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20 Questions With Forest Sun

The San Francisco singer-songwriter talks busking, juggling, ghosting & much more.

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Forest Sun stopped by last week to premiere his optimistic new single A Million right HERE. Today, the San Francisco singer-songwriter returns to put his money where his mouth is by taking a run through my trivial questions. Let’s see how sunny and optimistic he feels after that.

 


 

What is your musical origin story?
I was conceived on Thanksgiving day in an attic in Boston, Massachusetts. I spent my first six months sleeping mostly. We lived in an orange tent in upstate NY while my dad planted a garden and worked on making a house out of recycled materials. There was no electricity or running water, There were a couple of acoustic guitars — a Gibson Hummingbird and a Gurian. My parents played and sang together and met through playing folk. They were my introduction to music and my first guitar teachers.

What’s your latest project? Tell us everything we need to know.
I have been writing, recording and releasing a new song every month thanks to my Patreon supporters. All these songs culminated in my latest album Stubborn Breathing Heart that came out on New Year’s Day 2021. I am continuing to release a new song each month this coming year. I also published two books: a songbook of how to play all 10 of my records and a 400-page hardcover coffee table book of my collected paintings, drawings, pastels and prints. I also made a Forest’s Kids Mix playlist on Spotify that was pretty fun to put together.

What truly sets you apart from other artists?
Everybody’s voice is like a fingerprint. How cool is that? Each voice is a unique combination of overtones like none other. Kind of cool how we all can be so small and insignificant in an infinitely expanding universe and totally unique at the same time.

What will I learn or how will my life improve by listening to your music?
Music is a wonderful companion to me. I hope my songs keep you good company.

What album / song / artist / show changed your life?
Toots and the Maytals, Reggae Got Soul.

Tell us about the first song you wrote and / or the first gig you played and what you got paid.
My first gig was in high school with my band at the local teen center called Warehouse 21 in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The show didn’t pay any money. The place was packed with sweaty teens. There was a stage and a PA and sound person. We played all original songs. Electric bass, drums, electric guitar and we all sang. We felt like rock stars. Places like that teen center are so important. A place to gather and dance. A place to encourage creativity. That has my vote for funding with our tax dollars.

What is the best / worst / strangest / most memorable performance you ever gave?
I tried busking on the street in Amsterdam once. Some Dutch ladies at the cafe across the street asked me to go away because they were trying to have lunch. That was the last time I tried busking.

What is the best / worst / strangest / most memorable performance you’ve seen another artist give?
I loved swapping songs up on the hill at Kerrville Folk Festival in Texas with folks like Anaïs Mitchell or backstage on tour with Brett Dennen or late-night jamming at the Strawberry Music Festival with Van Dyke Parks and Hot Buttered Rum. Those kind of performances that are just artists playing with and for other artists are always memorable.

What do you want to be doing in 10 years?
I’d like to be continuing to create and share my work as a songwriter, performer and artist.

What living or dead artists would you collaborate with if you could?
That is fun to imagine. I’ll go with living artists so maybe imagination can turn to reality one day. I love Jon Batiste’s piano playing. And Corey Henry’s hammond organ playing. And Lady Wray’s harmonies. I love collaborating in the studio. Songs can go so many ways. Bringing someone else’s talents to a song is like having more colors to play with on the palette. I feel lucky to have collaborated with so many ridiculously talented people on my albums.

What artist or style of music do you love that would surprise people?
I have gotten into the new Afropop this last year. Artists like Burna Boy and Wande Coal. Super melodic and danceable.

What are your favourite songs / albums / artists right now?
Songs I am digging right now: Long Blue Light by Leif Vollebek. Count Your Blessings by The Como Mamas and The Glorifiers Band. I recently discovered Fine Time by Robert Palmer from his 1975 album Pressure Drop (I knew him only from the ’80s and I am not a big fan of a lot of ’80s music, so it was fun to dive deeper in his discography and find this gem of a song), One I Want by Flatland Cavalry. So Free by Bahamas, As If By Design by Dawes and oh so many more….

How about some other favourites? Authors / movies / painters / philanthropists / you name it.
I’ve been listening to Robert Thurman’s podcasts on Buddhism, reading lots of Terry Pratchett books, and watching Tiny Desk Concerts on YouTube. I love the paintings of Nicholas Roerich. (There’s a wonderful museum of his in work on the Upper West Side in NYC.) I loved seeing the water lilies that inspired Monet’s painting at his place in Giverny, France when I was there a couple of years ago. The Chagall windows at the Art Institute of Chicago are amazing.

Who would you be (or have you been) starstruck to meet?
I never really know till that moment what it will feel like to meet someone. Celebrity is a strange thing that some people navigate with more grace than others. I met MC Hammer at the airport baggage claim once and that was cool. He shook my hand and said “God bless you.” I once met Keanu Reeves at a film festival party and it was a little awkward, but I am sure we could could have had a better conversation in a quieter setting or even better if we had a chance to play music together.

Tell us a joke.
Q: Where did George Washington keep his armies?
A: In his sleevies.

What do you drive and why? What do you want to drive and why?
I drive a 2005 blue Mini Cooper with a dent in the hood where someone backed into it. It’s fun on the curves and easy to park. Not a great road trip vehicle though, because you feel every bump on those run-flat tires and if I throw my guitar in the back that fills up the whole car. Someday I’d like to have a solar-powered, electric hybrid, tricked-out RV with a stage platform on top for touring. How cool would that be?

What superpower do you want and how would you use it?
Teleporting would definitely make touring easier.

What skills — useful or useless — do you have outside of music?
I think I’d be a really great juggler if I just had the balls.

What do you collect?
Experiences and memories. I am kind of a minimalist these days. I used to have a huge record collection on vinyl but I traded it to the producer and musicians in exchange for working on my record Walk Through Walls. Walk Through Walls is out now on vinyl. So now instead of hundreds of different records I have hundreds of my own record in boxes in a closet.

If I had a potluck, what would you bring?
Watermelon.

What current trend or popular thing do you not understand at all?
TikTok. And ghosting. What’s up with that?

Tell us about your current and/or former pets
We had a dog named Pancho when I was a kid. Pancho adopted my dad when he was living on the Navajo reservation. My dad used to sing him the song Pancho and Lefty by Townes Van Zandt.

If you could have any other job besides music, what would it be and why?
I’d still be an artist. I’d keep painting and sculpting and taking photographs. I’d still write poetry. Everybody knows there is a lot of money to be made in poetry. I might dive deeper into acting and film making. I could work as a gardener.

What’s the best advice and/or worst advice you were ever given?
My dad used to say, “You can’t push the river.” I have found that to be true.

Hear A Million above, listen to Stubborn Breathing Heart below, sign up for Forest Sun’s Patreon campaign HERE, and keep up with him via his website, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.