INTERVIEW: The Lonely Forest
If you haven’t already heard the Lonely Forest’s new EP, you’re really missing out. Hell, the band’s entire back catalog is worth checking out if you’re into challenging indie music from a band willing to take their sound in whatever direction the music leads them. I got the chance to sit down with Tony Ruland, the band’s guitarist, right before the band’s recent show at the Bishop in Bloomington, Ind., touching on their EP, their upcoming full-length album, and their fascination with putting on a great live show for fans of all ages.
I was interested to see you guys are playing with Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s tonight. Have you gotten the chance to hear their new album Buzzard yet?
Actually, this is the last night of a month-long tour with them. I think it’s actually the 25th show in the last 30 days with them, and yeah, I like Buzzard a lot. What’s good about spending that much time on the road with the same bands is you get to know people. You figure out what they like and don’t like and become friends. But it’s weird, because you spend a couple months becoming friends with someone and then you part ways and don’t see them for another year or two.
You’ve mentioned the strong “all ages” scene in Eastern Washington, and I knew you guys won the Experience Music Project’s “Sound Off” competition there. I remember finding it really hard to experience good live music as a teenager, and I wondered if you’ve been seeing more support for giving younger music fans and bands access to that world?
When I was a kid growing up in that area there were next to no all ages shows. They were few and far between. And it always devastated me, because I was an obsessive music listener, so it sucked that all my favorite bands like Mudhoney and all these old-school Seattle bands were always playing 21-and-up. So I would stand outside these venues to hear the band through the doors, and just hope to catch some glimpse of it. So that’s something we’ve been careful to be mindful of, playing all-ages shows whenever it’s possible.
Are there more venues like that out there?
There are a lot more in Washington, yeah.
It seems like a lot of college towns ignore that whole aspect, since most college students are under 21, but all you have are over-21 clubs.
Yeah, I think most people are more concerned about making money off alcohol sales, they don’t really care about who comes to the shows. I’m glad that, at least in the northwest, there’s a whole lot more support for the all-ages scene. It’s something that will always be important to us. There have been plenty of times where we’ve taken less [payment up front] for a show because it was going to be all ages. Even that, keeping ticket prices down, is an issue. Some of the bigger venues want to charge $20 for a show, and I feel kids shouldn’t have to pay that much.
Have you tried doing any online-streaming concerts? I’ve noticed that’s been getting easier to do.
No, actually we haven’t. But that’s not a bad idea. That’s pretty cool that you can do that, but it’s something I’ll definitely look into.
When I first heard your band, I did a search on You-Tube and found the videos from your acoustic show at the Woods. I really liked what you did with the rearrangements of songs like “We Sing In Time,” and the other songs from your earlier albums. Do you enjoy rearranging your songs in that kind of acoustic setting?
We try to be accommodating. For that show we really didn’t know what would be going on. It depends on the setup. Sometimes it’s just an acoustic guitar, other times there’ll be a floor tom, maybe an electric bass, but we always find a way to make it work somehow.
So are you supportive of your fans videotaping you and putting the music up on the web?
Actually I think it’s really fun to see what ends up on the Internet. Sometimes you’re like “ooh … I wish they hadn’t caught that moment,” but other times it’s more “that was cool!” I always joke with the guys and tell them it’s like we’re a football team, and it ends up being like watching the play-by-play after the game in the locker-room. “See, look, you’re leaving a gap right here …”
Do you ever feel you get more out of a live performance than you can in a studio setting?
Honestly, live is my favorite part of it. I like recording and all that, but the energy of a live show is hard to top, really.
The closest I can ever get to that is karaoke. We music fans have to live vicariously through you bands.
I’m terrified of karaoke! That always seems like the scariest thing ever.
You just need to record instrumentals of your own songs, so you can sing them karaoke-style.
Well, one time we got totally tipsy at one of the only bars in the little town we lived in, and there was an open mic night and they always have a bunch of acoustics. So we got, I don’t know, a little “intoxicated,” and played some of our own songs.
Did the crowd buy into it?
Well, everyone in town knows who we are, but they all thought it was hilarious. And hey, we got free beer out of the situation.
Getting back to your EP a little bit … “Live There” really stood out for me. What impressed me is that the instrumentation is so complex, but yet musically it’s easy to digest. The hooks don’t beat you over the head, but they’re there. How do you strike a balance between the creative and commercial aspects of your music?
I don’t think it’s something we really think about. It might sound stupid, but we just play what comes naturally, trying to roll with the punches. That song started out completely different. It didn’t really gel until we had Braden play drums for about twenty minutes until he found the right percussion groove, and then we added instruments until we suddenly had the right feel.
Do you do it differently live in order to build up that layered sound?
We do it a little differently, but we had to learn how to play it to sound like the way it was recorded. That was one of the only songs that was really undecided as to how we’d stage it live versus the way it was done in the studio, so it was fun to flesh that out.
At least you don’t have to take an IPod on stage with you to accomplish that.
Yeah, we like to keep it where we’re actually up there playing the guitars and the drums. Watching bands play with an IPod or a computer just isn’t fun. I’ve seen some bands I really love, and when they’re playing live it’s just a guy at a rack of computer keyboards, hitting a button that says “play.”
I wonder about groups like Owl City … you know the guy recorded all the music alone in his parents’ basement. But how would you ever do that live? You’d have to hire an entire band and start from scratch.
That, or you’d have to play the whole thing on stage by computer. I don’t know, I’m willing to bet that’s the way he has to do it.
I know your band got signed by Chris Walla, and I’m sure that’s all you ever hear about. Do you ever feel pressure to conform to a more “pop” aspect of indie music, or do you have the range to control your sound?
No, Chris really encourages us to just do what we want. Chris loves everything. He honestly has the widest-ranging musical tastes of anyone I’ve ever met. He would literally be showcasing metal bands for us, while we were in the middle of recording. So he encourages us to be as heavy as we want, or as pop-oriented as we want to be. It just happens to be that we like some things that are heavier and loud, while also enjoying three-minute pop songs. There’s something about a pop song that’s catchy, a verse a chorus and a verse. In my mind, Nirvana’s the greatest band of all time, and they also just happen to be the loudest pop band of all time.
That was the thing that freaked Kurt Cobain out the most, realizing that he was actually “becoming” pop.
Yeah, totally … but there shouldn’t be anything wrong with making “pop” music or enjoying it. If you like it, you like it, even if it’s not cool. Hell, what’s “cool” anyway?
Your EP plays out rather quickly, so that makes the wait for Arrows in January a bit tense for fans. I was wondering what we can or should expect from the new album?
I think it’s by far the most diverse record we’ve made. I still love the last record, but I think this new album is going to show a lot more of our influences. On some songs you’ll maybe say we’ve been listening to a lot of R.E.M., but the idea is that as a whole it’s going to be a lot more eclectic. We at least try not to be too obvious with the influences, but we’re putting what comes naturally onto the records, so sometimes you hear what’s coming through our listening filters.
At least you’re not denying that you listen to music. I always hate when bands say they don’t listen to anyone else’s music while they’re recording.
Yeah, I think that’s such a crock of shit when bands say stuff like that, because you know they’re lying. They’re totally lying. The whole point of rock and roll is that you can hear what you like and steal little snippets of it. There’s nothing “original” about pop-rock. It’s all about respecting the music that came before, while finding ways to take from it and build on it.