In 2013 Paul O’Reilly and Owen O’Mahony emerged from the ashes of Channel One (whose Wikipedia page says they played “emotive electro-rock”) with another difficult-to-Google project named Forrests. Eschewing the strictures of their rock band past, the band have dropped two excellent EPs – 2013’s Tarifa and last year’s Organs – full of largely instrumental electronica that gathers together different threads of influence from industrial to ambient to dancefloor-ready house, without ever showing their faces. This January they wowed the RHA’s Lost Friday event with a hypnotic, intense and constantly evolving set and are back to serve up another dose at this month’s Body&Soul Festival in Ballinlough, County Westmeath. Totally Dublin caught up with Paul who helped us see the wood for the trees.
Is it intentional that there’s not much of a story about Forrests out there, and the faces are blurred in the press photos?
I guess somewhat, with the press photos and that kind of thing, we did want to do that from the start. It’s probably something that’s been quite overdone in general in the last few years. But it’s something we’ve always had in mind, to keep things as anonymous as possible.
Was there any particular reason you wanted to keep it anonymous?
Probably the same reason as anyone in a band who wants to keep it anonymous, so that people can put their own meaning or interpretation on what the tracks are. It’s not really out of any desire to create a mystique, it’s just so people can listen to it with neutral ears and put their own interpretation on it. There’s not a sense of place or time or culture that’s giving you some kind of preconception.
When you started Forrests with Owen, was a definitive switch from Channel One, or was it a more gradual process?
We definitely made a bit of a left turn and set up different parameters. That was a big part of it starting off Forrests. Initially we just wanted to make certain workflow things. We wanted to make percussion from certain synthetic elements and more found sound, organic elements, not using a traditional drums/bass/guitar approach. We had certain things like chopped-up vocals, or putting guitars through synths or vice versa – things that are fairly commonplace, but that we hadn’t been doing – and we had those few parameters and we tried to do as much as possible within those. Plus I guess working with just the two of us as opposed to a larger group of people. I think anyone who’s been in a band knows that the more people there are, the more chefs…
So it was a very conscious decision to follow these rules going forward.
Yeah, exactly. They were more creative and technical parameters, like what samplers we were going to use and how we were going to use them, what drum sounds [we would use], even down to the types of guitar loops Owen has and how he records them. It mightn’t be so obvious when you’re listening to the music, certain tracks might sound like X, Y or Z, but it was definitely satisfying for us to have set up these particular approaches and then working within them.
More recently we’ve changed it again, so we trying to focus creative process and workflow focus more on the pre-production stage and less on the post-production stage. We’ve changed the set-up so that we can throw down as much as possible, as intuitively possible, in long jams, and then try to spend less time on the back end in post-production and fixing it up. We’ll probably always have to do some of that, but we’ve changed it again so it’s more intuitive, improvised, jam-led, so a slower preparation and a quicker execution. We’ll have some samples and field recordings prepared, and then throw them into the various machines and then try to throw as much down in a long session as possible.
I saw you guys in the RHA and I thought it was great and I was very surprised at how the set took shape. Have you shifted towards electronic music to be performed rather than to be composed and that you figure out how to play later.
Kind of, that’s what we’re trying to do anyway. It’s funny, with the live thing, we probably make it unnecessarily awkward for ourselves some of the time, but we remix and reinterpret all the tracks for the live setting. So we take what we’ve done, and we try to interpret it again. There’ll be a certain foundation of samples and loops and then we’ll have 50% of it that is improvised. There’ll be some live sequencing and guitar loops and vocal loops that will be done on the spot, so it’s 50-50 I guess. We can extend certain bits or truncate certain bits. It’s not all set in stone when we’re going into it. There’s so much you can do now within the software that allows for live improvisation. That’s something we’ll have to think about again for the next few shows.
You have a performance coming up at Body&Soul, has that live set-up stuck, or is it still in a state of flux.
Yeah it is. What you saw at the RHA was definitely a very new interpretation of the live set for us, and we’re a lot happier with it. It will be something in that vein, but we will try to reinterpret it again every time. Just to keep ourselves interested, we’ll look at it again before that show, and ask, do we need to change the core ingredients? But that idea of having a certain amount of ideas and having the improvisation on the spot, that kind of philosophy remains.
When I saw you perform that time, you had big kick drum with the robotic arms playing it. Can you tell me about how that works? Is it part of the musical performance or is it more symbolic?
It’s kind of both. Owen builds a lot of these MIDI-triggered acoustic instruments. The drums are being triggered by his software controller. There are the robotic drums and he also re-samples from this contraption that’s like a long piece of wood with pieces of holes in it which he rubs a drumstick up and down. He’s making a lot of these things in the background. Some of them he uses, some of them he doesn’t.
I guess he wants to blur the line of whether it’s an overt stage prop or not, of what’s doing what. He’ll take triggers from the live kick-drum sound and mix them back into the synthetic sounds, or the field recording sounds that are coming from the samplers to blur the lines of what’s acoustic and what’s synthetic. Hopefully, it’s just creating a more interesting sonic palette over all.
You released a record last year. There was quite a gap between this and the last release and quite a silence. Can you tell me about the idea behind that record Organs? And will you be making another one?
Yeah, we plan on putting third EP, a lot quicker! We had a lot of material for the second EP, Organs, and we weren’t really sure how to put it together, and we revisited a lot of the tracks. Then all of sudden we put it out quite quickly when we were happy with it. We’re going through that process again, but I think quicker this time.
We used to be album diehards, but we also don’t really want to put out ten tracks just for the sake of it, if we’re only really excited about four or five of them, so that’s the reason for the format. We generally have a whole bunch of things and then pick those that work best together.
Can I ask you a question about releasing your last record in concrete? Were they actually made of concrete? I’ve never seen one…
I think the guy in the Record Spot might have bought one, I don’t know if he keeps it in the shop. That was Owen’s idea. I think he felt kind of constricted by the various formats, how things have changed in the last few years. It was kind of a statement of sorts, or a critique, or a two-fingers to the various formats and processes that the industry puts you in. Even the left-of-centre underground, you have a vinyl-only release, or a vinyl and digital release, there’s quite a limited number of options. So we said we’re not going to have artwork on a vinyl sleeve, our artwork is this ridiculous thing, which may be worth nothing or may be worth a lot, depending on how you want to interpret it. It’s not something you’re going to sell a thousand of online, due to postal restrictions or whatever, but we did actually sell a few of them funnily enough. We weren’t happy with the ideas we had for how it was going to be visually or commercially represented. Sarah Doyle who’s a great photographer took some photos of it, and that ended up being a nice visual representation of the EP.
Forrests play Body&Soul Festival which takes place at Ballinlough Castle, County Westmeath from Friday 17th to Sunday 19th June. Forrests are joined on the bill by The Gloaming, Sun Kil Moon, Hudson Mohawke, Floating Points, Junior Boys, Mbongwana Star and a host of other acts and treats. To grab one of the remaining tickets, go to bodyandsoul.ie
You can check out Forrest’s Tarifa and Organs at forrestsforrests.com
Words: Ian Lamont
Photos: Sarah Doyle