Saturday, January 24, 2015

Chicago musician B. Forrest to perform new songs at Martyrs'


After performing the day after the terrorist attack in Paris, Chicago musician B. Forrest will play songs from his upcoming debut album, "Back to Bodhi," at Martyrs,' 3855 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, on Jan. 31.

The show starts at 9:30 p.m. and tickets are $8, available at

I had the chance to talk to him about the upcoming show.

Q - Great to talk to you. You performed in Paris the day after the terrorist attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo. What was the mood like that day and what were your thoughts that day?

Thanks for having me.

It’s not easy to sum up the mood in brief, but that day was tragic in many ways. As an artist, it was upsetting.

The cartoonists were artists expressing themselves (provocatively or not), and they and innocent others were killed for it. That day the streets were eerie, because the gunmen were still at large.

As the weekend progressed, the mood shifted from sadness and shock to unity and resilience.

My thoughts were not unlike a lot of peoples. Paris is a cultural capital of the world and the people who have come to call it home are from all walks of life.

A common sentiment was/is sadness at the potential polarizing of a diverse culture that promotes tolerance.

Q - How did the audience react that night to your performance? Did you feel your music gave some peace to the week's events?

The first night I played was that Thursday, and the second was on Sunday (the day of the unity walk). The cafĂ© culture of Paris is a way of life, so the first gig people were unwinding from the day's events. 

Friends came out to see me, which helped me relate to the listener, otherwise I can see I may have felt a little more foreign then I already was. I had just got in that morning, so I focused on playing with honesty and kept in mind that I was free to do so.

Sunday was a bit more wholesome. Everyone in Paris, (and therefore the venue), had been at the walk, so there was a shared energy of the day with us. 

I performed the songs with that experience fresh in mind. I usually never play a song twice in a night but I book-ended the two sets with “One By One”, which has become more relevant to me every time I play it live.

Q - Your debut album, "Back to Bodhi," is set to be released in the spring. In sitting down to make the album, what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them? What is the meaning behind the album's title?

My main goal for the album was to give the songs the light of day they deserved, and I think we achieved that. There was a time I focused on guitar playing and neglected songwriting… but songs I’d written never left and new ones came and grew.

I want to be able to focus on different things and finishing this album gave those songs a life of their own. I reared them, now I can move forward a ways.

The processes helped me get more comfortable with taking ownership as well.

The meaning of the album’s title is a personal reference to a few things but I hope the listener uses their imagination and comes up with their own impression. Literally speaking, the Bodhi tree was the tree that the Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama) meditated under when he attained nirvana.

Figuratively, it’s a bit of an essay in song on the common search for peace. I could mention more about what the title means to me but I would ramble a bit and would rather the songs do the talking.

Q - Do you practice Buddhism? How has it impacted your music?

No, I am not a practicing Buddhist, but I will say I have explored it and a lot of the principles have changed the way I look at the world (including music). One of the main foundations of Buddhism is meditation, which I’m not good at… but music is a form of meditation in some ways.

Approaching anything with mindfulness allows a renewed sense of appreciation of being and that act in which we are engaged in. 

In terms of songwriting though, some of my influences are other western cultural works that were influenced by eastern philosophy. Two novelists that come to mind are Hesse and Kerouac, both of whom I read quite a bit of a few years back.

Q - Who are the other musicians on the album and how did you hook up with them? What do they bring to the table?

The album has 13 players on it (14 including Doug) and I’m glad to say they are mostly all good friends of mine… people that inspire me. Four of us make up the rhythm section and the rest are featured throughout the record.

Tyler (drums), Garrett (bass) and I met when I was a freshman at Columbia. They went on to form Sidewalk Chalk with Maggie (background vocals), Sam (vocals and Trumpet) and David (trombone).

The rest of the players I met gradually on the younger Chicago scene. They are all extremely talented players who helped breath life into the music.

What they bring to the table most, aside from their caliber musicianship, is their personalities. They’re beautiful people and it comes out in their playing.

Q - I understand that some of the post-production took place in South Africa. What was that experience like? Do you think it helped add to the worldly nature of the album?

Post-production took place in a raw sense at the hands of the other producer (Doug Saltzman) at a home studio called The Coach House in Chicago. The ideas on my end were manifesting while I was abroad, and the bulk of that time was in Cape Town.

I left for five months days after we finished 90 percent of the tracking. Doug would send me mixes and I would listen down and send my notes back.

We would vigorously go back and fourth for months sculpting the tones and textures. Cape Town has a different energy to it and it was while I was there that I settled on the album title, reached out to Javier Pinon about the art, and recorded and produced the last track.

It was difficult at times with the time difference and different set ups, but in other senses it let the music and the collaboration breath. It was also a special experience to play the mixes to the friends I made there and feel their support and enthusiasm in a totally different culture.

Q - What do you think of the Chicago music scene and how do you think you fit into it?

What do I think of the Chicago music scene? That’s a tough question. My first answer would say its great. The scene is welcoming and there is a lot of love to go around.

In terms of it being a national stage though, I think it can compete but doesn’t have the glowing recognition that NYC, L.A., and Nashville have.

That’s the whole Second City syndrome, though. There are movements of people who are making known and championing the Chicago music scene. 

The lovely people over at the Gala have created their own world where many people have been drawn to and thrive in.

I don’t know just yet how my music fits into it. I am a proud Chicagoan, but I’m attracted by a lot of other places and would rather my music be defined by those who relate to it rather than the city it comes from.

Q - Do you have any dream projects or collaborations?

I have my dream projects like anyone else (idk if I can say them with out feeling vulnerable.) All of us grow up listening to our heroes and it’d be surreal to make music with them.

For now, I’m grateful and blessed to have the peers that I do, and I’d like to keep collaborating with them before they become too in demand and don’t have the time for me anymore.

In the meanwhile, I look forward to performing this album and recording the next one.