Hi Forrest, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?
I’m doing well, although like everyone else just trying to weather the storm. These days my thoughts are with those who have suffered so long from senseless racially motivated prejudice. I am also overwhelmingly grateful for so many things – my wife, friends, and good health – and for the strength of so many people I know who are working to change the system for the better. Gives me hope beyond measure.
Can you talk to us more about your latest single “Crazy Days”?
Crazy Days is a somewhat light-hearted song about trying to stay sane when the world seems out of control. I wrote it three years ago but given current events, it seems somewhat prophetic. Originally, it was going to be a mellow acoustic guitar song, but when we got into the studio and started experimenting with synths, it turned into this sort of cool up-tempo throwback Depeche Mode sounding track. I really liked how it turned out.
Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?
I wrote this song during one of the worse forest fires in California history. We live in Napa, and for a while it looked like we would lose our home. To me, those fires seemed like an extension of the political chaos in the country and I wanted to write a song that focused on how the power of love can help us make it through the dark times. While the lyrics touch on issues such as climate change, war and cultural divisions, the music is intentionally upbeat. I think one of the great things about music is that it can remind us of the troubles in the world and be uplifting at the same time.
Any plans to release any sort of music video for this track?
I had planned on making a music video of Crazy Days before its release date, but that has been put on hold for now. I have released a lyric video of Crazy Days for now.
I have released several live performance videos of other songs off River of Stars, including Million Miles and Guardian Angel. The footage was shoot during our live recording sessions and give a kind of behind the scenes look at the process of making the album.
The single comes off your new album River of Stars – what’s the story behind the title?
The name comes from the title of a love song I wrote for my wife, which is also the last track on the album. It is a mellow indie folk tune that lyrically captures the general theme of the album, which is “in good times or bad, love will see us through.” That may sound hooky, but it’s how I see the world these days. I attribute a large part of this attitude to my meditation practice and the wisdom of my wife. I believe within all of us there is fundamental goodness, which metaphorically is our north star. The more people tap into that light, the greater the river. That is how we begin to end our cultural denial about racism and everything else that divides us. As Martin Luther King Jr said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
How was the recording and writing process?
It is always a joy, and a privilege to record and over the years I have the good fortune to work with some amazing studio musicians, as well as a great sound engineer, Jacob Winik. For this project, I created music charts for all the songs before going into the studio, hoping to streamline the process. The idea was to get everyone on the same page in a fairly short time. It took us only a day to work out all the material. We then spent the next few weeks recording everything. Unfortunately, we had some arrangement issues and I decided to put things on hold for a while until we figured out a way forward. So much for saving time. While the decision to wait set back the release date of the album by about a year, in the end it turned out to be a wise move, as we were able to really improve the overall production. Sometimes you need to let things gestate for a while before you can see a way forward.
How has Jason Mraz and Paul Simon influenced your writing?
I love Jason’s voice and the honesty of his lyrics. His songs are so well crafted and the way he sings really draws you into the story he is telling. Those are qualities that I try to bring to my own compositions. I also love that he seems like a genuine and humble guy, who plays music for the love of it, as opposed to wanting to be a star. He’s also a fan of Buddhist philosophy, as am I, so I feel a bit of a kinship there.
Paul Simon is one of greatest songwriters of all times. His melodies are infectious, and I love how he experiments with so many different musical styles. I also like how he goes out and finds the musicians he needs to bring his compositions to life. I try to approach music production in the same way. Figuring out who can play the right part on a given song is as important as the songwriting itself.
What role does Oakland play in your music?
I have recorded my last two albums at Oakland’s Tiny Telephone studios. I love recording there because it is really geared to live performance and captures a feel of the recording studio before the digital age. The studio just feels “Oakland” – not bowing down to the trends, keeping it real, so to speak. It’s an inspiring place to create music.
Where did you find the inspiration for the songs and lyrics?
I am inspired everyday by my wife, my meditation practice, and the experiences I’ve had throughout my life. If I were to sum it up, I’d say my music focuses on the search for meaning in an increasingly mechanized and impersonal world, while at the same time praising the beauty and possibility for liberation in all of us. There’s a lot of room for inspiration between those two views.
Any plans to hit the road?
Not for a while, given the current circumstances. I have been doing live solo performances from home and posting them on my Instagram page. I will probably continue to do these types of performances for the rest of the year and then see where things stand in 2021. Recording live at home gives me a chance to try out new material and get immediate feedback from fans, which is really gratifying.
What else is happening next in Forrest Hill’s world?
I plan on spending this year promoting “River of Stars.” I would also like to start recording another album before the end of the year. I have all the material written, so whether I get into the studio or not depends on how things shape up with the pandemic