YORKVILLE — This is the true story, of seven musicians, who chose to live in a house, work together and find their way in the industry. Find out what’s set to happen as The Giving Tree Band continues to make music from its Yorkville home.
“We are a seven-piece band. A pretty big band,” said Todd Fink, who with his brother Eric is a founding member of The Giving Tree Band. “Five other guys have joined us along the way. All the guys are from different parts of Illinois. We all live together and have a studio and that’s where we record.”
The Fink brothers ended up in Yorkville in 1997 after their dad took a job at Loyola Medical Center. Their parents have since moved to California, but the brothers kept the house and use it as their studio and home base for the band.
Members of the band range from 24 to 34 years old. In addition to the Fink brothers, the members are Philip Roach, Erik "Norm" Norman, Scott "Woody" Woods, Karl Keiser – who goes by Charlie Karls – and “Z” aka Zachariah Oostema.
Yorkville was a place full of nature that the Fink brothers loved to explore.
“[Yorkville] was a nice quiet place when we came, and still is,” Fink said. “We spent some time exploring the Fox River. My brother and I liked to kayak on it. We would go on the river, stop, and get out the instruments and write songs. Silver Spring Park was influential in the development of the ideas we have about folk music.”
Geographically, Yorkville makes plenty of sense for the band as well.
“It’s still a good place for us,” Fink said. “It’s rural enough, so we can make some noise and not disturb too many people. We can hit the road and hop on 80 or 88.”
The name of the band is a familiar one to many – as it shares its name with the famous book by Shel Silverstein – and that’s not just by accident.
“The book has an inspiring message that my brother and I and a couple of guys around at the time thought would be a good fit,” Fink said. “In the beginning, it was just me and my brother and we were playing for free at nursing homes, libraries, hospitals and cafes. We felt like we were just giving music to people. We gave away thousands of sample CDs for free for a while. We were trying to share positive messages.”
One of the first breaks the band got was when it recorded its album, “Great Possessions,” at the Leopold Energy Center in 2009 – which was recorded using solar energy.
“It became the greenest album at the time,” Fink said. “We got a whole bunch of international press from the record.”
Along with being green and friendly to nature, the band is trying to push its music beyond genres and forms.
“The guys in the band have very diverse backgrounds,” Fink said. “Our violin player is also an electric guitarist. Guys have rock and folk backgrounds. We are able to do a lot of things that ordinarily would be very difficult to do.”
At any given time, the band features acoustic guitar, electric guitar, baritone guitar, violin, banjo, acoustic slide guitar, mandolin, piano, organ, drums, upright bass, electric bass, trumpet, trombone, xylophone, hand percussions and five different vocals.
“When you throw in five voices on top of seven instruments, you have a wide range of colors to paint with,” Fink said.
Chris Vinyard of Big Hassle Media recognized the uniqueness of the band’s sound and signed them in 2010.
“Once you get involved with bigger labels, people get assigned to work with you,” Fink said. “You can’t pay somebody to feel passionate about something. We have a great team that we’ve assembled over the years. We have people who believe in what we are doing together.”
Now, the band is recording its fifth album at the house. It will play a local show on Feb. 22 at Lincoln Hall in Chicago.
“We really, really enjoy playing to a packed club where the energy is high from people being in that space together,” Fink said. “Festivals are great. It’s fun, but it’s more of a circus environment.”
Fink shared a story of when he knew he would be able to make a living via music – something he and his brother weren’t always certain of, leading Eric to study physics in college and Todd to graduate with a degree in psychology.
“I was on a train traveling from Philadelphia to D.C,” Fink said. “It was hot and the air conditioning on the train wasn’t working. People were all really frustrated and it was an Amtrak at full capacity. I remember feeling the frustration of the train car I was in. I decided to just play them songs. I started playing whatever popular music that came to my mind thinking it would lift peoples’ spirits.
“After the first song, people were shouting at me and telling me I was making a bunch of noise. I didn’t stop playing. I was playing ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ and Beatles tunes and people started asking if I knew John Mellencamp songs and other songs. Before I knew it, people were up out of their seats dancing and singing along. People were coming from the other cars. I was rocking out. Businessmen were sweating through their suits. It went on like that the whole ride.
“As we were getting closer to D.C., the conductor came into the car and I thought I was going to be in some trouble. He took his hat and went around to the people and people started putting money in the hat. He told me, “Son, thanks for making this ride enjoyable’ and dumped the hat full of money in front of me. It was a lot of money, a few hundred dollars. It kind of awakened a certain assurance and confidence in me. If I can make that kind of money in that kind of environment when all the cards are stacked against you, then this is possible.”