TOM FILEPP MIGHT have to get used to some outside attention. The lone member of Cars & Trains, Filepp personifies the humbly introverted ways of so many local bedroom artists—an unwillingness to self-promote, the vague anonymity of the project itself (in which he tends to go by the veiled moniker "the conductor," instead of his birth name), few published photos, sporadic live shows, and the feeling that when you delve into his wondrous electronic/folk recordings, you are eavesdropping directly into the close confines of his bedroom. Which is pretty much exactly how Filepp designed Cars & Trains. He's even conscious of making too much noise while holed away in his room.
"The place I'm living in now, my studio/office windows are about four feet away from my neighbors'," Filepp explains. "I get these pictures in my head of my neighbors running over and pounding on the door while I'm trying to record to see who's trying to kill me." But volume is rarely an issue here, especially on the recent The Roots, the Leaves, which delicately knits together loosely wound folk instruments with warmly recorded beats (think Talkdemonic), and Filepp's softly whispered voice that flows with the tide of instrumentals (think Why? on a particularly self-conscious day, or any number of abstract Anticon hiphop artists).
The initial framework of the nature-obsessed The Roots, the Leaves was recorded in Filepp's room, but as the lush recording grew in size, it required a different setting: "About halfway through recording this album, my girlfriend, my cat, and I moved to a bigger spot where I was able to set up more of a proper studio." He continues, "I was able to record a lot of elements with more fidelity. Because everything is set up a lot tighter than my last studio (it was actually a walk-in closet, to be fair) and the sound is a lot more balanced."
Part of the initial appeal of Filepp's music is how the mangled framework of hiphop is incorporated into the hushed tones of his voice and restrained instrumental backing. Along with the tragically underrated Astronautalis, Cars & Trains creates an evolutionary bridge past the beats and braggadocio of hiphop and into parts unknown. "As I've tinkered with my music it seems to have slowly moved away from the whole hiphop thing," Filepp admits. "I think a lot of it has to do with my sampling/percussion choices, you know, chopping up samba drums instead of using 808s and stuff like that as the main percussion."
In addition to the samples, Filepp opened his bedroom and studio doors to a parade of local musicians willing to lend an instrumental hand. Contributors include members of the Harvey Girls, Two Ton Sloth, Future Historians, and plenty more. The reason The Roots, the Leaves is swollen with so many musicians is quite evident upon first listen; notes of a glockenspiel intermingle with tempered beats, with alto sax, bass clarinet, and Moog all making appearances. These elements come together naturally, as does Filepp's penchant for penning lines that deal with the complex give and take of man's relationship to nature.
"I have an obsession with the relationship between urban life and nature, and it seems to fit and sit well with the pulling and tugging of the electronic and acoustic elements. I use the imagery of grass growing through cracks in sidewalks, moss-covered buildings, stuff like that a lot," he explains, before adding: "Wow, that sounds pretty crunchy. But that's kind of where I'm coming from with the music."