Black lightning // An interview with Fórn

Photo: Freddie Ross

Photo: Freddie Ross

There are quite a few factors that make a contemporary music lover's life very happy and easy, probably led by the emergence of the world's wide's webs as the main tool for both finding out about new music as well as buying it. The supply is infinite, so is the access, and it seems all you really need is a good connection and a deft index finger. However, as well know too well, supply-and-access don't have just a positive effect. Without waxing nostalgic too much, the mining teenagers up until the mid-nineties were forced engage in was such that not only was there less to choose from, but it was also harder to find. And so, in a natural combination of curiosity and exhaustion, everyone found what was good enough for them, without really knowing what it was that they were missing out on. Now, now we know it all, all the time, as it happens, and usually, thanks to leaks, before it happens.

One result of this reality, at least as far as I'm concerned, is a devastating flattening. Meaning that not only is everything more accessible, but bands tend to find themselves influenced by similar things, gravitate toward similar trends, turning everything into a homogenous and quite boring sludge (no pun intended, I think). And that seems to be the starting point for the new crop of young heavy bands – how to find your way out of the swamp?

And this is where I get to today's guests of honor. Amid the strange muck, it seems a very specific type of band has been grabbing my ears lately – the amazingly depressing Lycus, the flat-out bizarre Wolvserpent, and, naturally, the kings of gloom, Loss. The newest addition to that pack of really sad wolves are Fórn, who hail from the fiery hell that is Boston, with several members since dispersing to other locations across the U.S. I don't really know what it is that separates them from everyone else, but it may be: a) convincing, unforced, tight doom, despite the fact that they are only one album into their careers; and b) that they feel like a band.

Maybe that's the reason that, in terms of underground metal, their debut, The Departure of Consciousness grabbed so many ears other than mine. The interview with guitarist and writer Joey Gonzalez was the result of a correspondence a while back. I'd like to thank the guys for waiting as much as they have for me to put this out. It' a crazy life, people, crazy. Enjoy.

What are some of the artists, albums or songs that really inspired you growing up, and that made you want to be a musician yourself? Was there a moment you remember going “Wow, this is the best thing I have ever heard?” whether live or with headphone on?

I think there were a couple of moments in my life that invoked that sort of feeling for me. It all starts with my Mom, who loved live music and exposed me and my siblings at a very early age to quite an eclectic mix of artists. When she was a young adult she had the incredible fortune of getting to see bands like Minor Threat and Black Flag and the Dead Kennedys, which is still unreal for me to think about sometimes. When I was 9 or 10, and my Mom took my siblings and I to this local fest, the WHFStival, which was pretty much a grouping of all the current top “alternative” bands at the time. I remember being pretty stoked to see bands like Blink 182 and Everclear. However, the band that really blew my mind when I saw them were the Deftones. It was right around the time “White Pony” came out, which I was only vaguely familiar. I think I was just starting to get into “heavier” music, so the concept was still a bit abrasive and the aesthetic still slightly horrifying, to my younger mind. That being said, seeing the Deftones was definitely a pivot moment in my life. I had never seen anything so passionate on a stage before, and I had never heard music that could be simultaneously beautiful and abrasive. Their entire atmosphere and feel was incredible and I was hooked from the first note. To this day they’re still one of my favorite bands.

After that, I began furiously scouring the internet for new bands to listen to. I think I started off just on the old AOL Rock Music message board. As a family we would make almost weekly visits to this used music store in College Park Maryland called CD Depot, which was right next door to the famed Atomic Music (Where I was purchased my first ever instrument). I remember picking up CD’s of bands like Opeth, Blind Guardian, Celtic Frost, Nirvana, and many, many more. I think it was when I was 12 that I picked up “Blackwater Park” by Opeth. That record changed my life. I never never knew what it meant to truly study or appreciate an album before that moment, and there have only been a few I’ve done so with such sincerity since. I hadn’t yet started playing music, but I learned every rhythm I could on my lap, learned every melody my voice could ham up at the time, and if I was alone, would practice my death growls.

Lastly, before this becomes a novel, I have to at least mention bands like 1905, pg99, Majority Rule, Darkest Hour and Crestfallen and many, many other D.C. DIY bands I came up seeing. I was very naively already a part of the D.C. DIY scene playing drums in a couple of shitty punk bands. While I was discovering more and more music, and attempting to imitate to the best of my stumbling 15 year old hands, there was the very naive ideal that I would somehow make it someday. But when I came across bands like the aforementioned, I was introduced to an ethical movement that changed my life, and how I appreciate, consume, and share music.

Could you say a few words about how Fórn got together and at what point you became involved in the band?

Right before I moved to Boston, I was in a band called Spirals. I hadn’t been in a heavier band in some time at this point, and I was itching to play some variant of doom/sludge. It was a rotating class of musicians that mostly consisted of good friends of mine from the DC scene and my college roommate. I wrote the majority of material for that band, but unfortunately, things just never took off from there. Fast forward about a year, and I get a very intriguing message from Chris Pinto. One of my best friends, Danny Boyd, had played bass in Spirals for a couple shows, and had told Pinto that I was looking to do something similar up here in Boston. I jammed with him and a couple of other people, initially on drums. However, it never took. But I told Pinto I was really itching to play guitar in a project like this, and I already had a few songs worth of material we could already use. From there, it’s almost like a game of musical chairs. Brandon initially tried out on drums, and then ended up on guitar. Pinto stumbled into Christian D. drunkenly on Valentine's Day two years ago at a local dive, and from there the pieces all fell into place. Brian from VYGR, another great Boston based band and a good friend of Pintos, was the first person we tried out on bass after our initial bass player departed, and he was the perfect fit.

What were some of the bands or artists in your mind when you were writing the tracks for Departure of Consciousness?

I think between the five of us, we have an incredibly eclectic taste in music. That winter we spent writing was particularly cold and bleak, and it was a very trying time for some of us in the band. I am always jumping around with what I’m listening to, but I remember a few distinct albums that were in heavy rotation at that time: Fiona Apple's “Tidal”, Radiohead’ “Kid A” and “Amnesiac,” True Widow’s “As High as the Highest Heavens, and From the Center to the Circumference of the Earth,” and pretty much the entire collective discography of both Pygmy Lush and Thou.

The band, as it is, is kind of scattered across the U.S. How does that affect the writing process? Do you just come up with riffs and correspond with the other members?

I am really fortunate to have a band that has incredible writing chemistry. We already have all the writing for our releases planned this year done, and a very solid portion of a hopeful full length for a later date. I think if we didn’t have that, this whole thing would be impossible. When we get together, it’s always emotional and productive. When we’re away, Brandon and I will write riffs/songs and send them to each other and the band. Brandon and I are very complimentary in terms of writings. Just the other week, I was halfway through a song I couldn’t finish. I tell him about it, and he said he was in a very similar predicament. I send him mine, and he sends me his, and we both said “Wow, these would fit perfectly together.” Sometimes he’ll write things that completely blow me away. Not just in a “oh sick riff” sort of way either. I mean in a completely evil/beautiful genius sort of way. And he has told me things I’ve written have made him well up a little before. I think we’re all incredibly passionate and determined to make this work. And nothing is going to stop that for any foreseeable future.

Fórn garnered a lot of attention for your guys’ debut, The Departure of Consciousness, seemingly from the moment it dropped. How surprised were you?

The majority of us in the band have been playing music in bands for the better part of our lives, to varying success. But that was never really the goal we set out with for this band. We wanted to create something that we felt was unique and worthy of putting our collective names on. Mostly, I was really just trying to create music I myself would really want to listen to. I feel everything we write caters to everyone in the band’ nuances and interests, when we can. So to see so many people are really into something we created is definitely rewarding, and not something I am too familiar with.  So to answer your question, I think we were all definitely surprised. But at the end of the day, we’re doing this because we want to create art that we are passionate about, that we really put hard work into, and to share it with everyone, for better or for worse.

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There’s been a kind of dark revolution in the last few years in the metal underground, with a kind of changing of the guard, influence-wise (Metallica and Slayer out, Burning Witch and Entombed in). Do you feel maybe it's just a generational thing, younger bands being influenced by 90s artist as opposed to anyone who was big in the 80s?

I know for me at least, Metallica and Slayer played a huge part in discovering things I liked and didn’t like about metal. Both those bands were groundbreakers; forerunners of abrasive music for their time, and I was a fan of both growing up. I think being the age that I am, I came into my sort of “musical awakening” after Metallica pivoted from their thrashy roots. So growing up I saw them continue to sort of “sell out” but the older I got, the more I discovered their earlier material and thought to myself “How could Metallica have made an album like ’And Justice For All’, and then also make ‘Reloaded’?” It was baffling to me. And with Slayer, to watch them dissolve into this drama ridden has been kind of mind boggling, especially since so much of it is about money and unfair compensation of its members.  Both those bands did amazing things though, and still have the capacity to do amazing things, so who knows? On the other hand, bands like Burning Witch and Entombed only came to me after countless hours of scouring the internet for new music in my late teenage years. When I first discovered Burning Witch, I felt like they were this special thing that seemingly no one else knew about. I think the reality is that as time passes, and with how easy one can obtain music in digital format, and how internet communities grow at endless rates, bands that were breaking ground to pretty much an audience of nihl decades ago, will continue to blow up well after their time and hopefully spark some even greater music. That gap will continue to close, and it can definitely be attributed, at least partly, to the generational gap of music consumers.

Do you feel the band's dark, heavy sound is partly behind all the interest in the band, that you guys converged so many of these dark elements and influences?

We do get approached after shows sometimes, getting compliments on the atmosphere of our sound, which is definitely very dark and heavy. Since I started playing guitar seriously, which was really only a couple years ago, I have become obsessed with molding and manipulating feedback into melodic content. I definitely draw a lot of influence from bands that use a lot of feedback in both melodic and dissonant ways. I take cues from bands like Nirvana, Deftones, Thou, Sunn O))), Burning Witch, Alcest, Blut Aus Nord, The Melvins, Radiohead, and countless others that use some sort of atmospheric sounds by manipulating feedback. I would actually really love to write a book on it someday, it’s that interesting to me. Through it, I hope I am able to create an ambiance and atmosphere to the band that is simultaneously haunting and melodic with the other elements of the music. Hopefully people continue to like that stuff. There will definitely be a lot of atmosphere to in our next couple of releases.

With another album probably in the distance, and with new riffs coming up, I would imagine, all the time, is it different writing new music or thinking about new music when you know that much more people will be looking forward to the album?

I honestly couldn’t say it does, at least on my end. As I mentioned before, all of the writing for our releases this year are already done, and half of it is already recorded, and further, material for a future full length is already half way done. So whatever kind of attention we may garner from these next releases wont even have the opportunity to influence us. At this point, I have been playing and writing music for the better half of my life. Long ago I stopped accommodating what other people wanted out of my art, and I think we’re all on that same page, so we truly just write what we want to. I hope people like it, but then again, I know its entirely possible everyone else will hate it. We wouldn’t put anything on record we weren’t 100% behind. We’re appreciative of every kind word ever spoken of us, and will continue to be, but none of us would stop creating music if that all stopped tomorrow.

In the kind of internet/digital-heavy contemporary metal arena, do you feel as though metal bands such as Fórn are operating as part of a definite scene? Say a Boston scene, for instance?

I think in this age we’re very fortunate to be part of a scene that sprawls across the country, even further. We’ve made wonderful friends across the country with bands like Lycus, Funerary, Usnea, Amarok, Thou, Yautja, Alraune, Inter Arma, Ilsa, Windhand, Insect Ark, The Body, Serpentine Path and far too many others to count. Our first record came out through Vendetta, which is an European Label run by one of the best dudes around, Stefan. Seriously, when it comes to musical ethics and how he takes care of the bands on his label, he has head exactly in the right place. I love working with him, and look forward to working more with him in the future. Our next couple releases will be done through Adam Bartlett at Gilead Media, and literally everything I just said about Stefan could be applied to Adam. I have dreamt at the opportunity to work with both these labels and couldn’t be more excited that it’s a reality. Our scene here in Boston is also filled with wonderful people and bands like The Proselyte, Phantom Glue, Wormwood, Coagula, Upheaval, Human Bodies, Lunglust, Ehnahre,and Rozamov. Sometimes I feel our scene here in Boston is too often split up by scenes and such, which I believe to be dumb (I myself play drums in a very-not-metal-band called Trespasser), but I have friends in bands like Speedy Ortiz, Grass is Green, Ovlov, Perhaps, Sneeze, Dirty Dishes, Badknight and others that support our shows and that I’ll support whenever I can. I try to share my life with like-minded musicians, whatever kind of music they’re creating.

If so, what are some of the other up-and-coming Boston bands you think deserve more attention than they are currently getting?  

I work at two venues here in Boston, so I have the distinct pleasure of seeing the entire gambit of what the city has to offer in terms of local music. Some bands that have really stood out to me recently are Wormwood, Big Mess, Bent Knee, Ladybones, Life Problem, Grass is Green, Raw Blow, Sadist, Coagula and Upheaval.

Any chance of seeing the band come out and play abroad? Even, dare I say, Israel?

It’s definitely that’s something in our long term goals. We’d love to play any and everywhere, truly, but collectively, we’re only allotted so much time to tour, we have to carefully pick what we do. But shows abroad are definitely in the works, and we’ll see what we can do about Israel!

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