INTERVIEW: Forrest Hill

Hi Forrest, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?

I’ve been great. Thanks for taking the time to interview me.

Can you talk to us more about your song “Everything Lost”?

“Everything Lost” is the first song off my upcoming album ShadowLight, and I think it sets the tone for the rest of the tracks. It’s a song about hope and redemption. It starts out slow with just voice and acoustic guitar, and then kicks in at the chorus as the protagonist comes to terms with his past. The theme here is that happiness is possible if you are willing to become vulnerable and open your heart to love. Sometimes it takes someone special to come along to shows us our true inner light. That’s what the line “everything lost, I found in you” refers too. I think the arrangement of the song works really well with the words, especially the great cello part beautifully performed by Crystal Pascucci. To me, it gives “Everything Lost” a lush heartfelt sound.

Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?

I wrote “Everything Lost” when I was in the town of Mendocino California with my wife Erika. We had only been married for a couple of years and were walking along one of the cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Being with her in that beautiful setting was magical – I had this moment of feeling overwhelmed with joy. I remember vividly thinking that before we met I could never have imagined being so happy. And that so much of the happiness I felt was the result of her love and our greater connection. The final chorus line for the song “everything lost I found in you” came into my head and I hummed a few bars to her.  When we got home that evening, I sat down with my guitar and pretty much wrote the entire song from start to finish.

Any plans to release a video for the single?

We shot a live performance video of “Everything Lost” during one of our recording sessions at Tiny Telephone studios in Oakland. It is a kind of behind the scenes look at the recording process and even has a cameo appearance by our dog Bella (who unfortunately passed away recently). I plan to release this video in the near future. I am currently in discussions with videographer Anton van der Linden, who I worked with in Amsterdam last year to film the Rust video, about producing a video for “Everything Lost” and several other songs off the new album.

The single comes off your new album Shadowlight – what’s the story behind the title?

The word Shadowlight is a metaphorical concept that refers to a shadow produced by a projection of light, rather than the absence of light. To me it evokes the idea of bringing one’s own internal light into a difficult situation to bring hope, love and connection.  Many of the songs on the album are about embracing what is difficult in ourselves or society with compassion and kindness in order to see our true goodness and that of others. Shadowlight has a lot to do with being vulnerable, taking risks and having a willingness to hold what we don’t like about ourselves and others with an open heart.

How was the recording and writing process?

I love recording, especially when I get to work with so many great musicians and an amazing engineer like Jacob Winik. Because of the talent level, we were able to record the basic tracks and lead vocals for all 12 songs in about nine days. During this time, I was fortunate to meet the T Sisters who came in and added some amazing background vocals.  They are such stars in their own right. After listening to the basis tracks, I decided to add horn parts on two of the songs, “Still Crazy Over You” and “Real Thing,” which turned out great. This is the first time I’ve written for horns and Adam Hirsch (saxophone) and Ross Eustis (Trumpet) came in one day and made the parts sound amazing.  The highlight for me, however, was working with Crystal Pascucci and Mark Clifford who created these amazing cello arrangements. The album is full of their ideas and Crystal’s beautiful playing gives a lot of depth to the music. You never know how all these parts will sound until you put them down on tape.  That’s when the magic happens and that’s what makes recording so great.

The writing process for me is more of a solo affair. I usually sit in our living room with just an acoustic guitar and a pen. A lot of times I simply start noodling around on the guitar and if I find something I like, begin to sing the first thing that comes to my head. A lot of times it’s nonsense, but occasionally a good line or two will come out and this will be the genesis for the lyric of a song. Once I have an idea of where the song is going I put more effort into the lyrics until they are done. Then I turn my attention to the arrangement and how I might want to incorporate other instruments. Once I have a road map in my head, I write out some basic charts and get together with the other musicians to fine tune it. Once I’m satisfied and have enough songs together, I then book time in the studio to start recording.

 What role does Detroit play in your music?

Growing up near Detroit, I was immersed in the sound of Motown and jazz. When I was in High School I used to love hanging out at the historic Bakers Keyboard lounge jazz club. A lot of my musician friends use to hang out there as well and we would often get together after a show and jam. This gave me a great fondness for free form music and an appreciation for a wide range of musical styles. At the other end of the spectrum was the music I heard coming out of Berry Gordy’s Motown studio. I just loved the tight vocal and string arrangements used by so many of the artists. I think that’s why I like to put as much energy into song arrangement as into song writing. A bad arrangement can wreck a good song, while a good arrangement allows it to soar to its full potential.

Coincidentally, some years later when I lived in Boston and was the lead vocalist and guitarist in the funk rock band Judy’s Tiny Head, I had a chance to collaborate with producer Teddy Riley, who worked with The Jacksons and Stevie Wonder (among many others). It was cool working with someone who had such a deep connection to some of the Motown artists I grew up listening to. Teddy was also the pioneer of the “New Jack Swing” style of R&B. So, he brought this whole new thing to the Detroit sound, which I was lucky enough to experience.

How does Vietnam influence your writing?

During the Vietnam era (including after the war) there was sort of a restlessness in the country. I know for me I couldn’t wait to get out of the house and explore. It seemed there was a lot more trust back then, and I use to think nothing of hitchhiking across the state or down to Chicago when I was only 16. I eventual ended up hitchhiking across the country several times, and even hopped freight trains from Detroit to Portland Oregon. Being on the road, I met a lot of other travelers who played guitar and sang their own songs. So, I began composing songs myself. Traveling became sort of a laboratory for trying out new material on other fellow voyagers on the road. That’s when I got the songwriting bug and it hasn’t left me since.

What aspect of suffering did you get to explore on this record?

In general, most of the songs on the album are a celebration of overcoming suffering. Like the album name ShadowLight, there is a sense that if we can remain positive when facing what is dark and difficult – either through love, compassion, music, or a spiritual connection – we can go through anything and come out the other side whole. Sometimes like in the song “Everything Lost,” you need someone special who can help you along the way, and sometimes you just need the courage to do the work yourself.  This is true on the personal level, as well as the social level. One song on the album called “Cold Rain’s Coming” is about what happens to us as a society when we lose sight of our common humanity. It’s one thing to disagree about politics, but when we begin to objectify others as evil or hateful it can tear us appear.

Any plans to hit the road?

I have a few shows scheduled in Northern California. I am also exploring performing in Europe, especially in Amsterdam where I have a lot of musical connections and friends who are encouraging me to come over and perform.

What else is happening next in Forrest Hill’s world?

Currently, I am focusing my energy on promoting the new album, increasing my fan base on social media, building a stronger following on Spotify, YouTube and other streaming platforms, and garner more TV and Movie production deals.  I am also working on arranging a bunch of new songs for another album, which I hope to record this fall.

Other than that, I am happy to be spending time at home in Napa California these days with my wife Erika and our new rescue dog Sedona. I am also teaching meditation at Napa Valley Insight Meditation on a regular basis and practicing yoga.

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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