There’s nothing quite like sitting at the Terrace on a quiet night during late summer chatting with the members of a band. It is even better when imagining how easily they could start rocking out and turn that calm into high-energy revelry.
The Treats, one of Madison’s most promising local bands, is composed of bassist Tim Payne, drummer Don Isham and his younger brother, vocalist and guitarist Andy Isham. Although initially claiming to not be in a talkative mood, as the evening becomes more comfortably cooler Andy’s position as spokesman becomes apparent. Allowing his stream of consciousness to manifest, he explains Don’s natural ability as like that of a late 1980s Phil Collins, discusses the time Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo spent at Harvard, and touches on the power of Hemingway’s great mental storage before turning to the current question regarding the process involved in the creation of a song.
Some artists feel intimidated by the use of a tape recorder in an interview, but the Isham brothers use recorders often in their songwriting to capture inspirational moments.
“There are natural melodies all around,” Andy said. “There never really are background sounds for me. You need to just quiet your brain and it becomes a matter of allowing songs to come.”
Andy explains the manner in which the Treats put music together in terms of a hierarchy. A member has an idea, and the band members get together and work through the song on different levels. At the broad developing base they experiment with finding complementary sounds. The initial mutations and transformations begin to slow after many practices and performances until there is a cemented apex of their labors.
Then there is the actual engineering and production of the songs, which they did themselves for their debut album Paint Your Blood.
Payne and the Ishams all hold engineering degrees from the University of Wisconsin and their attention to structure comes out in their music.
“We have a pretty regular, pop structure to our songs … chorus, verse, chorus. Our math allows us to maintain that symmetry of sound,” Payne said. “With computer programs we can record and then change the sounds, bringing the bass up or whatever, until it is right.”
Every part of that structural trinity is essential for the indefinable “right” sound the Treats work to produce.
“We learned to play together and we play whatever it is we like,” Payne said.
When asked to give a name to their music, the Treats are certain only that there is little to no influence of math rock in their own sound. The most specific, and vague at best, means with which Andy could express the sounds one could expect from the Treats came out as “high energy blues, garage band, kind of psychedelic, kind of Brit pop … with some G ‘n R, definitely.”
The craftiness of Paint Your Blood is very simply that wide display of genres, unified only by the high quality each distinct number displays.
“I can go through each and every song and tell you who we pinched what sounds from. In that sense, we are traditional rock and roll,” Don said. “Everyone steals and builds upon the sounds of someone else.”
The Treats’ particular brand of rock and roll began in 2000 when Payne, after enduring the musical messing around of his neighbors, decided there was a bass missing in the mix. He had the bass. Payne quit his lessons and the sounds of beginning musicians led to the beginning of a new sound.
The trio lacked an official name until 2002 when Payne signed them up for the Battle of the Bands on Engineering Mall.
“We needed a name to be in it, so we Googled some ideas,” Don said. “We must have gone through at least twenty possibilities and don’t really know where the Treats came from. I like it because it can be read as a noun, you know like candy and Halloween, trick or treat.
“But then there’s the verb form,” Andy said.
Last year, Andy took a nearly debilitating fall. In addition to physical difficulties for Andy, the accident left the Treats out of practice for at least five months.
“One doctor told me I wouldn’t play again. Another didn’t say anything. I think having that goal of doing this again really fueled my progress,” Andy said. “It made those ten hours a day of physical therapy worth it. Yeah, I had to learn how to play in a way my wrist would work, but I can play, and I can do only ten minutes of therapy before a show rather than an hour or more.”
Andy said the determination to play again intensified the band’s playing.
“We don’t really bullshit around as much like we used to, like a lot of bands do,” Andy said. “There is almost this sense of urgency. We throw out so many songs that just aren’t working and we want to get to those ones that we can really evolve into something worthwhile.”
The Treats focus right now on taking those songs and developing them into tunes that stick in the listener’s ear.
No doubt the sounds of the Treats will leave listeners pleased, but there is the issue of getting the waves to the ears.
“There are a lot of great bands out in Madison, and a lot of great places to hear live music,” Andy said. “But not enough people seem to know about that, are really exposed to it on a regular basis.” In a rare audible moment, Don interjects with the intensity of his brother, “So go support your local bands.”