In August 2013, local band Treemotel performed during the Santa Fe Bandstand series and rocked my face off so hard I never forgot. At that time a five-piece, Treemotel, under the watchful eye of bandleader Mark Williams, had zeroed in on a nearly perfect mix of nerd-punk, experimental rock and fun. In a column following that performance (“Everybody Loves Treemotel,” Aug. 6, 2013), I likened them to Dead Milkmen, Modest Mouse and certain then-members of Northern California label Asian Man Records’ roster. Williams’ voice, however, was (and is) more unique—he’s a nerd, he knows it, he’s not ashamed. The songs were explosive and chaotic, though with a firm foundation in throwback Clash-esque punk rock—not bad for a guy who started out wanting to be a children’s entertainer. And it was good.
Right up until they disappeared.
"We moved to Austin in 2013 as a band," Williams says. "It didn't split us up right away, but it was harder to see each other since we were all busy trying make a living."
Treemotel would make an honest go of it, but never found consistent support in Texas. Around one year after they'd arrived, original members like David Badstubner and Greg Butera would move on; vocalist Lindsey Mackin would form still-operating indie act Annabelle Chairlegs and, by 2015, Williams wound up just as he'd started: as a solo act.
A former student of the College of Santa Fe and a graduate of Santa Fe University of Art and Design, this didn't much faze Williams.
"I wanted to give Austin a little more time," he says. "I mean, I was sad when everybody left, but time passes and it's all good."
Williams grew up in Virginia and spent time in Orange County, California, and Japan, where his mother is from. In 2006 he came to Santa Fe to study painting and studio art at CSF, and then SFUAD—but, he says, "the contemporary music program always felt like my home."
In the years before and all through college, Williams recorded hundreds of demos on his laptop, but making friends with SFUAD music majors ultimately helped him form the band.
"After CSF shut down, when we came back, [Treemotel] was one of the only bands left on campus," he explains. "The people who came back were mostly musicians, and I was able to befriend them." This meant two full-length albums and an EP plus small regional tours before the band's fall.
Cut to this week, and Treemotel has reformed with original member Badstubner, consummate drum champ Mikey Chavez and guitarist/vocalist Elise Southwick, who is perhaps better known as a member of the Wise Fool troupe.
"I was hoping somewhere in the back of my head I'd be able to come back to Treemotel some day," Williams says. "We were on fire when we left—that's kind of why we left—but now I've learned a lot; I've heard our new songs have matured; our energy is very different in that … in a simple sense, we've matured."
Regardless, Williams says he believes the Treemotel sound remains intact, though with Southwick adding to the mix, everything seems bigger. Williams also says he's touring Japan solo this October. Take note, then, that the band is slated to perform at the very first concert at the new Second Street Brewery location on Saturday. Not only is this exciting because it means Treemotel is officially back on the scene (they've played a handful of smaller shows lately, to be fair), but because it helps set the tone for the new venue: It's focused more on actual concerts, as opposed to bands crammed in a corner to which no one has to pay any attention.
"I like saying my band is great," Williams adds, without even a hint of pomposity. "I think we're fantastic, but I want to be nice about it—and a lot of it is confidence in my friends, because they make my music sound good."
Treemotel with The Washboard Abs and 100 Watt Horse
8 pm Saturday Aug. 5. $5 suggested donation.
2899 Trades West Road