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'Shaking' but determined

By Kevin Smith

Tuesday October 2, 2001

Kansas band shakes off jam band stereotypes, corporate record industry, thrives in grassroots campaign

For many Americans, the belief that anything worthwhile is worth working for is a key to success. The Midwest band Shaking Tree is no exception.

The band, which consists of singer-songwriter-guitar-mandolin player Dain Estes, Aaron Hetherington on drums, Ian Burns on bass and Tom Waddington on violin, is touring in support of its third album, Matter of Choice.

Shaking Tree formed in Lawrence, Kan., in 1996. Estes said it took him a while to find the right equation to fit his vision of the band.

"I first started out with two different groups of musicians under the name Shaking Tree," Estes said. "I decided to make it one band, taking the best musicians as well as friends."

Getting started in Kansas was not an easy task. Estes said it was helpful that Lawrence is a college town - home of the University of Kansas - but there are only so many places to play.

He added that although Kansas City is nearby, the press there was looking for a different kind of sound than Shaking Tree was able to provide.

"The local press was looking for Emo, which is punk rock, but more emotional," Estes said. "We couldn't get a story published. In fact, it is easier for us to get an article in Tucson, Arizona. than Kansas City."

Shaking Tree's sound is diverse in its influences, and that sets the band apart from the traditional sounds of rock 'n' roll.

"We're not the typical distorted guitar rock band," Estes said. "We have rock, Celtic and Latin bases in our music. We take bits and pieces from each and combine them."

The comparisons to Shaking Tree's sound range from Dave Matthews Band to Counting Crows to Rusted Root to the Jayhawks.

"People like to compare you to something," Estes said. "People probably compared Dave Matthews to something when he first started. I think a lot of the comparisons come from the fact that we play a lot of acoustic stuff and that we have a violin player."

Matter of Choice was the band's first studio recording.

"We did the first two albums in a house," Estes said.

The Memphis studio where the current album was recorded has seen such greats as Stevie Ray Vaughn, R.E.M. and the Phoenix-based Gin Blossoms. Estes described the process as "the real deal."

The band's first professional recording experience has not gone to their heads. When confronted with the current teen pop and clichˇd rock on the airwaves today, Estes couldn't care less about getting attention from those markets.

"We don't want any part of it," Estes said. "The major labels eat and spit out bands. The music labels say that they are going to pay radio stations to play songs, so it is not based on talent - it's based on MTV appeal."

Estes said he remains faithful that his music will get recognition, with or without major label support.

"There are so many ways to get your music heard. With teen pop, you want big level, high money, mass exposure, but it doesn't work that way for everyone," Estes said. "Ani Difranco has sold lots of albums and she is not on TV. You have to explore every avenue as far as you can. We are trying to make a living."

Even without radio play and MTV video exposure, the band still stands firm in the fact that there are other methods to get its songs heard.

One such method is television soundtracks. Shaking Tree's music has provided the backdrop for some episodes of MTV's "The Real World," a show that Estes claims to "fucking hate."

However, the response to this tactic has only helped the band.

"People have tracked down producers of that show to find out who we are," Estes said.

With such underground intentions, it seems Shaking Tree is indeed succeeding without heavy radio play.

"We'll play places and meet people who heard about us through the Internet and friends' word of mouth," Estes said.

Estes added that the best way to keep the word of mouth flowing is to play shows.

"We are on the road 200 days a year," Estes said. "We never feel like we stop; we are always playing."

The band said it was excited about the reception it is getting while on the road. "Our following has grown considerably," Estes said. "We have a nice buzz going as a cool underground band. It can only grow from there."

Shaking Tree plays the UA Mall today at noon in a show sponsored by the University Activities Board, the Groovin' on the Grass concert series. For more information on Shaking Tree, as well as song samples and additional tour dates, check out the band's Web site at


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