Forest Fire is a Brooklyn-based folk rock group. Their excellent debut record Survival recently came out on Infinite Best Records.
It’s been a really crazy ride for this record. Could you tell me a little about that?
Mark: It’s been really unexpected. We didn’t really think it could do what it did. That’s for sure. We made it a long time ago, over a year ago, we released it through our friends, our friend Ryan who runs Catbird records. We released it for free just to get it out there, move on to the next thing. Months later we got all these compliments.
Like La Blogotheque calling Survival the best album of 2008.
You initially released the record for free download. So when was the decision to pull the plug on that?
Mark: When we signed to Talitres they requested it.
Natalie: Time to take that stuff down (laughs).
When you formed that band, what attracted you to one another?
Adam: It just started with us messing around because we were basically all living in the same apartment. It’s sort of unclear about whether we all moved into the same apartment to form a band or we became a band because we all lived in the same apartment, but it sort of all happened at once. It was originally just a recording project and it was super lo-fi, one microphone. We didn’t really think of it as a band for at least a year of messing around until we got invited to play our first backyard show. And that was the first time it was really a band band.
Mark: It basically started as me writing songs and Adam fucking with them. Basically. And our friend Nathan also.
Where does Natalie come in?
Mark: Natalie’s just a really talented multi-instrumentalist. And she’s my wife. So it’s just sort of logical.
Natalie: Thought I’d help them out.
Do you guys feel like you have an outsider mentality as musicians?
Adam: We are a band of musicians, certainly. At the same time I’m not really even a musician, producing is what I’m trying to do.
Natalie: I guess I feel like I’m just involved in a creative project that I believe in right now and because I can play instruments I feel good about contributing. But I guess I don’t think of myself as a musician, consciously.
Mark: It feels more natural than that to me. I guess I feel like an artist.
Do you feel like people and the press have understood the record? Or is there still a lot that you feel can be peeled back?
Natalie: I think they’ve made some good points. We were surprised by some of the things they picked up on.
Natalie: One of the things they’ve picked up and kind of run with is that we’re a punk band playing folk songs which I think has captured what we want to be, captured our mentality. Which is interesting. I didn’t realize that that came across in the sound of the record.
Mark: I feel like there’s a review somewhere that really tuned into our recording process in a way that we had never talked about it. That was sort of weird that they’d actually heard the record…the fact that we had made these really lush and sloppy recordings and decorated them very elaborately and tweaked them and fixed things. It was right on.
We’ve never had our music reviewed and we’re super new to this, but one of the things I realized is there’s this shocking bandwagon mentality, copycat review stuff. It feels like there’s all these potential voices being lost in terms of different opinions, and I feel like that’s been a letdown. I guess ideally I imagined rock journalism being…you would check in with every now and then, put out a record, and be surprised, and you’d learn all these things, maybe you’d read into those influences in a neat way, but really, as a whole, it seems like everyone agreeing, once someone says something everyone kind of agrees on it, and it’s a little bit sad. Eventually you start to…
Natalie: Not trust reviews, in general.
Mark: But we appreciate the coverage.
Adam: This is getting back to having the punk mindset while making something that’s like folk music based on instruments. But the way I see that, and I’m sort of speaking for Mark, what I hear in his singing and his songwriting is that he’s not trying to make anyone like him. He’s not trying to be cute, he’s not trying to be loveable or angelic or anything like that. He’s just saying what he thinks and making a good song without an audience in mind at all. And I think that’s sort of the punk rock mindset. So that’s the way I see that.
Survival has a timeless quality, I perceive that it’s not concerned with being trendy. Is that deliberate at all?
Natalie: We just naturally make timeless music (laughs).
Adam: I will say there’s a little, tiny bit of us trying to counter whatever it is going on right now, just in terms of how the record is produced, at least. I can’t stand records coated with tons of digital reverb, so we didn’t use any when we made Survival.
Adam do you subscribe to the DIY movement as a producer?
Adam: It’s a time and energy issue. I just think that I have way more time and energy to work on the record than someone who’s being paid to do it on an indie rock budget. Maybe a long time ago when bands had millions of dollars to spend on fancy producers that was the way to go, but now you’re hiring some guy…there isn’t enough money on the budget.
Mark: I think there is an element for us at this point because at this point we’re so disgusted by the way things sound that there’s just a gut reaction. We might not even know why we don’t want some things. It’s just like, you can’t play the guitar like that, you can’t play the keys like that, you can’t play the drums quite like that. I think there are some gut moves, at least initially. Wouldn’t you say?
Adam: I think there’s a whole lot.
Mark: So there’s definitely a lot of avoiding, which is a shame. I’d like to sometime try to record a record and not listen to any music for a while. If that’s possible.
Natalie: I don’t mind not just living in a vacuum, you know? Everything’s a call and response, you’re always responding to something around you. There’s always that something that you don’t want to be that helps form what you become.
Adam: I bet Dave Matthews writes a really awesome Neil Young guitar part and is like, “Ugh! I don’t want to do that!” (laughs).
Mark: How would we know how to mix the drums if we didn’t have a copy of Dylan’s Desire on hand?
Any questions you’d ever like to be asked? I feel like the evolved journalism piece will have video, audio, something interactive, input from the band…
Adam: I’m sure there’s some super dork who’s though of like, what wine you should drink while reading the interview.
Natalie: (laughs) This is what you should drink when you read this!
Photo by Victoria Jacob