Interview by Andy Houle / http://trypticpress.com/
Chroma: First off, we have to admit, everyone at Tryptic Press is really excited to have you as our first featured musician here in the pages of CHROMA. We could skip the interview and just let the music do the talking… but lets spoil everyone anyway. Jim, the title ‘musician’ seems far too vague, tell our readers a little about your music background and how you came to settle into the moniker ‘Forrest James’.
FJ: Thank YOU! I am so honored, really:)
As far as the term “musician”, I agree. I started off doing audio engineering in college and worked in studios in Boston and Brighton helping Hip Hop acts mainly. During that time I was involved in the Mass Art Film Society helping my buddy Shawn Morrissey create sound pieces to go with 16mm film works and that is where my love of visual music began. Before that, as opposed to writing traditional songs, i used to sit with my Mom, play music live to her and ask her what visuals she saw in the music. I guess I always struggle with the term musician because a lot of time I want to translate stories into moods. With that said, I have undergone a lot of traditional music training, from early days, studying guitar with Berklee professors, to my college days playing in traditional jazz bands and classical orchestras.
The current iteration of my musical life began when Richard Lewis and I formed Machine 475 together as a way to collaborate, publish electronic / art albums together. From the early days, there were just three of us in the band - me, Richard, and Emily, his then wife, on harp. We expanded to a seven-piece live performing band that had great success, but from that situation I realized that it was time for me to start crafting my own singular sound with the new skills I have acquired through work like this, getting back to my roots in experimentation, visual music and art, which leads me to today, where I produce music under the name Forrest James, and not only write original music but collaborate with musicians internationally, do remixes, and film scores.
Chroma: There are so many different terms that fly around when trying to discuss the type of music that you produce. From simple genre terms like ‘electronic’ to ambient ,chill-wave, dub, 8bit, nanoloop, etc. etc. When describing your own music, what’s the terminology that you think best describes what you do?
Oh my god, I hate questions like these! I think it changes all the time depending on the project I’m working on. [Makes face] Whatever tag is trending on the internet :) I would say that the genres that I love most are definitely chill wave, R&B, experimental electronic, house, ambient and dub reggae.
Chroma: Listening to your music always brings out feelings of ‘time travel’. As a product of the 80’s myself, your sound evokes vivid memories of the decade where video games, action movies, and pop music were all in their formative years. How much influence and inspiration do you pull from those years where Nintendo, Purple Rain, and synth-pop duo’s captivated our eyes and ears?
Pretty much all of it, mixed in with a little 90’s rave/ambient and dub reggae….
To me that era is very special. From a musical stand point technology was really starting to present itself and the mix of sampling beautiful 70’s instruments mixed with this whole new way of arranging music through samplers, drum machines, and synthesizers is pretty much the foundation of my approach.
Chroma: At times your tracks have a richly layered and cinematic feel to them. Almost begging to be on the big screen and adding depth to today’s Hollywood efforts. ‘Under the Chrome Sea’ would have slid right into the soundtrack for ‘Drive’ and your recent album ‘Kaleidoscope’** feels like if they ever make another ‘Tron’ movie…the soundtrack is already done(Nakata 18!). Are you ever thinking about film while creating and producing?? Has any of your music made its’ way into film or video?
**Note: Kaleidoscope is just a demo playlist on Souncloud and not an actual release.
So, a lot of my music has been in film but I don’t really advertise that as much as I should. Just recently I worked on a documentary about Kashmir with Elayne McCabe, and scored a full length original sound track. Visual music is by far my favorite type of music to make, because it mixes my art side with my music side and allows the listener to experience emotions without the constraint of a pop format affecting it. In the past my music has been used in commercials for Corbis and in feature videos for Gizmodo, the Peabody Essex Museum, and in documentaries on such topics as Lumberjacks, and Salem.
I think it’s hard to just always write songs with lyrics and tell stories when sound isn’t always about the vocalist telling stories. I’m always trying to push a more emotive version of my music, but without that sounding like background music. I like the influence of club music playing into that, so seeing people dance at a gig to music like that is very satisfying and a good mix of both worlds.
So give us a run down of a typical day at the studio. With such a wide range of instruments and technology involved in your songwriting, what’s the starting point? Take us through your process.
A typical day in the studio could start off with working from demos from my phone (field recordings/backyard guitar riffs) or already-started sequences from my laptop, or compositions from my iPad, or just a blank canvas. I think the term typical is pretty much the “anti” of who I am, when it comes to music. A lot of times I have an idea, or a song, or a sound that inspires me, that I want to work on in the studio. So for example, I dig Todd Terje’s sound, so as producer I may go up to the studio and challenge myself to create something in the style of one of his songs. That might be an example of a more academic day in the studio. The other might be me playing solo piano on my Wurlitzer, coming up with pleasing chord progressions, and then transferring those into the computer and morphing them to start a song. I see myself as a pretty melodic musician, so chord progressions are important and I obsess about those in the studio using usually a synthesizer, electric bass, guitar, electric pianos, etc. From there I manipulate everything because I’m not trying to sound like there’s five of us playing live music together.
The thing is that there’s also a slightly different process when I’m collaborating with vocalists like Callie Lipton or Jerker Rellmark, where we have an intention with the song and very defined goals with the outcome, so that creates more focussed sessions.
What’s your secret weapon when you’re working? Any gadget, pedal, guitar, keyboard or effect? Even something down to the brand name. Anything unexpected you use or tend to rely on that the average listener would never guess??
We’re looking for some serious industry secrets here. Give us the goods.
I tend to use the Mini-Moog plug-in by Arturia and and actual Moog Little Phatty on everything. If I really want to be nerdy, I would say I love using the Mini-Moog in polyphonic mode and creating pitch bend chord progressions to get things started.
I love to collect weird gadgets and musical instruments. So when I travel I like to seek out something special to add to the studio. Recently I added a Wurlitzer I found in Austin, Texas, so I can have a nice vintage playable piano in the studio. I’m currently traveling in Korea and hoping to bring a drum back with me since they are so beautiful and unique.
In regards to what I have lying around in arms reach at all times - I use a Nord rack for beautiful synth sounds (think Prophet), the Little Phatty for bass leads. Recently I’ve been using these cool little Critter & Guitari Bolsa Bass and Pocket Piano units. If I could only spend my money on one thing…ultimately the Mini Moog is the most important group of sounds that I use. I also have a Stingray Bass, Fender Strat, and a pass for my girlfriend’s vintage Gibson Les Paul.
You keep pretty busy playing a lot of your music live and joining a solid crew of collaborators north of Boston. Any spots near and far our readers might be able to catch you playing either solo or with the hometeam*? (ie; *QWILL, Fishing The Sky, RadioScotvoid, DJ Noel Snow, etc.)
Well, my most recent gig was with Qwill in Brooklyn, but more locally I’ve played at Opus Underground, the Peabody Essex Museum, and things like exhibition opening parties. Ultimately I’ve been in the studio a lot recently, trying to come up with some new releases so I haven’t been actively pursuing gigs. Luckily, people get me out of the house to do some gigs here and there. I am really intrigued to create some cool dance parties though!
Any pre-show rituals before getting out there and playing in front of a crowd?
Worrying and not eating much. Checking my cables obsessively. A pre-show ritual is probably me looking at all my equipment and asking “Why am I taking all this?! Can I do this with less?”
I realize that I’m already prepared to do the show, but then challenge myself to do it completely differently. I get bored easily so I always want to do something new but that makes it hard work every time.
Any specific artist past or present that has had an undeniable influence on the type of music you find yourself producing?
Was there one person(or group?) that you found helped to really inspire what you’re doing today??
Brian Eno, Tortoise, Mouse on Mars, Flaming Lips, Underworld, Aphex Twin, Boards of Canada, Luke Vibert, Ian Pooley, Plastikman, Toro y Moi.
Of them all, it’s really Boards of Canada that opened up my eyes to visual music being in the fore-front.
Give us a musician just killing it out there right now that our readers should know more about. Anything goes. Who should we shine a bright spotlight on in volume 3 of CHROMA??
ABSRDST from Lowell. Young college kid doing some really sophisticated hip-hoppy chiptune.
You’ve crafted an exclusive EP for this very volume of CHROMA as a limited release! Some of our readers that grabbed a deluxe copy may be listening to it as they read these very lines.
Give us the rundown of what went into these tracks and what makes an ‘exclusive EP’ actually exclusive these days.
I think I’m putting together a really good playlist of all the music I’ve been working on for the past two years, which you won’t find together anywhere else in this form.
Infinite lives-level up-cheat code-bonus extra credit question;
Give us the definitive list…..the list to end all lists….
The ‘Stranded on an island and you can only bring 10 records with you List’. What are they? Order doesn’t matter.
I hate these things, they’re so hard for me since I am so mood based. Anyways here are some that come to mind..
Also these questions always make me think practically that I wouldn’t have anything to play them on and I’d probably be out hunting all day so I’d be tired at night. And what I like to listen to here may change completely on an island…so what if I bring all reggae and find I just want to listen to drone?
- Brian Eno - Another Green World
- Tycho - Dive
- Miike Snow-Miike Snow
- Rhythm & Sound w/the Artists
- Boards of Canada - Music has the rights to children
- Shintaro Sakamoto - How to Live With a Phantom
- Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots
- Stereolab - Dots and Loops
- Metronomy - English Riviera
- Toro Y Moi - Causers Of This