”
For Picker, the entire Past Life experience was an exercise in trying new things. Not only was this in regard to the approach he took with the lyrics, but in how the songs themselves were created. He wanted the band to be more involved, so he took some of the pressure off himself and let the rest of the band in on more of the process.
“I felt like the past two records were very much me, and I wanted the new one to be more collaborative, spontaneous,” Picker says. “What I was doing before was pretty taxing, just by myself, so for me it was a lot easier this time and much less stressful.”
With Past Life, Picker has found a new lease on life, and it has him excited for the future.
“After this album, I feel very wide open to what’s next, so that’s cool,” Picker says. “It’s kind of a rebirth as far as my expectations for myself and how I’m looking at music now.”