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Interview with Chris Forsyth

December 1, 2011

Guitarist Chris Forsyth’s hypnotic compositions assimilate minimalism and psychedelia with art rock, folk, and blues influences. He has toured throughout Europe and the US with such like-minded artists as Träd Gräs och Stenar, Steve Gunn, Tetuzi Akiyama, and Ignatz, and as a member of gothic junk folk expressionists Peeesseye, the group he founded in 2002 with Jaime Fennelly andFritz Welch. He also plays in the elusive experimental project Phantom Limb & Bison and has collaborated with Koen Holtkamp, Meg Baird, Nate Wooley, Shawn Edward Hansen, and choreographers Miguel Gutierrez and RoseAnne Spradlin, among others.  On December 5th at Roulette, Chris Forsyth will be performing with Koen Holtkamp (electronics) to celebrate the release of their first album – “Early Astral” – and their first performance in NYC as a duo. 

ROULETTE: Tell us as about the work you’ll be doing at Roulette.
CHRIS FORSYTH: Koen and I met in Brooklyn probably about 6 or 7 years ago, just through mutual friends, going to shows, and going to each other’s shows – the typical Brooklyn sort of connections.  I moved to Philadelphia in 2009 and Koen lived there for a year in 2010, which is when we started playing together.  Over the course of that year, we developed the piece that became “Early Astral,” which will be released in December on the UK label Blackest Rainbow.  I think working together opens up some new spaces for each of us – my playing is a little more rhythmic and explicitly guitar-istic than much of Koen’s other work (even though he has used the guitar quite often as a sound source), and I love the activity, texture, and sense of space in his synth playing.  I think of  “Early Astral” as my Dead gone Krautrock fantasy come true.

R: Are there working artists today with whose work you identify, or rather, who do you consider to be your peers?
CF: Sure, I’ve been fortunate to tour and play with some great people from whom I’ve learned a lot – Steve Gunn, Bill Orcutt, Ignatz, Tetuzi Akiyama, Shawn Edward Hansen, Mike Pride, and my Peeesseye bandmate Jaime Fennelly’s Mind over Mirrors project spring to mind.

R: What are some defining characteristics of the musical scene you would fit yourself into? What elements of your scene differentiate it from what has come before, or what is happening now?
CF: The term I use to define what I’m doing these days is Cosmic Americana.  This is sort of a bastardization of Gram Parson’s term “Cosmic American Music,” but I think encompasses a lot of what I and people I know are interested in – roots in folk and blues and jazz and rock n’ roll, but with the knowledge of all sorts of experimental, psychedelic, electronic, international, improvised, composed, personal musics prodding those original influences into different territories.  It’s an impure omnivorous thing.

R: What was the last music you listened to?
CF: An Alex Chilton bootleg.

R: What is music?
CF: Some combination of rhythm, melody, harmony or sound – anything you want it to be, basically.

R: Do you consider yourself more a composer or a performer?
CF: Both.  They are integrally linked.  I also consider myself a recording artist – I think that’s another medium in itself.

R: Is there an event or experience that led you to start in experimental media?
CF: I was playing in rock bands in the early 90s and became frustrated with what I viewed as the lack of curiosity among the musicians around me (this is partly circumstance and partly my own fault), so I started exploring areas where musical curiosity and discovery seemed to be more of a value.

R: Who do you see as instrumental in your development as an artist?
CF: Conviction.  Being able to trust my desires for the music.

R: What is interesting to you about your own work?
CF: On the most basic level, I think I’m still searching for the same sound and feeling that I sensed when I first started playing guitar at age 13.  I get the same tingles when I bend a note and the same rush if what I’m doing gets even close to what I’m hearing in my head.

Stream the duo’s new album here:

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