Treepeople take over a couch in a green room better than anyone.
Treepeople take over a couch in a green room better than anyone.
Maureen Pando

You May Have Missed Treepeople in The '90s, but Don't Make That Mistake Again

Doug Martsch, who is probably best known for the unique combination of vocal and guitar prowess he most prominently displays in his current band, Built To Spill, sounded nothing short of excited when we spoke on the phone about his upcoming reunion tour with his late-’80s, early-’90s band Treepeople. The 48-year-old Boise, Idaho, resident has been actively pondering the reunion for the past five years or so, and as luck would have it, the time is now.

“A few years ago, Scott (Schmaljohn, guitarist and vocalist for Treepeople) has a band called The Hand, and for Treefort (a seven-year-old music festival held in March in Boise) they were opening for Built To Spill. They do a couple of Treepeople songs and they asked if I wanted to join them. It was fun, but it just wasn’t the same. It wasn’t the same people and it didn’t sound the same, so I thought it would be cool to do a real reunion after getting a taste of doing the songs again,” says Martsch.

The original lineup consisted of Martsch and Schmaljohn on guitars and vocals, bassist Pat “Pat Brown” Schmaljohn, and drummer Wayne “Rhino” Flower together on the first handful of Treepeople releases, and as a unit moved to Seattle to be part of the burgeoning late-’80s music scene that was overtaking the city. Sadly, Pat Schmaljohn committed suicide in 1999, so for the tour, bassist Troy Wright will be filling in as Treepeople hits six West Coast cities with hopes of doing more dates as well.

“We are open to (the East Coast). I don’t know if we have enough draw to even afford to do it. We are fine in Portland, Seattle, and Boise, but everywhere else we are pushing it. We can’t really sell out anywhere, but we’re up for anything,” Martsch says humbly.

Martsch originally left the band, and their then-home in Seattle, in 1992 to move back to Boise after releasing multiple 7-inch, EP, and compilation tracks, as well as three full-length LPs. One of those LPs, 1991’s Guilt, Regret, Embarrassment, was on venerable Tucson-based label Toxic Shock. While Martsch would later start Built To Spill and the killer side project The Halo Benders with Beat Happenings’ Calvin Johnson, Schmaljohn did one more record under the Treepeople moniker in 1994, Actual Re-Enactment, with guitarist/vocalist John Polle (now of Tucson’s excellent Whispering Wires, among others) before calling it quits in 1994.

With a good amount of songs to call upon for this tour, deciding on the set list was a team effort. Treepeople have gotten together to rehearse three or four times over the past year to get ready for this reunion, as drummer Rhino Flower currently resides in Portland, Oregon, while the rest of the band is all in Boise.

“We had about a 20-song set that we worked on for about a year before we played two shows earlier in the year, and we learned about six more songs to kind of mix up the sets a little bit,” says Martsch, who doesn’t like to play the same set two shows in a row if he can help it.

Treepeople play Tuesday, June 19, at Crescent Ballroom. Tickets are $20 to $35 at ticketfly.com.

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