An Interview with Forrest Day | By Charlie Steffens
Rising out of Oakland, California, an alternative rock band named Forrest Day has been steadily making a name for themselves in the Bay Area beginning in 2006, when their self-titled debut was released. Forrest Day incorporates guitars, percussion, and horns into an alluring soul and R&B sound reminiscent of Sublime. The band’s lineup includes Forrest Day on saxophone and lead vocals, Terrell Liedstrand on lead guitar and background vocals, John Sankey on bass, Nick Wyner on keyboards and background vocals, and Nathan Winter on drums.
In September of 2013, Forrest Day was one of several acts to play at the Jason Becker “Not Dead Yet” Movie and Music to End ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) benefit at Bimbo’s 365 Club in San Francisco. During the event, Testament singer Chuck Billy saw Forrest Day perform. Billy, who has recently formed a management company called Breaking Bands with Adrenaline PR CEO Maria Ferrero and former Megaforce owners Jon and Marsha Zazula, ended up signing the band.
By coincidence, Forrest Day and Chuck Billy’s band Testament had been using the same rehearsal studio in Oakland. “Normally I don’t look at him because he’s the rock star or whatever,” Day admits when he and Billy would pass each other in the hall. And we had no idea he was there and liked the show. We ended up bumping into him a few months later and he said, ‘We saw your band at Bimbo’s. Do you have management?’ Day went back into in his studio to get a few albums for Billy and his associates to check out. A couple of weeks later, Day got a call saying that everyone loved the music.
Being a performer for so many years has taught Chuck Billy the ins and outs of the music business. “I’ve seen it all. I’ve lived it and I’ve kind of realized that 28 years in the business that I’ve done it all. I’m not getting any younger. In my mind I still go, “Chuck, you’re 52-years-old.” I’m starting to get up there and thinking of how I can put it back or put it back into the new things that are going on. Talent turns me on and if I would back something I’ve got to be into it 100 percent. I’ve had bands approach us that have sold millions of records—that are making a comeback– that ask us (to take them on). Jonny (Zazula) will say ‘I can understand, we’d probably make a shitload of money off of this, but if we’re not into it, why would we even do it? We don’t know everything about this. Let’s stay away from that. Let’s just stay with what turns us on.’ Forrest…turns us on.” Day says: “It’s kind of weird to have a manager that’s cooler than you.”
The band’s studio recordings reveal an array of instruments, which include brass and woodwinds, but the live shows are more stripped-down. “I tried to introduce a few more horns into the show but it really didn’t cut it right,” says Day, “so I stick to the alto. We used to have a horn section. We don’t travel with one right now. On recordings you’ll hear more horns than at a live show. We obviously can’t tour with a horn section yet, but that day, hopefully, will come.”
Day can rap deft rhymes with a fast cadence to the beat of his rhythm section. He’s the lead singer as well. “Sax is my first instrument,” discloses Day. “It’s what I spent my childhood learning how to do. I didn’t start singing until after high school. I started playing the piano toward the end of it. And the piano remains my main songwriting tool.” Day says that in addition to the piano, he uses a computer program for beats and bass lines
The musical cohesion among the players is remarkable. Each member draws from a vast range of influences which is revealed in their live performance and recordings. The band’s instrumental repertoire includes, but is not limited to, guitars, bass, drums, mandolins, violins, woodwinds, brass, keyboards, synthesizers, and piano. After a few minutes of conversation with the band, focusing on each member’s role, the group unity becomes perceptible.
Liedstrand’s main instrument on stage is guitar, but he uses other stringed instruments, such as mandolin, in the studio. The son of musicians (dad is a fiddler and mom plays guitar and banjo), he was exposed to a lot of music growing up. “I draw from all kinds of genres,” he says. “From folk, bluegrass, to electronica to metal. And I use components of that in everything I do.” Bassist John Sankey started out as a guitar player, but switched to bass in sixth-grade. “I grew up with Forrest and Terrell in the same town. They’re a bit older than me.” Ned Winter, the band’s drummer grew up in Buffalo, New York. “Music has always been in my life as well,” he says. “I met these guys in the recording studio for the first album. Started doing sound for them four years ago and then just about a year ago started playing drums with them.” Keyboardist Nick Wyner was eight-years old when he started taking piano lessons. Then, after a few years, stopped playing piano altogether. “It wasn’t the coolest instrument when I was growing up,” admits Wyner. “I always used piano to write music but didn’t take it seriously again until I heard Forrest was looking for a keyboard player.”
In May of this year, Forrest Day played a show at the storied Viper Room on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. The rumor that the gig was just another industry showcase proved false; it became apparent right away that the band had a following. People sang along and moved to the music as the room crackled with excitement. After the show, the band loaded their gear and spent time outside the Viper Room talking to familiar fans and to the new ones they had just made.
“I think we all know the structure of this group,” Day says confidently. “When it comes down to just being on the road, we just kind of do what we do. We get along pretty famously. Pissing each other off a little bit is part of the fun.”