California singer/songwriter Forrest Hill crafts story driven songs that bridge the gap between old school contemporary rock and modern folk. With a penchant for honest, introspective lyrics that don’t shy away from difficult issues, Forrest has carved out a humble place for himself in the landscape of alternative music.
Forrest grew up in Detroit, where he started playing guitar as a teen in order to survive the isolation he felt in high school. After graduation, he began writing music whilst hitchhiking across the country through post-Vietnam America, channeling many of his influences (Dylan, Hendrix, Motown) into a freewheeling exploration of song.
After moving to Boston in the 1980s, Forrest recorded two records as part of the Boston based funk rock band Judy’s Tiny Head (JTH), including the critically acclaimed single ‘’My Car’’. The title track of the album became a local commercial favorite in New England and a top 40 hit on College Radio. Forrest and JTH went on to perform with The Violent Femmes, Run DMC, Deborah Harry, Paul Young and Aimee Mann, eventually working with famed music producer Teddy Riley, before parting ways in the 1990s.
Forrest went back to school in Boston and eventually earned a PhD in mathematical ecology before resettling in Northern California. He began performing again in coffee houses and in
2016 released his first solo album “Rust.” He followed this up with a second solo album “ShadowLight” in 2018. Both albums spent over two months on the college radio music charts and garnered several TV and film licensing agreements.
Forrest has recently finished a new album entitled “River of Stars,” due out May 1st, 2020. Beholden to no single formula, the music is influenced by Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, The Talking Heads, The Beatles, Paul Simon, Jason Mraz, John Mayer, Munford & Sons and others. Lyrically, “River of Stars” continues in the style of his recent releases, focusing on the search for meaning in an increasingly mechanized and impersonal world.
How would you describe your style?
It’s a mix of old school contemporary rock and indie alternative. I like to call my music “Story Driven Indie Chamber Folk Rock” – kind of like Nick Drake meets Bob Dylan meets Father John Misty. Lyrics are an essential part of my songwriting style. Whether it’s about love, loss or coming to terms with the vicissitudes of life, the songs always start from the words and move out from there. I often base my songs around an acoustic guitar and then add in a wide range of instruments including cello, piano, sax, trumpet, drums and flugelhorn to try and capture the mood of the words.
Why do you do what you do?
I write and play music because it gives me an immense amount of joy to bring to life what is in my heart and mind. Music helps me connect with others, explore life, and has helped me overcome depression. It is like a spiritual practice. When things are difficult, sitting down with my guitar to work out a new song feels like a blessing. The process often feels completely cathartic and rewarding on so many levels, and I think I’m addicted to that feeling.
Ambition or talent: which matters more to you?
I think ambition is probably more important. It is a great motivator and source of energy. Some things we have to do to be successful as a musician aren’t necessarily fun, nor interesting, nor urgent… but they must be done. So being a little hungry can be a good thing. But ambition can also have a dark side in that it may drive you to try and succeed at all costs, even at your own expense. Artists can end up being manipulative, deceitful, or egocentric trying to get ahead. Ultimately this puts people off and is very counterproductive. Music is about making connections with others in a way that feels authentic and meaningful to them. That takes effort, but it also requires staying human.
The thing about working hard to improve one’s talent is that it keeps you connected with your art. You don’t take things for granted. It’s easy to slide back if you don’t continue to practice. Talent isn’t static – you’re either going forward or backwards.
What inspires you to create music?
It’s hard to say exactly what inspires me. There is something inside of me, like an invisible force, that feels compelled to write music. There have been times in my life when I’ve stopped writing and it has had a profoundly negative affect on my psyche. There is some kind of innate energy within me that longs to create. I find it immensely satisfying to come up with a new lyric or chord structure that just feels right. Perhaps it’s like a runner’s high. Once you experience it, you want more.
How did you find the scouting process in Rehegoo?
I was contacted by Matthew Kromczyk back in July 2018. At first, I was a little unsure about why Rehegoo had contacted me and what they wanted. Matthew was very patient and provided me a lot of detail about Rehegoo’s approach to finding talent, working with musicians and distributing music. One thing I liked right off the bat was that once I signed a non-exclusive contract Rehegoo started adding songs I’d already released on Spotify and other streaming services to their own compilations for distribution. I thought this really helped me get a bit more exposure for my music.
How did you feel when signing a contract with Rehegoo?
I am excited to have recently signed an exclusive streaming deal with Rehegoo and I’m looking forward to working with them on my newest album, River of Stars, scheduled for release on May 1st. I’m not expecting them to go out and garner a big following for the album. In this day and age, that responsibility still falls on the shoulders of emerging artists. It’s nice to know, however, that I have a partner in my corner who is interested in my music and is willing to help me out along the way.
What is the greatest achievement of your career so far?
When I lived in Boston, I was the leader and co-founder of a funk rock band Judy’s Tiny Head. One of the albums we released included the single “My Car”, which got a lot of commercial radio play in the Boston area and became a top 40 hit on college radio. The success of that song allowed us to headline venues throughout New England and opened the door for artists like the Run DMC and Deborah Harry.
What has been the biggest obstacle?
Probably like most struggling artists, it’s having enough time to pursue my art, while balancing other responsibilities like family and work. As I get older, it is also a challenge to keep up with the evolving pace of technology and how the music business continues to change.
What is the best and worst gig you have ever played?
I focus a lot more on writing and recording music these days, but I have played out a lot in the past. Probably the worst gigs were in the beginning of my career back in Boston, when we were an unknown band playing the club scene. I can remember several occasions where band members outnumbered the audience two to one.
The best gig was when we warmed up the Violent Femmes at The Channel in Boston. The club held over 1000 people and a lot of them had come to see us because of the success of My Car. That was the first time I’d ever played for such a large crowd and the energy was exhilarating.
What is your worst and best fan moment?
I can’t think of any terrible fan moments. Maybe I’m not big enough for that to happen – or I just attract really nice people! I have a lot of fans on Instagram and Facebook who are a joy to interact with. I like it when people find me through my music, and then we are able to talk about other things in life – relationships, what they like to do, what gives them purpose.
What is your favorite song of yours?
Right now, I’d say “Perfect One” off my upcoming album River of Stars. I wrote it for my wife on her birthday. All I can say is that she is my muse and soulmate and this song just expresses how much she means to me.