Utah Stories

Bird in the Trees

Collaboration is the key to flying high for musical group, Bird in the Trees


Photo by Mark Salgado

For the quartet Bird in the Trees, no one member is sitting on a higher branch.

Collaboration is the key for the group that consists of female vocalist Taryn Willis, singer/guitar player Larry Moreland, singer/banjo player Vernon Twede, and multi-instrumentalist Jeremy Hansen. What style of music do they collaborate on? That depends on which band member you ask. Vernon replies, “I don’t like genres because they restrict you. So I just play the banjo and it works.” Taryn reflects “I don’t think that music is ever new. I don’t think melodies are ever new. I think everything is learned or borrowed. Most often it’s what you hear in your day to day life. There are amazing voices that we are yet to hear and it could change how we sing or play.” Jeremy is most succinct. “Americana,” he says.

The band has been playing together since December 2012. Few people credit UTA with serendipity, but a late night train right brought them together. Taryn was riding an empty train when a man entered with a guitar strapped on his back. “I approached this person and I wanted to play music on the TRAX and he thought I was drunk, but I wasn’t,” she says. The person was Larry and he soon realized Taryn was also a musician. They later played a show together at Jed’s Barber Shop. He invited his friend Vernon on banjo. The three managed to write their first song, “Saints Before Us,” in an hour. The fourth band member, Jeremy, joined a year later.

If it is kismet that brought the band together, then it is remembrance that provided its name.Taryn shares, “My father died several years ago (from cancer) and I got this tattoo. The tree represents life and the way we’re all intertwined/connected. The tree also represents my father and the birds are my sister and me. It’s about unity.”

Songwriting is a versatile process for Bird in the Trees. They exchange individual written material with each other like lovers send love notes back and forth. “I think that we have a better understanding of how we work together,” Vernon explains, “and I think the more you play with somebody the more you can bring an idea to the band and they can finish it. Everybody knows what needs to happen and contributes.” Larry adds, “I think the key to writing songs with people is to love them enough and respect them enough and to know they respect you.” This feeling of trust provides the roots for Bird in the Trees.

The band teams up on songwriting, but prefers a solo singing performance. “We like Taryn to sing more than anybody. We try,” Vernon says. “She’s actually good.” But Taryn protests. ”He (Vernon) wrote one of our greatest songs, ‘Ghost on the River.’ Vernon sings on it and plays lead with the banjo.”

Their bird’s eye view of the Utah and Wasatch Front music scene is what Larry describes as an isolated western “musical oasis.”

“Any music that you want to see eventually passes through here going to the east or the west coast. So, having had the opportunity to see music in cities like San Francisco and Seattle, I recognize that you can find the same caliber of music here, but on a more personal, intimate level.”

The biggest goal for Birds in the Trees is to be published, get an album recorded, and to create relationships with their listeners. “Also, I would love to quit my day job.” Vernon says. At the same time, his advice for musician is not to quit your day job. Even with a PhD in neuroscience, Vernon will find a way to support his musical habit. §

Taryn Willis: Vocals
Vernon Twede: Vocals/Banjo
Larry Moreland: Vocals/Guitar
Jeremy Hansen: Vocals/Percussion/Harmonica


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