Turn Up This Song and Stay Inside: The Lonely Forest Interview
Photo by Peter Ellenby
The Lonely Forest, a four-piece band hailing from Puget Sound, WA, has released their third full-length album (along with 2 EP’s along the way.) Their latest release, Arrows (Trans), is an energetic tour de force propelled by John van Deusen's emotive vocals. Guitar hooks and big drums frame catchy numbers like "Turn Off this Song and Go Outside," whereas a string quartet graces album opener "Be Everything." Arrows is a genuine effort that can win over the most ornery hipster, but the catchiness of the songs also ensures that pop fans will embrace the record.
ELM: What kind of musical training does the band have?
LF: Mostly self-taught. Our drummer was in high-school band as a drum major, so he had a little more training on the drums. I took piano lessons when I was younger and a little bit of guitar, but not much. Most everybody in the band is self-taught.
ELM: Is there anybody that influenced your vocals?
LF: Totally. I channel Michael Stipe a lot and Dan Hoerner (Sunny Day Real Estate) and live I channel Andy Partridge (XTC). Those are the big three.
ELM: At this point in your career, you’ve probably learned a lot about making records. What have you learned?
LF: Making records is fun, and it should always be fun. When it becomes a chore, you should definitely stop. I’ve definitely learned that I like trying new things, experimenting with sound. When you don’t allow yourself to do that, it becomes a really boring process. You definitely want to work with someone you can get along with. We’ve never worked with someone who was grumpy, which was really nice. We’ve always had really good producers and engineers, but I can imagine recording with somebody that you aren’t compatible with on a social level would be really difficult.
ELM: How was it producing with Chris Walla [of Death Cab for Cutie}?
LF:Oh, working with Chris is great. He's really easy to work with, super nice, relaxed. It was a very relaxed recording session. You can tell he's been doing it for a long time. He's got a great pop sensibility and he knows when something works and when it doesn't. We had a lot of fun. It was definitely something we had dreamed about, working with him as a producer, for a long time, so it was amazing that we actually got to do it.
ELM: How do you see Arrows as being a departure from your earlier records?
LF: I think it's a little more straightforward than the last two full-lengths that we did. The guitars are still there, the big drums, the songwriting is similar. It's definitely not as all over the map as far as song structure is concerned as our last records. It's a little bit more grown-up, maybe.
ELM: How long did it take you to make the record?
LF: It took us about four and a half weeks to record Arrows.
ELM: And how long did it take you to write it?
LF: That's a good question. A lot of the songs have been around for a couple of years, and so we've been kind of sitting on them and waiting to record them. I guess if you count that time, you would say two years, but to make rock songs out of what written, it doesn't take the band very long to turn them into something we would actually put out as the Lonely Forest.
ELM: My favorite song on the album is the opening track, "Be Everything." Where does a song like that come from?
LF: I was having a crazy, crazy week, a really melancholy week, and I just needed to do something about it that was good and constructive instead of sitting around and dwelling on something negative. So that's kind of where that song came from. It was definitely a hard song to write, and I actually hadn't planned on it being on the record. Chris heard it and he really liked it, and he's the one who had the idea to have the string quartet playing on it. Once the strings were added, it really made the song something special.
ELM: I also really enjoyed the piano intro on "Tunnels." How did you get the idea for that?
LF:Well, it had always started off with piano, and there was a much longer piano intro on the record. But we wanted to shorten it just a hair, so we cut out a verse, and we recorded it through a fan we had slowed down, so that gives it a strange carnival merry-go-round effect when you listen to it with headphones.
ELM: I read that you guys all grew up in Puget Sound. I've never been there but it's always seemed like this majestic, poetic vista in my own landlocked vision. Do you think growing up there informed your aesthetic?
LF: Totally. We grew up around a lot of good local music. And not just the big bands from Seattle that everybody knows about, but other bands that we grew up playing with. I think there's a sense of artistic freedom there. There's other places in the state that have it as well; it's different everywhere you go. The Northwest just kind of has a lot of 'do whatever you like and do it well.' I grew up seeing a lot of local bands play and it was just inspiring because they didn't give a shit about what anybody thought; they were just up there making music.
ELM: Do you feel like there's a central message on Arrows or a way that you would sum up what the album is about?
LF:I think there's less of a central message than there has been in our previous records. I think it's all pretty basic as far as the lyrics are concerned, dealing with relationships or, a lot of times, I think I write lyrics based on what I'm feeling about myself and where I'm at as a person. Usually there's just a lot of wishing I was different and I write along those lines. I think Arrows is definitely our happiest record. There's still some melancholy moments, but it's definitely more optimistic than previous records. It hopefully leaves you feeling good about yourself instead of feeling like there's no hope in the world for anything to get better.
ELM: Is there anything else you'd like to talk about?
LF: I've had a lot of people tell me specific tracks worked for them and others didn't. And like our other records, you have to listen to certain songs a handful of times before they sit well with you, before you can relate to them. I like to encourage people to listen to the songs once and then come back to them a handful of times.