I love the music Bay Area kids are making these days, but lately, I’m finding more and more of my favorites are from artists on the “second wave” of their music careers: artists such as Bill Baird, John Murry, and Odawas only seem to get better as they continue to make music as they move onto new stages of life. Such is the case with Carlos Forster. After a successful run with For Stars in the late 90’s and early 00’s, he released Family Trees in 2011. His follow-up to Family Trees is the newly released Disasters, which is available now from Spain’s Acuarela Discos.
While Family Trees was made of fairly standard (but very well done) pop songs, Forster pulled out all the stops for Disasters, spending hours in his basement perfecting it over the last couple of years to create something completely new. At times, Disasters takes you to a vast expanse, yet manages to smoothly transition to incredibly intimate and personal moments. In short, it’s great. Carlos also has a unique perspective on creating music, so learn more about the album from Mr. Forster himself after streaming it via Youtube below.
The Bay Bridged: This album is a little less…conventional than Family Trees. Why the shift?
Carlos Forster: Family Trees was produced by M. Ward in Portland Oregon and it was just a totally different process. With Family Trees I would go up to Portland for 3 or 4 days at a time, once a year for about 5 years, and just kind of do live takes with M. Ward and Mike Coykendall. It was mostly an excuse for Matt, Mike, and I to get together, hang out, and play music. When I showed up the first year (2005) I told Matt and Mike that I was the first “real” freak-folk artist and that I was there to reclaim what was mine. Whenever Mike Coykendall burned a CD at the end of the session he would write “Carlos Forster – The Original Freak-Folker” on it. We had Fun.
Disasters is much more personal and was my attempt to make something expansive and unique to me. I labored over it like a parent labors over their child, obsessing over it daily for a long time. Every little space I had would be either working on it or thinking about “what it was”. Family Trees feels like a collection of songs whereas Disasters feels closer to a piece of music…if this makes any sense. I was certainly inspired by what I consider beautiful pieces of pop music such as The Beach Boys “Smile” or Brian Eno’s “Another Green World”.
TBB: When was most of the album written and recorded?
CF: This is a difficult question to answer. The first song was Wire’s “Outdoor Miner” which I did for a Wire tribute in 2004. Soon after this I started my training to be a psychotherapist and had a couple kids which brought the process to a serious halt. Around 2009 I started working on it again and worked on it pretty much every night until 2014. I probably recorded (in my basement) 25 songs and 10 were used. It was a long painstaking process and took tremendous patience and process-oriented thinking. I would do songs, get bored with them, impulsively destroy them, and then rebuild…that’s how they would come alive! It was hard to know were to stop but at some point I would realize, “this feels like something”.
TBB: How is making music different for you now compared to 15 years ago?
CF: 15 years ago I was playing with a band… going into studios with 5 guys and recording on two-inch tape. You would have to be ready to enter the studio and there would be pressure to get things done quickly. You would do the drums, bass, guitars, keys live and then overdub vocals. I now do everything in my basement slowly and build things like you might build a house or work on a car. I don’t have songs ready to go like I did then. I really have no idea what they are when I start them and just kind of experiment until a world within the sound starts to appear. Once the world appears I do whatever I can to color it in with words and sounds I feel are moving and meaningful to me. Very different process than I was involved in 15 years ago.
TBB: Which has had a greater impact on your music: Fatherhood or work in psychotherapy?
CF: Great question! I would say equal. Fatherhood can (and should) open you up to parts of your own repressed emotional experience and for most folks the feelings will be re-experienced (or re-felt) when raising children. The power struggles/tantrums my two year old son had (attempting to cope with the loss of his omnipotence) were evocative of my own issues with loss. Having children has certainly evoked a lot of intense feelings in myself which are reflected on Disasters. The last song on the album “Alice” was written for my daughter. I think it is the most emotional song I have ever written.
As a psychotherapist, I carefully attempt to help patients take risk in being less defensive by drinking less, trying to control others less, and not repeating the same behavior over and over. Behaving less defensively opens doors to emotional worlds that previously remained hidden and I believe this process lends itself to becoming a better artist and person. People sometimes wonder why older musicians music often becomes stale and I would directly relate it to defensive processes not having been dealt with. My own work has made Disasters possible and I am fortunate to have been given the privilege to afford this. I see quite a few teenagers from East Palo Alto and know this is not the case for a large portion of society.
For more thoughts from Forster, I highly recommend checking out his Facebook page where he provides delightful stories behind each track from Disasters. Carlos performs May 1 at the newly reopened Lost Church.
Carlos Forster, Virgil Shaw, Field Medic
The Lost Church
May 1, 2015