Folk Americana band the Tree Ring -- aka Joel P. West and the Tree Ring -- debuted its lineup with acoustic-style singer songwriter Joel P. West, alongside singer Kelly Bennett, bassist Doug Welcome and drummer/singer Darla Hawn. Welcome was later replaced by Daniel Rhine.
The band recorded their debut album Generous Shadows in summer 2010 with engineer Chris Hobson, paying for the session by raising funds via the donation website Kickstarter.
When they launched their fundraising drive, the band set a goal of $5000. By the November 7 deadline, contributions had reached $6236 from 225 donors.
“The money,” says the Tree Ring’s Joel West, “was to pay the engineer [Chris Hobson], to pay Biggi [short for Birgir Jón Birgisson, who mixed the record], to pay for the mastering, and to produce the physical records.”
Generous Shadows was recorded in an Idyllwild cabin and mixed in Iceland by West and Birgirson at Sundlangin Studios, the studio started and owned by post-rock band Sigur Rós.
The Tree Ring’s Kickstarter page offers a short video, some band history, and CDs for $10 each. “We filmed a piece of one of the new songs,” says violinist Kelly Bennett, “and we explained what we were trying to do. We named Biggi and some of the other producers we were considering.”
The page also offers different pledge options like those used by public radio stations for their funding drives. For example, for $40 a donor could get a signed screen print, a digital download, 12-inch vinyl, a Tree Ring T-shirt, and a 7-inch single.
“It’s kind of NPR-style brackets,” agrees West during band practice in his Golden Hill home with members Darla Hawn, Doug Welcome, and Bennett. “A lot of bands will give you a free guitar lesson or put your name on the album. But we just chose to do it like capitalists, like a presale.”
Why not go direct and cut out middleman Kickstarter, which keeps 5 percent of the artists’ haul? Bennett says the answer to that lies in the concept of legitimacy.
“It’s a little bit of an assurance [to the donors] that the project is going to get done, as opposed to if we each just started collecting 20 bucks from our moms or something.”
After its release, Generous Shadows won Best Americana Album at the 2011 San Diego Music Awards.
In early May 2012, in collaboration with Art of Élan codirectors Kate Hatmaker and Demarre McGill, the band performed an Americana-themed program at the San Diego Museum of Art, as the finale of the Art of Élan series fifth season. The event included the world premiere of Jonathan Bailey Holland’s “Americana,” performed by the four members of the Tree Ring, along with McGill, Hatmaker, violist Travis Maril, and cellist Alex Greenbaum.
After being awarded a year-long grant from the San Diego Foundation's Creative Catalyst Fund, created to fund artists currently working in San Diego, focusing at the emerging level as a means to take selected artist's careers to a new level. Working with Camarada, whose focus is to present classical and chamber music in new, engaging venues, the resulting Tree Ring album Brushbloom was released in late October, 2012. It took home a trophy for Best Americana Album at the October 2013 San Diego Music Awards.
Their farewell performance took place September 17, 2014, at the Irenic, where they debuted their final album Ten Rivers.
As of 2016, West was living in Los Angeles and scoring films like Janey Makes a Play, Lily Tomlin’s Grandma, and The Glass Castle, starring Brie Larson, Naomi Watts, and Woody Harrelson.