Melanie Annabelle ::: Musician ::: Atlanta
Melanie & I vaguely knew each other from growing up in Marietta, Georgia and reconnected last year when I booked her band Low Tree Grow Tall for a Sofar Sounds performance in Atlanta. Sofar Sounds organizes monthly 'living room concerts' in more than 38 cities around the world. I was involved with the New York chapter and established the Atlanta chapter in 2012. The concerts are held in a home, fans sit on the floor, and the bands perform acoustically. The environment could not have been more perfect for Low Tree Grow Tall, a folk duo whose followers refer to themselves as a tribe. I caught up with Melanie in our old stomping ground to talk about face paint, community, and the beauty of being understood.
The Birth of Low Tree Grow Tall
Melanie's musical roots began in Colorado as an experiment in self-expression. The practice of working emotional issues out through song writing & performing was cathartic, but solitary. Eventually, she made her way back to Atlanta and met Casey, who became her partner in Low Tree Grow Tall. The band became known for its specific aesthetic: devotees are typically adorned with tribal face paint prior to the duo's performance and the girls dress in an ethereal sort of way. This is not by mistake. Early on, Melanie & Casey decided on everything from their look to a personal code. They were inspired this quote about taking care of relationships from Song of Solomon in the Bible:
Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom.
The metaphor implies that a healthy relationship is like a vineyard that bears fruit & must be protected. The rules they created were immortalized in a little green notebook entitled The Commandments of the Creatives, a manifesto they referenced frequently to keep each other in check. Bands are often hierarchical with one person taking the lead and others playing specific roles. In stark contrast, Low Tree is truly a balanced partnership of two women trying to understand each other and themselves.
The Importance of Face Paint
Let's revisit Melanie & Casey's adoption of face paint. Besides it being weird & fun, Melanie explained that initially they used it as a way to distinguish themselves visually. At some point, a fan asked to be painted and so it went. The activity of face painting gave the two musicians a tangible way to interact & identify with their growing admirers. In a digital world, having cold, wet paint put on your face by a stranger is a novel sensory experience. And even when the going perception is that everyone wants to be different, this social experiment proved that people still crave community. Nowadays, Low Tree Grow Tall performs only for special occasions. Luck & impeccable timing allowed Melanie & Casey to pursue other full-time projects like Family & Friends and Paper Lights. Many things have changed: Melanie's bandmates are now two married men and they play electronic music. But one thing has stayed the same: her new group employs The Commandments of the Creatives.