A crowd of about 100 filled The Tralf on Jan. 21 for Eddie Cain Irvin's CD release party, but it seemed most people came to see The Breathing Tree, a year-old pop band of college-aged Buffalonians.
During the first three bands, concert-goers sat at tables and watched the stage from the other side of the venue. However, when The Breathing Tree began their set, dozens of fans stood and moved in close to the stage.
On stage, the four young men played like rock stars in front of the filled venue. Nicholas William Stilb, the band's lead singer, seems to have adopted this rock star persona -- he's stick-thin, his hair is long and wild, and his chest is covered with tattoos. He lived up to that image on stage, belting out catchy melodies with poetic lyrics.
The rest of the group -- guitarist Bud Rozwood, bassist Lee Terrwilliger and drummer Kyle Hassenfratz -- gave an equally impressive and entertaining performance. Their set combined the raw energy and power of a rock concert with the catchiness and accessibility of pop music.
"I feel that we've been very far in our short time," guitarist Bud Rozwood said. "We're going to get somewhere."
Though the group's talented musicianship and high energy performances have earned the band a strong fan base, Stilb said he thinks there's another reason why listeners are drawn to The Breathing Tree.
"We like to be really personable with our fans," he said. "They take time out of their day to come see us so we want to make it worth their while."
The fans' response has been better than the group could've imagined. In November the band played to a sold-out crowd at Soundlab during a CD release show for The Breathing Tree's debut album, Let Love Grow. Stilb said the crowd's energy made the show one of the most incredible moments of his life.
"I don't think I've ever felt more content with myself -- more happy with my life -- than then," he said.
Let Love Grow was recorded at GCR Audio, a studio that was created by Robby Takac of The Goo Goo Dolls. Many well-known artists have recorded there, such as The Goo Goo Dolls, B.o.B. and Cute is What We Aim For.
Let Love Grow -- a 13-track compilation of feel-good rock pop -- was released Dec. 10 of last year and is available through iTunes and Amazon.com.
The group plans to record their sophomore album at GCR Audio later in the year while working with David Elkins, the lead singer of the band Mae. Stilb said May is a major influence on The Breathing Tree's unique poppy sound.
The group will record their second LP after a summer tour across the East Coast that will take the band to New York City, Virginia Beach, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Washington D.C. and several other major cities. In typical garage rock fashion, the group plans to save money by sleeping in their van every night, Stilb said.
Before the band's east coast tour, The Breathing Tree will continue to play shows in the Buffalo area. The group's upcoming shows include a March 26 show at 136 Lofts and an April 11 show at Sugar City.
Though the group now seems to be doing well, at first the band members had to deal with many common struggles of emerging rock bands. The band played several early shows to small and indifferent audiences, and they recently underwent a lineup change at bass.
"It has been quite a journey with switching the bassist," Rozwood said.
However, now, The Breathing Tree seems to have a strong group of young men who are committed to creating the best music they can. Each musician writes their own parts of songs, but they also take input from other band members.
Every member seems to know his place, and doesn't stray from it. Rozwood knows his role in the band, which is why he describes himself as both the lead guitarist and a "melody guitarist."
"I don't like to overpower the things I do," he said. "If melody is required for a song then that's what I'll do. If a song needs something crazy then that's what I do."
As with all talented bands, The Breathing Tree's success will rely on luck, connections, improvement, a growing fan base, and of course, the group's ambition. As evidenced by the member's efforts on stage, this group seems to have enough drive to reach new levels of popularity.
The biography on The Breathing Tree's Facebook page reads, "We are The Breathing Tree, honest musicians with an unstoppable passion. Our creations are as real as it gets."