Artist Spotlight: The Willow Tree

Artist Spotlight: The Willow Tree

The Northeast Ohio-based indie act is making waves, and here's how they came to be.

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Answering the phone with a quick hello, the bubbly duo of Ashley Blasko and Missy Long quickly ease their way into a 20-minute conversation about their indie rock act the Willow Tree.

The group formed a handful of years ago with Long and another person. About a year into the band's formation, Long met Blasko through church, and the pair hasn't looked back since.

After their fateful meeting in the church, the two didn't actually start playing music together until a little while later. According to Blasko, the first time the two sang together was in the church bathroom's shower pods while on a mission trip.

"I was humming to myself in the most makeshift little shower thing you've ever seen, and I hear in the one next to me a harmonizing hum. I'm like 'wow,' and then we started singing," Blasko said. "[After that,] she [Long] was like 'oh, that was you singing in there,' and I was like 'yeah, that was you singing in there too,' and then we actually played a song from the talent show on that mission trip and the rest just went from there."

After that initial performance, where Long noticed that Blasko was not only musically talented but that the two meshed really well, the pair soon began working on the Willow Tree as a newly put together duo.

Now a group for roughly six years, the two have been sure to keep the band something that blends their own style. Between the music they take inspiration from to the actual name of the band itself, both Blasko and Long have made sure that the band is an accurate representation of each of them.

The name, that Long came up with right from the start, was inspired by a science fiction, sort of "Beauty And The Beast"-inspired short story by Ursula Wills-Jones called "The Wicker Husband."

The book follows a magical sorcerer who makes a husband for a woman that isn't well-liked in her village. Creating the husband out of the bark of a willow tree, the town's people start to notice that the husband has caused the woman to become more beautiful and confident.

Wondering why he treats her so kind, the sorcerer explains that the reason for the husband's kindness is because he made him out of the bark of a willow tree, which is "the kindest and pliable tree," known to man. Finding the idea of this whimsical tale interesting, Long decided to name the band after the story.

"I thought it was an interesting concept and I feel like it was well rooted with us as far as a band," Long said. "As people, we just want to be kind to others, and through being friends with Ashley for so long, I know we've always tried to get along with each other and the people we meet. But I also feel like we're very strong individuals, like the willow tree being strong and pliable, and that's kind of who we are as people and I thought the message [from the story] was cool [and fit our band.]"

As for music, the band draws inspiration from a variety of artists. Playing mostly acoustic guitar and fiddle, Blasko shares that their sound can be a hodgepodge of a bunch of genres all in one.

Due to the fiddle, there's a county folk sound, yet they still keep a cool and earthy tone to their tracks. Drawing inspiration from the likes of First Aid Kit, Jack White, and Bob Dylan, the two keeps their tone in an indie/acoustic sound with a natural vibe.

"Ashley introduced me to this group, First Aid Kit, a while back, and they are sisters from Sweden and I guess if our sound is any reflection, I think they would be the closest one because they have that vintage, alternative folk [sound.]"

Blasko then added:

"The first time I heard of them, I was Youtube-ing a Fleet Foxes and then I came across one of their covers," Blasko said. "They're really an inspiration to us."

Of course, books and music aren't the only things that the Willow Tree has found inspiration from. Having a hometown pride, the duo also pulls inspiration from fellow Cleveland-based bands.

"There's so many different genres coming out of Cleveland right now. I feel like it went through this phase where it was just pop-punk bands, but now we have rock coming out." Blasko said. "Some of the local bands really influenced me and I'm really happy to see more and more [genres] coming out of Cleveland."

Long also added:

"There's so much talent in this area that needs to be brought forth, no matter what genre it is." Long said. "Whenever we play shows, we aren't really particular with who we play with – I mean, we've played shows with heavy metal bands – and I think it's good because we get to see what else is out there and understand that there's other fan bases and interests and talent that needs to be brought forward, and Cleveland is a great place for that.

So, what's next for the Willow Tree?

As of right now, the band hasn't officially released any EPs or albums, but they are looking to change that. After they finish up the concerts they have scheduled for this summer, they want to go into the studio to officially put some of their original tracks on an album.

"We recorded a few years ago, but those are sort of like our rough drafts. That's our next goal, we've gotten together a lot more of our originals that we want to come out with more," Long said. "We were talking about maybe recording things on our own because we have a particular ear on how we want things to sound and sometimes when we go into recording studios they don't always understand that so we're going to try to branch out and do our own thing."

Until then, the band is hard at work doing a set of summer shows. At the time this article is published, the duo will have performed at Love Fest, a free festival raising money for charities around the Cleveland area that featured 18 local artists.

As for shows that are coming up, the two will be making a home for themselves on stage at Lakewood's vintage bowling alley-slash-concert venue Mahall's. On July 25, the band will be supporting He Is We and then on August 18, they will be playing at Joe Joyce's album release show.

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'Baby, It's Cold Outside' Is NOT About Date Rape, It's A Fight Against Social Norms Of The 1940s

The popular Christmas song shouldn't be considered inappropriate.

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The classic Christmas song "Baby, It's Cold Outside" has recently come under attack. There has been controversy over the song being deemed as inappropriate since it has been suggested that it promotes date rape. Others believe that the song is another common example of our culture's promotion of rape. You may be wondering, where did they get that idea from?

The controversy has led to one radio station, WDOK, taking the song off the air and banning it from their station. Some people believe that this song goes against the #MeToo movement since it promotes rape. However, people are not considering the fact that this traditional Christmas song was made in the 1940s.

People are viewing the song from a modern-day cultural perspective rather than from the perspective of the 1940s. "Baby, It's Cold Outside" was written in 1944. Many people have viewed the song from the perspective of our cultural and social norms. People believe that the song promotes date rape because of lyrics that suggest that the male singing is trying to stop the female singer from leaving, and the female singer is constantly singing about trying to escape with verses like "I really can't stay" or "I've got to go home."

When you first view the song from the perspective of today's culture, you may jump to the conclusion that the song is part of the date rape culture. And it's very easy to jump to this conclusion, especially when you are viewing only one line from the song. We're used to women being given more freedom. In our society, women can have jobs, marry and be independent. However, what everyone seems to forget is that women did not always have this freedom.

In 1944, one of the social norms was that women had curfews and were not allowed to be in the same house as a man at a later time. It was considered a scandal if a single woman so much as stayed at another man's house, let alone be in the same room together. It's mind-blowing, right? You can imagine that this song was probably considered very provocative for the time period.

"Baby, It's Cold Outside" is not a song that encourages date rape, but is actually challenging the social norms of society during the time period. When you listen to the song, you notice that at one part of the song, the female states, "At least I can say that I tried," which suggests that she really doesn't want to leave. In fact, most of the song, she is going back and forth the whole time about leaving stating, "I ought to say no…well maybe just a half a drink more," and other phrases.

She doesn't want to leave but doesn't really have a choice due to fear of causing a scandal, which would have consequences with how others will treat her. It was not like today's society where nobody cares how late someone stays at another man's house. Nowadays, we could care less if we heard that our single neighbor stayed over a single man's house after 7. We especially don't try to look through our curtain to check on our neighbor. Well, maybe some of us do. But back then, people did care about where women were and what they were doing.

The female singer also says in the lyrics, "The neighbors might think," and, "There's bound to be talk tomorrow," meaning she's scared of how others might perceive her for staying with him. She even says, "My sister will be suspicious," and, "My brother will be there at the door," again stating that she's worried that her family will find out and she will face repercussions for her actions. Yes, she is a grown woman, but that doesn't mean that she won't be treated negatively by others for going against the social norms of the time period.

Then why did the male singer keep pressuring her in the song? This is again because the song is more about challenging the social norms of the time period. Both the female and male singers in the song are trying to find excuses to stay and not leave.

On top of that, when you watch the video of the scene in which the song was originally viewed, you notice that the genders suddenly switch for another two characters, and now it's a female singer singing the male singer's part and vice versa. You also notice that the whole time, both characters are attracted to one another and trying to find a way to stay over longer.

Yes, I know you're thinking it doesn't matter about the genders. But, the song is again consensual for both couples. The woman, in the beginning, wants to stay but knows what will await if she doesn't leave. The male singer meanwhile is trying to convince her to forget about the rules for the time period and break them.

In addition, the complaint regarding the lyric "What's in this drink?" is misguided. What a lot of people don't understand is that back in 1944, this was a common saying. If you look at the lyrics of the song, you notice that the woman who is singing is trying to blame the alcoholic drink for causing her to want to stay longer instead of leaving early. It has nothing to do with her supposed fear that he may have tried to give her too much to drink in order to date rape her. Rather, she is trying to find something to blame for her wanting to commit a scandal.

As you can see, when you view the song from the cultural perspective of the 1940s, you realize that the song could be said to fight against the social norms of that decade. It is a song that challenges the social constrictions against women during the time period. You could even say that it's an example of women's rights, if you wanted to really start an argument.

Yes, I will admit that there were movies and songs made back in the time period that were part of the culture of date rape. However, this song is not the case. It has a historical context that cannot be viewed from today's perspective.

The #MeToo movement is an important movement that has led to so many changes in our society today. However, this is not the right song to use as an example of the date rape culture.

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11 Songs You Never Knew You Needed In Your Christmas Playlist Until Now

The classics are essential, but these songs are a must, too!

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Hi. My name is Shalise, and I may be a little obsessed with Christmas music. I mean, how could I not be? I don't understand how some people don't enjoy it that much. You can't listen to a Christmas song and NOT immediately be put in a holly jolly state of mind. I love the classic holiday songs by the greats (Ella Fitzgerald, Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, etc.). However, there are some other songs and artists out there that deserve attention too! Let me help spice up your Christmas playlist with these songs you may not have heard of before!

1. "Blue Christmas" 

If you loved hearing Zooey Deschanel sing "Baby It's Cold Outside" in "Elf," you'll love this!

2. "​Candy Cane Lane" by Sia 

Sia puts a fun twist on Christmas with this song.

3. "Jingle Bells" by Lauren Daigle 

Lauren Daigle jazzes up Christmas with this classic.

4. "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" by Jack Johnson 

Jack Johnson's version of this holiday go-to is somewhat soothing, yet fun!

5. "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" by Us the Duo

Need I say anything? It's Us the Duo!

6. "Fa La La" (acappella) by Justin Bieber feat. Boyz II Men 

This song is so cute! The melodies--amazing.

7. "8 Days of Christmas" by Destiny's Child 

This song is just super fun and gives you that early 2000s feel!

8. "Jingle Bells?" by Barbra Streisand 

This song is a bit odd, I'm not gonna lie. You'll either love it or hate it, but it's just super fun and exciting!

9. "Feliz Navidad" by Jess and Gabriel

Jess and Gabriel give a chill vibe to this popular song.

10. "Wrap Me Up in Your Love" by John Legend 

The world needed John Legend to sing holiday songs; this is a good one!

11. "O Come, All Ye Faithful" by Pentatonix 

This is a classic song, but Pentatonix found a way to make it even better!

I hope these songs get you in the best holiday mood! These songs are fun and different, so make sure you give them a chance.

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