Interview:  Confronting PTSD with Raven Tree on ‘Redemption’

Mike McCann formed Raven Tree with one objective in mind, to be authentic in everything they do. From writing songs to recording and performing, Mike McCann (Guitar/Vocals), Phoenix Johnson (Bass/Vocals) and Jed Prentice (Drums/Vocals) do not blindly follow industry standards. Raven Tree’s music is real, no autotune or ProTool’d production is involved. Originally formed as a solo project and after a few lineup changes, this past year Raven Tree has jelled into a formidable hard rock band. With powerful stage performances and music that has something to say, Raven Tree has become a force to be reckoned with. The latest single “Redemption,” off their recent release Devil’s Red Mistress gives a glimpse into the mind of a soldier returning from combat.

AXS: “Redemption” is a powerful song both lyrically and musically. As a former combat officer did you draw upon personal experience for inspiration?

Mike McCann: The personal experience that I drew upon for “Redemption” was based on a number of things. Yes, as a combat leader in the military, but I do not personally suffer from PTSD. A lot of folks that I worked with have. In my former community, I served in a small unit context in the military, kind of a unique setting, and in my own community it seemed in the last couple of years we were losing one guy a month. You know, guys come back and are dealing with a lot of things and it might not come up until a little bit later. In a way “Redemption” is a song that is difficult to present because I don’t suffer from PTSD and I questioned if it was valid for me to write a song about a condition from which I don’t have but I think there are certain elements of despair that I could tap into. PTSD is a condition most people have difficulty understanding.

AXS: What are the biggest misconceptions people have about PTSD?

M.M.: I think there has been so much attention to it since the 80s, starting with the first Gulf War and then through the 90s with Desert Shield and Desert Storm and on to everything in the 2000s, that the general public is pretty mindful and very well aware about the needs of veterans. When it comes to misconceptions, I do know from personal experience of being a combat vet and the type of environment I came from, there are people that just assume that I have it. That gets a little strange. People dance around the subject with me. I have had to tell them don’t worry I am not going to flip out in your house. It is almost like the pendulum is swinging the other way. People assume if you are a combat vet that served in a direct action unit you have it. I’d much rather explain that I don’t.

AXS: Any suggestions for someone currently suffering?

M.M.: Someone very close to me suffers from it. This is hard to talk about. I did what I could. I presented the information that is out there. You can do as much as you can to assist, but in the end, it is like any other very personal, psychological, emotional issues as in they ultimately have to do the work for themselves, whether that is getting themselves into treatment or whatever. With PTSD when I interfaced with the VA or other Veteran’s group to help this one person, they were very available to be involved. So that is a good thing. The organizations are there. The interest, desire and resolve of the people that work in these organizations are there. They are very motivated to assist. What I have seen is guys are more likely to talk to their military buddies that they were with and open up to them as opposed to speaking with friends and family.

Veterans have a lot of other issues returning from combat that don’t have anything to do with PTSD, which was my own personal case. You can sit there and will feel exceptionally lonely because no one around you can understand what you went through. Your sense of humor can now be a little off center, what has been called gallows humor. There is a certain comradery that is involved with all of these things. So when veterans both male and female leave the service it kind of hits them, like wow, who am I going to be able to talk to about this. That’s where people get into difficulties. It can get you frustrated. Then you pick up the phone and talk to a combat buddy and realize it is not just you. Everybody else might not get me, but the people that I served with get me. My wife will notice it in me and will say, hey why don’t you call so and so. Then when I call my buddy I discover they are going through the same stuff trying to transition back to civilian life. The transition back isn’t really a PTSD kind of thing, but in a way “Redemption” is about that process too. There are moments you encounter people that just want to make you scream. All you can think is really? That is the worst part of your day? Because let me tell you about the worst part of any given day in combat…

AXS: What’s next for Raven Tree?

M.M.: We are taking some of our older songs and re-tracking them with an alternate mix. The reason for that is the history of Raven Tree has essentially been a solo project up until this last year when Phoenix and Jed came on board. Up until then I had been involving a revolving cast of characters but not really developing a band that really locked in with each other. I worked with really top notch guys, for instance, Dave DeMarco. He is an incredibly prolific bass player that plays in Crack The Sky and Several Species, which is a nationally touring Pink Floyd tribute. Greg Giannetti played drums, he has a tremendous discography. These are the people that played on the first record but I was just feeling things out as I went at that time. I was figuring out how to make a record while I was making a record. Even though the songs stand really well on their own for songwriting and the performances were top notch, the overall feel of the record wasn’t what I was trying to capture but I didn’t know at that time how to get what I wanted even with that stellar lineup.

This new lineup we have in Raven Tree has just clicked and exploded. I really wanted to capture those performances with the actual band we have become. It is more representative of what we are now moving forward. It doesn’t detract from the earlier album, the earlier album can still stand on its own. I just really wanted to capture how we sound live and present Raven Tree as a band instead of Raven Tree as a solo project.

Our next live performance is going to be at the Sparta Inn in Sparrows Point, Md., Saturday, Feb. 24, 201.