Interview: Mostly Trees talk Huey Lewis, changing their name and Ed Ackerson

Laura Ellen Brandjord | Photo Courtesy
Mostly Trees played at the Liberty Lounge and Restaurant on night one of the 2020 Big Turn Music Fest in Red Wing, MN.

A previous version of this article erroneously named the Minneapolis producer as Ed Ackerman instead of Ed Ackerson.

At a corner table of the Liberty Restaurant that a helpful waitress had assured me would be the most insulated from the decibels of the next band’s set, the members of Minneapolis rock band Mostly Trees drank hard-earned, post-gig beers and allowed me to interrogate them for 40 minutes.

The band is made up of Jon Po on bass and vocals, Joel Korte and Dan Crowe on guitar and John Nelson behind the drum kit, all of whom have known each other since school. Jon, Dan and John have been in and out of bands with each other since fifth grade.

“Well in high school, that Jon, the Jon without the ‘h,’ was in like the one cool band in high school and those two (Dan and John) were in the other cool high school band, and I was… like… kinda playing sports,” Korte laughed.

Korte added that he always admired his now-bandmates for their musical prowess, but didn’t start playing with them until years later. “Then, you know, years and years later when you were all washed up, then I could be in a band with them because I’d been practicing the whole time,” Korte quipped.

Jokes aside, Po believes this mutual admiration and respect is one of the keys that make the band work. “We’ve all been each other’s biggest fan at one point in our lives and I think we still are and that is what I think feeds us, ” he explained.

The band’s ties strengthened when Nelson and Korte became brothers-in-law. Crowe joked, “I mean this (how all the band members are connected) is all so incestual. Like it’s actually kinda gross when you think about it. “

Korte worked at boutique guitar pedal company ZVEX for five years, which deepened his obsession with the inner workings of pedals. In 2013, he struck out on his own and opened Chase Bliss Audio. In its mere seven years of existence, Chase Bliss pedals have graced the boards of such global acts as Kings of Leon, Jason Isbell and John Mayer.

Coincidentally, the discussion of Korte’s company also brought up another of the band’s convoluted mutual friendships: Dan Montana Berndt of Minneapolis powerslop band Busey. It was honestly like the “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” Pepe Silvia string map meme.

Berndt has worked with Joel at Chase Bliss since last year, but the band’s connection to him starts before that. Po first met Berndt at The 400 Bar when he was in a different band and Berndt ran the sound. Later, Po even played bass in Busey for awhile. “It’s all just kinda mangled into its own kind of body,” Po laughed.

Berndt also acted as a jack-of-all-trades for Mostly Trees on their mini-tour. “He drove, and was like our head sound guy, and, like, gear technician and just, like, had answers for every question we ever had,” Nelson said.

Korte recalled one show where Berndt saved the day before anyone really realized it needed saving. “One time, at the old players show I stepped on my power cord and like my amp turned off and before I even realized what was happening, Dan had it already plugged back in,” he said.

The whole band expressed their respect for Berndt, with Nelson saying “I just want to bath in the awesomeness that is Dan,” and Po adding, “he’s a genius and he’s just a great person.”

The group originally started out under the moniker Peddler before changing the name shortly after their first EP was released. Po explained that the original name was a playoff of the fact that Korte is essentially a “pedal peddler.”

“Whenever I was at some kind of a work thing and people were like, ‘Oh, you’re in a band? What’s the name of your band?’ and I’d say, ‘Peddler,’ they’d be like ‘Oh-ho…Cool,’” Korte said. Po added that because of this, the name seemed to be “too cute.”

Their new name came about from an Instagram profile, a fact that Nelson discovered during the interview. “Agh the true answer is so stupid, but there was this acquaintance, like a friend of a friend, and his Instagram profile just said “mostly trees” in the description and it was literally mostly trees. And I thought it would make a good band name,” Korte said.

Nelson joked that if they didn’t sell as many records as they wanted under Mostly Trees, they would change their name again.”That’s one of the great strategies of rock ‘n roll is just change your name. You’re a new band, you get a little more buzz because you’re a new band and then just dive down to music and do it again,” Crowe pointed out.

The band’s current self-titled album was recorded at the famous Pachyderm Studio in Cannon Falls, MN, a dream come true for Nirvana diehard Po. Korte pointed out that Po even researched which room Kurt Cobain slept in during the recording of “In Utero” and made sure to sleep in the same room.

The album was then mixed by Minneapolis producer Ed Ackerson, who later passed away from pancreatic cancer. The band had worked with Ackerson on all of their music. When they were working with Ackerson on the overdubs and mixing, they had no idea he was sick. It wasn’t until after that the news broke.

“Now when we listen to it (the record) it’s kind of emotional because none of us knew at the time that’d be the last time we’d be able to experience this stuff with Ed, so. The record’s really heavy to all of us now, but we are so thankful that we got to experience it with everyone,” Po said.

“It was just amazing because he was working up until the end and he taught us so much and coached us so much,” Korte added.

Another bittersweet moment with the record is the audio clip included in “High in the Trees.” The song is about Po’s uncle who flew helicopters in Vietnam and had earned a purple heart and numerous other accolades. None of this was known about him until after he passed away.

This uncle played guitar and was a big influence on Crowe and Po. On visits from Florida, he would record jam sessions between the three of them, and that is where the audio clip came from.

 “It was like an ode at the end to put him on the record, and it was just kind of an afterthought once we were done but… it just kinda worked,” Po added, “Overall I don’t think the record is dark, but there’s a lot of demons we got out.”

Laura Ellen Brandjord (LEB): Influences? I’m not expecting you all to have the same answers.

John Nelson (JN): Well, no I’d say we all listen to very different stuff.

Joel Korte (JK): Well Jon is the songwriter so his hooks and his singing I think there’s a lot of Oasis in the songs. Some people have said Nirvana meets Oasis, but that’s not…but I think if you wanted to give people a quick idea.

Jon Po (JP): I’ve always loved 90s music. But when I was a little kid, I was obviously obsessed with Nirvana. I followed everything they did.

Dan Crowe (DC): But we grew up on Zeppelin and Tom Petty, The Traveling Wilburys, Beatles, Rolling Stones.

JP: Yeah, you can’t tell me my dad didn’t play Lynyrd Skynyrd till the sun came up.

DC: Elvis Costello, Talking Heads. A lot of that stuff that was ingrained. Stuff that, when you are writing music, you don’t even realize this is coming out of you it’s just like, ‘This just sounds right.’ Well, it sounds right because that’s what you grew up listening to, you know?

JP: We grew up in the late 90s early 2000s so we definitely got into that, like, Deftones, Limp Bizkit…we weren’t jump metal or anything, but–

JN: Dude, I can listen to jump metal and nü metal all day. I like that stuff.

JK: And I listen to a lot of ambient electronic music so that’s like my leads and atmosphere.

LEB: I like to end on some fun questions that aren’t focused on you as a band or your music or anything like that.

First, If you were stuck alone on a desert island with only one album for the rest of your life, what album would you choose?

JN: Man, mine came to my mind immediately. Silverchair “Diorama.”

DC: “Diorama”? Not even…wow.

JN: If anyone is listening to (or reading) this and hasn’t heard that record and you know Silverchair and you are like, ‘What is he talking about?’ Listen to that record. That’s what I’m saying. That’s it.

DC: Joel?

JK: I wanna go last, I’m still thinking. 

DC: S—.

JP: You know yours? I know mine 100 percent. ‘Sports’ Huey Lewis.

DC: Jesus Christ. 

JP: It’s so good. I’m just such a tool for melody, like, I’m just such a tool. Like there’s just so many songs…

JN: Read his (Jon’s) shirt right now.

JP: (reads his shirt) No Huey. No News. No Thanks.

(all laugh)

DC: It’s so polite.

JP: I’m sitting on a deserted island and I’ve got to listen to this album every. Single. Day. And I’m thinking, like why would you not…(reaches across the table with a Huey Lewis and the News sticker) Here, this is for you. You can have it.

DC: He has like a thousand. Seriously. He gives them to everyone he sees. Like, you know how some people give money to homeless people? Nah, not Jon.

JP: I went so long listening to such dark, like, sad stuff that, I don’t know, I guess I turned into an old man or somethin’. But Huey Lewis, there’s something about the man’s voice, and what he sings about and just how that album, ‘Sports,’ sounds. It’s just amazing. I’m cheesed out.

LEB: That’s actually my dad’s favorite concert he’s ever been to.

JN: Really?

JP: (whispers) Oh my God. When?

LEB: It was Huey Lewis and the News at the North Dakota State Fair in 1980 (after verifying later, it was actually 1984. My bad.)

JP: 80? 80! Ahhh!

LEB: No wait. It gets better. It was so hot out that they actually brought fire hoses out and sprayed down the crowd.

JK: Whoa.

JN: That’s amazing.

JP: 1980? So that means “Picture This” just came out. Maybe.

Again, my bad, Huey Lewis and the News played the North Dakota State Fair in 1984, so they were actually touring for ‘Sports.’

DC: Or they were touring for that album before it came out.

JP: Yeah, ‘cause ‘Sports’ didn’t come out until ‘84 before I was even born.

DC: Christian Bale (in ‘American Psycho’) taught me that.

DC: I’d say it’s between ‘Mellon Collie’ (by the Smashing Pumpkins) and Blind Melon ‘Soup.’ Either one of those would be fine. I’d be fine.

JN: ‘Mellon Collie.’ That’s kinda cheating, though.

DC: Why?

JN: Because it’s two albums, right?

DC: It was sold as one. It charted as one.

JN: It’s such a good pick though, like, does that influence your choice? Because you have twice as many songs to listen to.

JK: I don’t know, I’m just trying to think of something that you’d listen to so much and…

LEB: And you wouldn’t get tired of it?

JK: Yeah.

JP: You’re on a desert island. You’re waking up and you’re tired, you’re thirsty-

JN: Wow, I didn’t think that hard on this one.

DC: Yeah, I didn’t either.

JP: Well, you have to. (laughs)

JK: I was going to say Pink Floyd ‘Dark Side of the Moon,’ but, like, I think I’m going to go with Kendrick Lamar ‘DAMN.’

LEB: You’re actually not the first person that I’ve asked this question to that has said that would be their choice.

JK: Really?

DC: Not ‘Section.80’?

JK: It’s just so…yeah, I’d do with ‘DAMN.’

DC: I think I’d go ‘Section.80’ I think over ‘DAMN.’ just because like the first three songs, like, get me going. Like I could make any hut, build any fire…

(all laugh)

JK: Well it’s my album, so that’s mine. So I’m not the first on that one?

LEB: Yeah, I can’t remember who it was right now.

JP: It was Dan Montana.

JN: It was probably Dan Montana. Nah, I think his was KISS ‘Destroyer.’

JK: No, It was probably Black Sabbath. 

JP: It was probably Busey (Dan’s band). (laughs) ‘I’ll bring my own album.’

(all laugh)

JN: Who was it? Billie Joe from Green Day? That said when they are in the studio recording he doesn’t listen to anything except Green Day.

DC: Oh my god, just ‘Dookie’ on repeat.

(all laugh)

JN: ‘Dookie’ wouldn’t be too bad. 

LEB: If Mostly Trees split up, heaven forbid, and you had the opportunity to play with any band, who would each of you choose? If the band isn’t currently together, we can pretend they are.

JP: Oh. Wow.

JN: Ok. So I said for the record, the album I want Silverchair ‘Diorama,’ but I think my answer to this question would be so different. 

DC: Mine would be Mac DeMarco. I think it would be super fun to play with Mac DeMarco. His shows are so much fun.

JN: I’m not a huge fan of, like, listening to a Red Hot Chili Peppers record, but I would love to be in that band.

DC: (laughs) You’d love to be Chad Smith?

JN: Just playing that music all the time? It’s not music I like to listen to, but I’d love to play that. It’s upbeat, funky, like, always interesting.

DC: What about No Doubt?

JN: No Doubt. That would be another good answer.

DC: Like, No Doubt in its heyday. Just sitting back there in a thong (laughs).

JN: I would definitely say Led Zeppelin if there wasn’t the whole ‘nobody will ever be John Bonham’ thing. I mean even Jason Bonham tried drumming with them and he’s a very good drummer, but, like, it was just so ‘not right’ because it wasn’t John Bonham. So yeah, I would say Red Hot Chili Peppers.

JK: This is kind of a weird one, but I’d go on tour with Tycho.

JP: Yeah.

JN: As, like, an ambient lead guitar player?

JK: I think especially at my age, I want to just chill out and I’m not going to f–in’ jump around and hurt my back.

(all laugh)

JN: Does your back hurt?

JK: Well, you know, if you’re in Led Zeppelin you’re gonna jump around.

JN: Not if you’re the drummer.

DC: Jimmy Page doesn’t jump around. Have you ever seen Jimmy Page play?

JK: Well it’s high impact, like, they are sweaty and sore.

(all laugh)

JK: I’m just saying it looks like a lot.

JN: I think we should watch more live Led Zeppelin videos.

JK: (laughs) Ok.

JN: I guess Robert Plant gets sweaty…(laughs) and sore.

JP: (laughs) What a good band name.

JN: No, but Tycho’s a great answer. How about you Jon? 

JP: I don’t know if I can answer that.

JN: Yeah you can.

JP: I tried out for Stone Temple Pilots. I did the little vocal thing…I never got a callback. 

DC: The vocal thing (laughs)? I don’t think anyone got a callback. I don’t think there were auditions.

JP: They put some songs up and you could, like, sing them. But, yeah STP is one of my top five. I don’t know. I..I got all nostalgic when you asked the question so I’m not going to say.

All: What?

JN: You got all nostalgic like an answer popped into your head.

JP: Yeah, like-

JN: So, say it. Even if it’s cheesy.

JP: I would play Filling the Void. 

JN: Oh…

JP: I would get that band back together and I would play that because that was some of the funniest times I’ve ever had.

JN: Hell yeah.

JP: But that’s just a local band, like, if it was going to be a band that everyone knew–

DC: No, that doesn’t matter. It’s whatever band you want to play in, dude.

JP: Fleetwood Mac.

(all laugh) 

JP: Just to see that drama.

(all laugh)

LEB: There’s so much drama…like, up there with ABBA.

JP: Just like who’s dating who today?

DC: Yeah, like, ‘Oh, they’re f–ing now? Ok.’ (laughs)

JP: As soon as you asked the question my mind went, like, 20 different places. It was either, like, what would I like to resurrect?, what would I like to join right now and go, like, leave on tour? and then what would I just like to see come back so I could have it come back and it was such a good band that never got the recognition that it deserved? 

And if it was that (last) case, I would say a band called Verbena. Scott A. Bondy and his wife at the time made some of the best music ever and I would tour with that band.

JN: Can I add more answers?

DC: (pretends to start getting up) I’m gonna just go. (laughs) 

JN: I would add Paramore and Fall Out Boy to my list.

DC: Oh my god.

LEB: It would be a long night. They sometimes tour together so you’d be out for both sets.

JN: Again, music that I won’t listen to, but, like, I would love to drum in. 

DC: What about Linkin’ Park? Incubus?

JN: Incubus yes, but Linkin’ Park there is so much…

DC: What about, like, The Deftones?

JN: Deftones would be more challenging I think, and now I feel like I’m saying the Paramore and Fall Out Boy drummers aren’t as good as Abe, right? I don’t know. They’re all great.

LEB: Anything else?

JN: Well we talked about Huey, so I think we have our bases covered.

DC: I think we have all the bases covered.

JN: Listen to Mostly Trees on Spotify and come to our shows. We don’t know when they are yet. And I’m just going to say it. I’m going to say that we will have a show by NDSU.

DC: No, it’s Fargo. 

JN: I mean, why wouldn’t we?

DC: ‘Fargo: Rock City.’

LEB: (laughs) I actually have that book.

JP: Do you really?

DC: That’s great. You should have that book.

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