Hearing Trees existed before frontman Graham Hnatiuk had ever picked up a guitar or penned a single lyric. Even as just an apparition in his mind’s eye, Hnatiuk’s musical vision essentially saved his sanity, maybe even his life. And now, with the release of the Winnipeg rock band’s debut LP, Quiet Dreams, the creative seeds sown years ago have come to full fruition.
“I started this in 2009 because I had a serious mental episode and almost ended up in the hospital,” the singer, guitarist, and songwriter candidly explains. “I was pretty much unable to care for myself. My life just wasn’t going in the right direction, but I found solace and inspiration in art and music. I knew that’s what I needed to do.”
Dropping out of school and dedicating himself entirely to his creative calling, Hnatiuk slowly and steadily developed a sonic and lyrical blueprint for the band. Then, in 2013, he enlisted fellow musicians to finally realize Hearing Trees in the flesh.
The group’s lush, layered brand of ambient and anxious rock is built atop a foundation inspired by genre stalwarts like R.E.M., Matthew Good, and The Tragically Hip and tinged with the more modern and atmospheric musings of Wintersleep and The National. Coupled with sometimes cryptic, always captivating poetry, Hearing Trees offers a true masterclass in sweet-sounding catharsis.
Since dropping their self-titled EP in 2014, the band has evolved with a rotating cast of musicians entering and exiting the fold; however, whereas lineup changes are often treated as taboo, it’s all part of Hearing Trees’ growth and flourishing. “I wouldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t have the opportunity to play and tour and collaborate with these people, and learn something from every single one of them,” Hnatiuk offers.
One constant from the band’s debut EP and heralded 2015 follow-up, Dear Sahara, through to Quiet Dreams is producer and mentor Michael P. Falk, the man behind acclaimed indie outfit Les Jupes and a staple of Winnipeg’s music scene. “He’s guided my hand more than anybody,” Hnatiuk says, and his fingerprints are all over the 10 tracks comprising Quiet Dreams.
Every one of those has been road tested through extensive touring in recent years, with the band performing alongside influential artists and at major events like Canadian Music Week, BreakOut West, and Festival du Voyageur.
The collection is the closest Hearing Trees has come to realizing that initial vision; as such, it offers the most compelling and seductive take on the band’s signature sound to date. “Lights Out” and “Telling Peter” are energetic and enveloping, showcasing the atmospheric melodies and intriguing lyricism that anchor the album. Offerings like “We’re All Puppets” and “Nobody’s Talking,” on the other hand, are more ethereal and delicate in nature, steadily building to their cathartic conclusions.
Lyrically, Quiet Dreams finds Hearing Trees exploring anxiety, depression, and mental illness from a surprisingly optimistic perspective. “I’m always looking for hope – something uplifting that will make me feel better, and hopefully make other people feel better,” Hnatiuk says. “I don’t necessarily want to pick those things apart; I’d rather get to the realization that things are going to be okay.”
And therein lies what’s so special about Hearing Trees. As only a concept, it inspired and healed its creator; now, as a fully realized creative force and sonic identity all its own, it’s poised to do the same for anyone else drawn into its world.