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"The Hollow Trees" rhymes with Music For Families

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There are people in LA who have children. As LAist gets older we have noticed that even some of our friends are finding themselves with babies who then turn into little people. It's quite fascinating.

Because the people with the children want to entertain these creatures who sorta look like them they have to choose between the commonplace tales produced by Disney or the commonplace tales produced by a purple Dinosaur.

Lately there have been some alternatives as Devo (who found themselves with spawn) has kiddified some of their classic hits in Dev2.0, and some creative minds have allowed kids to sing some of today's hits in a popular series called Kidz Bop.

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Rooted in a more folky, Americana vibe come The Hollow Trees. A local duo of acoustic guitar and stand-up bass. Led by Greg McIlvaine (Gregory Hollow Tree) on guitar and vocals and Laura Steenberge (aka Laura Hollow Tree) on upright bass and vocals, the pair have been playing in and around LA for the last few years bringing smiles to young people and their parents alike, due to their lighthearted upbeat approach to music that doesn't talk down to the lil ones (like LAist would).

In preparation for their show tomorrow at the Jewish Community Center's Festival of Lights celebration in Silver Lake, McIlvaine answered some hard hitting questions about life, the universe, and the possibility of a slam pit at the gig.

Q: A band for "families"? How is that even possible?

Back in college I used to sing "On Top of Spaghetti" and "It's a Small World" at the hootenannies I would host every Sunday night. The rest of the story just writes itself: Art school....rock bands...marriage...kid...The Hollow Trees.

Who are your influences? Barney and Kermit?

Definitely Kermit, but not so much Barney. We stay away from any sort of instructional or preachy songs in favor of goofy or silly material. We don't want to be kid's parents, but instead their crazy aunt and uncle. Rather than sing a song telling kids to brush their teeth or look both ways when they cross the street, we'll sing a song about a whale who eats pork chops or a little old lady who yodels all day.

Our big influences are Burl Ives and Dan Zanes. Remember him from Del Fuegos? Now he's a highly successful children's entertainer. Like him we sing lots of traditional material in an Americana style.

Loved the Del Fuegos! I think we saw them at the Variety Arts in 85-86ish? Now, we went to one of your shows and we saw some kindergartners slam dancing... well it looked like slam dancing. They were running around and falling down. Does that happen often?

Oh yeah! Playing for kids is always crazy and never predictable. In fact, that makes me think that toddlers have a lot in common with punk rockers:


Punks = snotty ; Kids = have snot running down their faces
Punks = impudent; Kids = Love to say "poo"
Punks = like tattoos; Kids = love tattoos. My son has a dinosaur on his arm right now.
Punks = gimme, gimme, gimme; Kids = gimme gimme gimme
Punks = love anarchy; Kids = love to put ears where Mr. Potato Head's mouth should be
I could go on...
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Will there be Christmas songs at this Festival?

We might bust out "Let it Snow." It's a nice song with no religious references and some cool minor chords. I might be able to sneak up onstage and sing "The 12 Days of Christmas" at some point during the day.

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What about Chaunnakah songs?

No, but if you come early enough you will be able to see The Lashes. Maybe they'll do a Bob Dylan tune -- does that count?

What do the Hollow Trees have against drummers? [Disclosure, LAist used to play drums in the short-lived (three performances) Atwater Village trio "Chopper One" with McIlvaine]

Come on Tony! All drummers are miscreants and shouldn't be allowed around children. Everyone knows that!

Just Kidding.

A full drum set is a little loud for kids, and creates distance between the band and the audience. With us the kids can still feel the music because of the standup bass but they can get right up close and be part of the show.

Our buddy Dave who plays snare drum on a few tracks on the album will be sitting in with us on Saturday, along with a bunch of other folks. Dave played drums with Baby Lemonade and Love and he's really great

You dress up as a farmer or a train conductor when you play, so are you a farmer or train conductor in real life?

Yes. And a Sea Captain, Cowboy, Astronaut, Fireman, Archaeologist, Super Hero, Ballerina, Symphony Conductor, Librarian, Ninja, Doctor, and Spy. But I don't let that get in the way of my folksinging.

Speaking of The Man, what did you think of the latest Bob Dylan record?

I really love it actually. It took a couple of listens, but It's really grown on me. The music is pleasant if not too exciting but it's well executed and some songs are danceable. The lyrics are completely great and reveal new meanings with repeated listenings. For instance, "I've sucked the milk out of a thousand cows" - wow!

With this album and "Love and Theft" he's definitely on a roll. Reminds me of late Titian paintings.

How did you get your cd made?

We recorded it ourselves and our pal Todd Francis, the famous skateboard artist, did the cover. He also sits in with us on harmonica sometimes.

Why do you put the key of your songs on your website. Is that code for something? Are you people Commies or something?

It is a code! It's a code for what key you should play in when you play along with us, which everyone is invited to do.

Where can folks get your CD?

It's available online at CDbaby.com. Locally you can get it at Storyopolis in Studio City, Dragonfly Dulou in Los Feliz, Sea Level Records in Echo Park, or Wee Soles in Silverlake. It's sold out at Amoeba but I'm working on getting them some more.

The Hollow Trees play tomorrow at 1pm at the SIJCC Festival of Lights, 1110 Bates Ave. (enter off Effie St, 1 blk. South of Fountain) Map. But come early since the festival opens at 10am. Admission $5.