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.