An interview with Poor Tree

CV2: Describe a typical performance of Poor Tree. Obviously each one is different, but how do you approach each performance?

Dana Landry: Well, we tend to spend a little bit of time together beforehand. And just get into a sense of what everyone’s rhythm is so we can come to the performance having a sense of each other and where we’re at. It’s interesting because, when we get up there, as much as that experience is part of what you’re taking to the typewriter with you—you have to let it go to a large extent when you’re up there. In the end it’s just you and the page. So one of the things that you have to edit out is context and you focus in on your position. Locate yourself in the moment with these things that are obviously going to influence what you’re writing but which essentially distil in the moment of you and the page.

David Streit: You’re only doing well with the project when it’s flying and it’s a good night because literally it’s just you. On stage each of us individually are just, completely oblivious. There’s no kind of halfway waiting for “Oh, maybe I just want to kinda work off Christoff.” No, no, it’s not time for that yet. That comes with the reading—with listening and with the other vocals, too.

Christoff Engbrecht: It takes a little while to warm up, but usually we’ll do about three rounds. By the third round we’ve gotten to that point—we’ve gotten into a rhythm.

CV2: Can you maybe talk a little bit more concretely about what a performance of Poor Tree looks like for those people who have never seen it?

Christoff Engbrecht: Okay. If you were to walk into the room and see Poor Tree, you’d be looking at, three people on stage usually lined up, sitting at one table. They all have typewriters, electric or manual in front of them. We usually work with manuals, but we will work with any kind of typewriter. And then we just start typing.

David Streit: Or you’ll hear a record. I have an old portable record player and if we feel like we’re getting a really fresh audience we’ll put on the “How to Type” record. The guy on the recording begins, “Alright, the first thing you must do is…” And that’s our intro. It lets people realize, “Oh, there’s typewriters and they’re gonna type and this guy is giving instruction on how to type” and it’s very, you know, “j j j type, d d d type” and we’ll sit down and initially we’ll just play off that, then we’ll start typing. Or we’ll have musicians set up who will play. And then we’ll just go. And you’ll hear typing—different typing from this typewriter to that typewriter, different sizes or different tones. We don’t really plan that too much. But then we’ll type for about four or five minutes. Literally, just sitting there typing.

Christoff Engbrecht: There’s no introduction. We just start typing so the audience can take what they want, or, because that’s all that’s happening, right? And then, usually, we just come to a certain point when each one of us just finishes and…

Dana Landry: Pulls our page out…

Christoff Engbrecht: Pulls our page out. And there again, we don’t comment on what we write. We write, and then we read what we’ve written.

This interview is excerpted from a longer piece published in CV2.