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It is a fact that progressive rock is extremely popular nowadays. If we want to get a clear picture of this pool we are in trouble because there are plenty of sub-styles, interpretations, and many artists try to reshape this style. After we got to know the discography of the biggest names, for instance, Pink Floyd, Yes and so on, it is worth picking songs and artist randomly from this vast world.

It happened this way when I found a CD at the local second-hand record shop some years ago. While both the title and the artist name were totally unknown to me, the artwork impressed me totally. It graphed a wonderful autumn landscape with horse riders; it seemed that it was from 'The Lord of the Rings' when the Company of the Ring is crossing the forest to get through the Misty Mountains. Being a huge fan of the universe of Tolkien, it was an instant decision to bring this album home.

The second shock came when I started to listen to the CD, a very moody and relaxed crossover progressive music emerged from the amps, which was impossible to be categorized into a proper style. On the album, I could hear everything from folk rock to ambient, electronica, and towards more elaborated forms.

This band, which did a huge impact on me, are called The Winter Tree and the mastermind behind the albums is Andrew Laitres. Living in Brattleboro, Vermont, USA, he has been involved in music since the 1980s. His dreamy, nicely crafted images and visions have been found on seventeen albums, which is an extraordinary number. After being involved in cover bands, he started going on his own way by forming the group Magus which was active until 2003. After that, he re-invented and reformed the style a little bit and founded another formation called The Winter Tree. During the 2010s he came up with six albums and his seventh is due to be released next week.

Despite the fact that he can be easily called  a one-man band, he likes collaborating with other artists from all over the word on his records.  I had the opportunity to make friends with him via the internet and he was so kind to send me some of his CDs. Then it was natural to make an interview with him. Since I immersed into his world, I can say that Andrew Laitres is a very talented guy whose rich inner world can mesmerize listeners. Andrew, who is a calm, reserved guy, blends different musical worlds to create something special and unique. This year he has released an EP, called 'Topaz' which is the taster of the forthcoming long-play. It is one of his very best works and very diverse in many ways, from a folk-inspired Yeats poem adaptation to longer meditative-like, new age-inspired pieces.

If someone immerses themselves into your discography, he or she may think that you like fantasy and science fiction books. When you create music, what inspires you?

Many different things inspire me. On the EP I adapted some old poems from the early 20th century to music. The music just kind of flows and I try not to overthink it too much. Anything can inspire songs - a book, the news, experiences in one's life, relationships, God and metaphysics. The more varied the better.

I am astonished by the number and the variety of your records. There are many songs on your album which can be called masterpieces. What are your favorites that you are very proud of?

My favorite song that I have written is the title track from my 'Mr. Sun' album. To have Alistair Gordon and Neil Taylor perform on it was the 'icing on the cake' as we say in English. I also really like the title track from my 'Earth Below' album as well as 'A Thousand Futures' from the same album. "The Lake Isle of Innisfree", the W.B.Yeats poem that I adapted to music on my new EP and upcoming album is also a high point. Nad Sylvan did a very inspired vocal for that one. My favorite albums are 'Mr. Sun' , "Twilight of the Magicians", and 'Singularity'.  

How did music step into your life?

As a young child, I used to fall to sleep every night listening to The Vienna Boys Choir. My parents had a small album collection of mostly Broadway show tunes and stuff like Herb Alpert, Harry Belafonte, and Burl Ives. My mother played some piano and trumpet. My father never played an instrument, but loved to sing. I was obsessed with learning to play the guitar. When I was around 8 I got my first real guitar, a sunburst finished steel string acoustic. Soon after I got a nylon string one. This was at the beginning of the 70s, long before one could look up on the internet how to play songs. I learned by watching people. At 14 I joined my first band and almost immediately started playing gigs. 

Your first original band was Magus, which introduced you as a fine singer-songwriter. When you started your full-time artistic career, what were your plans for the future?

World domination! Seriously though, I was hoping to form a real band and play festivals and tour. But the whole music business changed, especially with the advent of the digital age. I found out about the Progressive Rock scene around 1994 and that's when I started releasing full albums through distributors. It has been a great vehicle and platform for my songwriting and I just enjoy doing it. I'm glad people like the music. If just one person really digs the music, I've done my job.

Why did you change the name of the band to The Winter Tree?

I wanted a fresh start in 2010. It had been over 7 years since my last Magus album, 'The Garden' and I had recently been divorced and was ready and inspired to get back to recording. I had about 4 or 5 new songs and a vast archive of ideas, riffs, and demoed songs that I had been accumulating since the 80s. I also wanted it to be a functioning band and thus recruited Mark and Deb Bond. 

'Winter Tree' is also one of the songs of the art-rock band, Renaissance. Who are the musicians who have inspired you throughout your career?

My first big musical inspiration was Elton John. I absorbed all of his early/mid 70s work. My cousin played me Pink Floyd's 'Dark Side of the Moon' and 'Meddle' which made a huge impact on me. At 15 I bought a used copy of Genesis' 'Foxtrot' album and was transported into the wonderfully surreal world of Genesis. I had found my music. I'm also a huge YES fan. Throughout the 80s groups and artists like David Sylvian, The Fixx, Howard Jones, Shreikback, XTC, The Waterboys and many others were a big inspiration. David Sylvian's 'Brilliant Trees', 'Gone To Earth', and 'Secrets of the Beehive' were a massive influence on my recording techniques. I soak in everything.

How do you describe the style you are working in?

Art rock. I don't care for the 'progressive rock' label. I don't think many bands that are associated with that label are really very progressive. Many sound like a certain band, and even a certain period of that band('oh, they sound like PG 'Selling England' era Genesis'). I just try to sound like myself. 

How do you spend your day when you compose?

Often I sit at a guitar or keyboard and just start with wherever my hands land. Often very surprising chords and phrases come out of this approach. I've learned not to force it. But when creativity is flowing I will often work all day without stopping. It's a wonderful feeling to be 'in the zone'.

How do you choose your musician partners for the recordings?

I just ask whoever I think will do the music justice. With the internet, it has made collaboration much easier. It is very rewarding to be able to work with artists from all over the world. My new album has contributions by musicians from Canada, Mexico, Argentina, Macedonia, Norway, Germany, Russia, Holland, France, and different parts of the USA. This was not possible for me until the internet. It also has enabled me to work with drummers. Before I didn't have the facilities to record drums. It makes a big difference in the music. I've also been able to work with some top mixing guys like Steve Piggot. A great mix can really make the music come alive.

If you don't write and record music, what do you do in your free time?

I love to hike, run, cycle, go on long walks in the forest and hills, and read. I've been working at a group home for children in crisis since 1993. I also enjoy travel and adventure.

You have said you have been working on a new album. When will we be able to listen to it and will it be different from your previous ones?

My new album will be out in late November. It is my first foray into covers. I recorded 10 covers and 5 originals. I chose songs that I have loved since I was a kid. I tried not to chose big hits and went for the deep cuts. These are very much my own versions. I hope people enjoy it.

The website of 'The Winter Tree':

The new album, called 'Topaz Islands Dreaming' by Andrew Laitres/The Winter Tree is due to be released on 23rd November.

Order it here: (Japan) (USA) Germany/E.U.)