After the Treefort show, I met Paul Hansbury and we agreed to correspond later.

He now lives and works in Canton, Mass. Calling him during his lunch break at work later that week, I learned how in 1995 in the basement of the Hotel Northampton, where they both worked, he and Matt Hebert hatched the plot to become a band and play Hansbury’s songs as Treefort.

Hebert had heard Hansbury play at local open mics and was so enthusiastic about his songwriting that he offered to learn to play drums. It’s his playing you hear on the album. Bob Hennessy was a young friend of Hebert’s girl friend. Not long after the album was released, Hebert left the band and became involved with the Ware River Club and other projects. Joe O’Rourke took over playing the drums for Treefort.

Hansbury sees Hebert’s enthusiasm as critical to the formation of the band. “I started playing music with friends when I was 18 or 19,” he said. “The more chords I learned, the more songs I wrote, and eventually I got up the balls to get in front of someone and perform. But I never was able to get a band together. Something always came up that would knock someone out of the group. I really wonder, if Matt Hebert hadn’t come around, if I ever would have bothered.”

A few of the 15 songs on Treefort’s only album, Girls Allowed, came from that era (“Darrin” and “Brian in the Swamp” among them), but he had been writing songs since the ’70s and through the ’80s, and most of the tracks were from that back catalog.

As he composes them, most of his songs start with his lyrics, but he thinks it’s a 60/40 ratio between lyrics and the melody. The subject matter is often autobiographical, but it’s also whimsical, even if darkly so. “I like to play with two silly ideas,” he says, “and play them off each other until they reach their logical conclusion.”

Asked if the upbeat rocker “Idi Amin Dada” was an example of this, he agreed. “Is he even dead?” he asked. “I don’t think he was when we recorded it, but lots of our fans thought so. I was just struck by how odd it was they called this dictator ‘dada,’ so I wrote a song about him from his kids’ perspective.” (Editor’s note: the catchy chorus runs, “Idi Amin was our dada, someone gunned him down.” The former Ugandan leader, in fact, died of natural causes in exile in Saudi Arabia in 2003.)

In addition to the artists he covered in his May 1 gig at the Basement (see review), Hansbury also cites Jonathan Richman, Loudon Wainwright and John Prine as influences—”People who play for themselves and for whom the lyrics are important.”

He also points to the British and American punk movements as strongly influential. “What they gave me was a sense that you didn’t need to be perfect to play rock well,” he recalls. “I mean, I never knew I had a lousy voice until we put out the record. I’ve still got the review somewhere: ‘Nice songs, too bad your voice sucks.'”

Initially, Hansbury needed his songs to be as polished as he could get them before he shared them with the band, but he says he’s been increasingly offering up ideas he hasn’t worked over so thoroughly. “The band’s game for anything I bring them,” he said.

While he was forthcoming and congenial during our phone conversation, his email response to my initial query captured Paul Hansbury and what’s been going on in his life since he left the Valley so clearly it seemed pointless to paraphrase it. I’d asked him when he might be available to talk, and I let him know I wanted to discuss “keeping the band going, and the hassles of being a musician in the 21st century.”

In his email, he replied:

My schedule,
while fairly hard-and-fast,
is not deep in times where I am allowed
to hear myself think,
let alone converse.

I work 7:00 to 3:00, Monday to Friday.

I carry two phones at work, my cell
and a two-way device upon which I am called / summoned / bothered
all day long by as many as ten to twelve people.

My lunch hour is from 11:00 to 12:00 noon.

That span of time is NOT sacrosanct
from the two-way interruptions.
But it sometimes passes unmolested.

The post-work rigamarole is even harder
for a phone conversation….

I have three kids, 9, 7, and 3.
There is no escape from them,
nor do I wish for one.

I am not really a musician in this century or any other.
The angle of keeping the band going is perhaps the best angle,
because it IS slightly miraculous that we are still at it,
given all that has transpired.

I moved away from the Valley in 2004.
Our second album was in the can
and my boys were 4 and 2.
We were planning on finding a house
in Greenfield or somewhere,
because our apartment in Northampton was too small.

I was offered the house I grew up in
here in Canton, Mass.,
because my sister
convinced my four other siblings to offer it to me, for free
with my elderly parents’ approval,
as the elderly parents moved into a senior-housing complex.
I said, Fuck that, I hate my home town.
My wife’s eyes, however,
lit up at the idea of a free house.
So we did it.

The new year of 2005
was ushered in with me beginning my new job…
at the senior-housing complex into-which my parents moved(!),
not by design,
but by sheer luck of circumstance.
They hired, I applied, I was in.

I’m there five-plus years now.

Treefort plays three or four times a year.

My dad died in March of 2007,
our dog died a week later.
My mom, badly down the road of Alzheimer’s,
died thirteen days after Dad.
We weren’t even sure she knew he was dead.
Two weeks later my daughter Nora was born.

I’m still grappling with the confluence-of-events
from that fateful month.
I write prose, too.

That Joe O’Rourke, the drummer,
and Bob Hennessy, the guitarist
and Mark Turcotte, the bass-player,
still want to play shows with me
despite our stagnant progress
amazes me.

The existence and attendance
of our fans likewise pleases me no end.
Some people in my situation might
grind their teeth at the meager opportunity
to kick out the jams
But I am grateful.

At such time as Treefort can pull another
10 to 12 songs together,
we can do so and make a third album.
The second one is all but done,
some last-second tweaks notwithstanding.
It’s called Talking to the Dogs.

I was very prolific
before finding true love, marriage and parenthood.
And I still know how it’s done, the songwriting,
though I seldom get much time to fine-tune anything.


A review of Treefort’s May 1, 2010 concert is available here.