KEXP Exclusive Interview: Krist Novoselić Climbs Again with Giants in the Trees

Interviews, Upstream Music Fest + Summit, Local Music
Jake Uitti
photo by Niffer Calderwood
all photos by Niffer Calderwood // taken at The Blue Moon 5-6-2017 (view set)

Famed bassist Krist Novoselić loves music. Whether it’s an accordion strapped to his shoulders or the bass he’s become world famous for playing, he loves finding new melodies and playing in front of dancing audiences. The man who rose to the top of the pop culture pinnacle with his band, Nirvana, is now grinding and building with a new project, one born out of the rural Southwest Washington Wahkiakum County. Novoselić’s new group, Giants in the Trees, has been turning heads and working its way up to the Pacific Northwest ladder, first selling out their Seattle album release show at Ballard’s Sunset Tavern and, later this summer, the four-piece will play coveted sets at both Sasquatch! and the Upstream Music Festival. We wanted to catch up with the great northwest musician and ask him about how his new band started, what its goals are for next year, and what Novoselić has learned about the music business over the past year. 

KEXP: You’ve said Giants in the Trees formed after the four members were the only ones to respond to a call for an open jam. Is that really how the group started?

Krist Novoselić: Yes. It was at the Grange Hall (in Wahkiakum County, where the band members live). It was really casual; we knew each other already from a Grange meeting earlier that week. It was on a Saturday and we just plugged in and started jamming and we didn’t look back. We started writing songs right away. The first one we wrote was “Sasquatch.” It just seemed like we all could communicate musically very well. 

The band’s songs often incorporate themes of nature. Why are these ideas important to the group?

You write about what you know. We live out in Wahkiakum County so we’re, like, rural dwellers. And [lead singer] Jillian [Raye] -- who writes the lyrics -- she just seems inspired by living out in the sticks in the Willapa Hills in Southwest Washington, in the small county here, which is home to about 4,000 people. 

How does the group write?

We throw ideas around. Last night, we wrote a couple songs but you just have to write a lot. There’s a filtering process to see what works. You have to ask yourself, “Does this sound good?” You work ideas out and see what flies and what doesn’t fly. As a band, we like melody. We’re in some ways a traditional pop band like a group from the early 70s, how they did pop music. We go for melody and find hooks. There’s also a lot of playing going on -- like Ray [Prestagard] is a multi-instrumentalist. He plays slide guitar and box guitar and all these different string instruments. He’ll play a Telecaster and Jillian will play a 12-string guitar or a 6-string banjo. I’ll play bass or accordion. We’re just trying to find different sounds but also trying to play the instruments well and bring the voice of the instrument into the sound of the band. 

What’s been a favorite moment for you -- on stage, recording or rehearsing -- while playing with the group?

I actually really like playing accordion. Playing bass for me is second nature; I’ve been doing it so long. But I learned to play accordion really young and I stuck with it my whole life. I learned the language of it before I even reached puberty. There’s, like, this window for learning when you’re young and if you could learn a language or an instrument before you hit puberty you remember it your whole life. But when you transition into adolescence, that window closes. I was lucky enough to where I had this past time playing accordion and I never forgot how. But it is also a very demanding instrument. I haven’t by any means mastered it, but I think I can play it just enough for a rock band. 

Giants in the Trees is playing Sasquatch! and Upstream this summer. Is there anything, in particular, you’re looking forward to about these big shows?

We’re looking forward to playing to those big crowds and the outdoor festival vibe. I haven’t done that in a long time. I played a song with the Foo Fighters in Eugene, Oregon, like, last October or November and I’ve done some other one-offs, but playing a whole set with the band - that’s why people go to festivals because of the great energy there. And it’s this reciprocal relationship a band has with an audience. So, if a band is giving you this energy, you respond and it’s just this back and forth. And being outside, people are stoked. They’ve spent their hard-earned money to go to this festival. At Sasquatch, we’re going to be one of the first bands at the festival -- we’re playing on the Bigfoot Stage -- and our first song is going to be “Sasquatch.” We’re going to play “Sasquatch” at Sasquatch!

Have you learned anything new about the music business after playing in and promoting the band over the last year?

It seems like it’s basically the same, I think. At least on the level we’re playing, if you’ve got a good crowd and you’ve got good music, it’s an event. When a band starts playing and people congregate, it’s to celebrate the phenomenon of music. And I’m grateful people know the songs now. When we started to play out, people really didn’t know the music. So we were asking a lot of the audience -- like, here’s this new band, check us out! But now a lot of people know the material so they recognize some songs they like. 

Playing clubs -- when I first started playing clubs in the late '80s, it’s pretty much the same. You get there for soundcheck and you can smell the beer and the bleach from the night before. It’s the same old thing. It’s a very Venture Capitalist system. People take a chance on you and promote the band and if you sell tickets and get good attendance, you make money. If not, you eat your shorts. It’s a high risk, very capitalist business, especially the local music scene. And you don’t want to fool yourself; you’re selling beer and booze. It’s better now, though, because there’s no smoking. Before, when you went out, your clothes would end up smelling like cigarettes - and I used to smoke. But now they’ve banned smoking and it’s a lot better. It’s great that rock ‘n’ roll is still alive and people are still doing it, too. 

Was there anything you worried about as you started to put yourself out in public more again with the band -- like maybe the number of selfies you’d have to take? 

Oh, well, I’m used to that. It’s a double-edged sword. Like, yeah, I may have to do the selfies and sign autographs but the opposite is that nobody cares! The opposite is, like, I couldn’t get arrested, right? So, I’m happy people still care. I’m happy to oblige. 

You worked with the amazing Jack Endino on the band’s debut record. Can you talk about what your relationship is like and why you wanted to work with him again?

We’ve always been working together. He recorded the first demo Nirvana ever did and so there’s just been that relationship ever since. We’ve been friends for all these years, like 30 years now. He’s awesome -- you just kind of stick with people you trust. 

What are the band’s goals for the next year or two?

Well, we’re working on a new record right now. So, the thing is just getting that satisfaction of creating and making music. That’s why I’m into it and everybody else is doing it. To get attention is nice, too, so we can sell CDs and downloads and the band can make a little bit of money at it. But we just want to keep making music and playing together. 

Giants in the Trees perform Friday, May 25th at the Sasquatch! Music Festival in George, Washington, and on Saturday, June 2nd at the Upstream Music Fest + Summit, headlining the Miller Lite Stage at Central Saloon as part of a line-up curated by Novoselić himself, also featuring Butterfly Launches From Spar Pole, Star Meets Sea, and MKB ULTRA.

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