Forest Fire... (Something about 'burning ambition')
Interview: Forest Fire
Published on November 11th, 2011 | Jonny Abrams
Regular Rocksucker readers (if there is such a thing – it was worth writing for the alliteration alone) will know that we have a penchant for fuzzy, unpredictable, psychedelic pop, but it’s a hard thing to get right given the looming spectres of history’s most notable antecedents.
As such, we unashamedly admit to getting really quite excited whenever such a band is brought to our attention and, right now, we are delighted to feature the soulful and brain-frazzling phenomenon that is Brooklyn’s also-alliterative Forest Fire.
The gloriously warped country and thick harmonic layers of their Rough Trade-issued debut Survival saw them polled as the makers of 2008’s best album by respected French onliners La Blogotheque – ahead of the likes of Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes, no less – and this year’s follow-up Staring at the X, released through the equally legendary FatCat Records [home to, amongst others, Sigur Ros, The Twilight Sad and Animal Collective] has only seen them go and up their already noteworthy game in terms of sheer, headphones-fulfilling gold.
Think early Shins if they were a monged-out-on-Velvet-Underground mid-’90s force from the Elephant 6 collective, all signed off with timelessly rasping vocals singing words that inhabit their prominent mixspace with lavish dollops of musical relish.
Curiosity resoundingly piqued, Rocksucker fired over some questions to the Forest Fire camp and received the following set of illuminating and suitably literate responses from bassist Natalie Stormann and singer/guitarist Mark Thresher.
First, though, open your ears, hearts, minds, windows and floodgates to this choice cut from Staring at the X, which looks to be a shoe-in for our soon-to-be-unveiled albums of 2011 list…
Congratulations on a damn fine new album. Were the songs all written close together or do some date back further than others? Did you have any particular approach in mind going into it – perhaps relative to Survival – i.e. “more of this”, “less of that” or such?
Some of the songs date further back than others.
The title track and “They Pray Execution Style” were two of the last songs recorded.
Our approach has always been to do what we can with the equipment and time we’ve been allotted, and then bring the songs to a logical conclusion.
Personally, the blaring fuzziness of your production is one of the things I like most about your sound – it’s such a welcome change from glossily produced modern rock records. Do you worry though that it will put others off your music, or do you not really care? Has anyone (label, producers etc) tried to persuade you to take a more conventional route?
We’ve never recorded in a studio and we’re not interested in gloss.
Before signing with FatCat we were speaking with a record label that asked us to be completely malleable in exchange for financial support.
Can you believe that? Record labels are like pimps.(So good record labels are like nice pimps?)
How does one pray “Execution Style”? It’s quite the psychedelic wig-out centrepiece. How much is your creative process informed by ‘altered’ states of consciousness?
Drop to your knees.
Press your palms together.
For better or worse, altered states of consciousness are a part of life.
Best to write it all down.
I find “Blank Appeal” to be particularly noteworthy after my first few listens. Do you get a perverse pleasure from writing a pretty ballad and ‘messing’ it up to such an extent? I get a perverse pleasure from hearing it.
Retrospectively, yeah, we do get a perverse pleasure from people wishing we had recorded “Blank Appeal” as a pretty ballad.
But that didn’t seem like an option while we were recording.
I do remember pushing for an “anti-solo” during the middle portion of the song – something that would suck noise away and slow things down – knowing it would probably annoy most listeners.
Was it intentional to have the last four tracks of the album all in similar rhythms? Were you tempted to make one massive song out of them all?
Were we aware that the songs on Side B were paced similarly? Yes.
There were songs that needed to be on Side A and songs that needed to be on Side B.
It just so happened that the ones that fit on side B had a similar pacing.
And, no, we were never tempted to make one massive song out of them all.
Who does the mad sax solos that occasionally turn up in your music?
Thanks for asking.
Jeremiah Stewart plays the saxophone on Survival.
Matt Bauder plays the saxophone on Staring At The X.
I look forward to hopefully catching you guys at London’s Hoxton Bar and Kitchen on December 4th. Do you know anything about the place? It seems to have become something of a rite of passage for overseas acts. I saw tUnE-YaRdS play a storming gig there recently and I’m led to believe her next London show will be at the much more high-profile Shepherd’s Bush Empire. Erm…is world domination on the agenda?
We’re looking forward to playing there.
Plenty of people have played the Hoxton Bar and have proceeded to go on to do nothing noteworthy with their lives.
tUnE-YaRdS is amazing and an obvious exception.
Who knows, maybe this show will be “the one.” You never know, right?
Massively premature question time! Do you have material in mind yet for album three? Or, to put it another way, can you imagine at this juncture what direction it might take, or what direction you personally would like it to take?
Mark is almost finished writing the third Forest Fire record.
We’d like Phil Specter to co-produce it but can’t say for certain whether he’ll be able to do that from his cell.
And that is, of course, co-produced alongside our usual guy Adam Spittler.
We’re a few weeks away from wrapping up the SCAREPLANE record, which is a Forest Fire side project.
So lots of new material to come.
I recently interviewed your drummer Nathan’s brother Nick (a.k.a. Death Songs) and he said that he couldn’t wait to reunite musically with him. Any plans to do this in the near future?
It’s bound to happen. Nick plays on all the Forest Fire records.
Your first album Survival was voted album of 2008 by prestigious French site La Blogotheque. Do you have a big following over there? And do you have any international fan bases that have taken you by surprise? Maybe you’re worshipped in Venezuela, or something like that…
No – we have a small following in France, the US and the UK, and are virtually unknown in every other part of the world.
Are there any other bands that people sometimes mistake you for?
Are there any journalistic clichés or buzzwords that you’re sick of hearing/reading in reference to your work?
Most music journalists don’t even know how to write, so that can be annoying.
Do you have many in-band disputes? If so, how do you settle them?
We have quite a few disagreements, especially during the recording process.
The person who is the most excited and/or adamant about their idea usually wins.
Are there any obscure and/or up-and-coming artists you’d like to recommend or give a shout-out to?
Finally, could you name – as of this very moment – your top three albums of all time, just off the top of your head?
Lulu (the Lou Reed and Metallica collaboration), Unknown Pleasures (Joy Division) and The White Album.
Forest Fire, thank you.
X THANK YOU x
Staring at the X is out now on FatCat Records.
For more information and a list of live dates – including UK shows in Liverpool (28th November), Nottingham (29th November), Leeds (30th November), Newcastle (2nd December), Middlesbrough (3rd December), London (4th December) and Brighton (5th December) – please visit myspace.com/fuckforestfire