Forest Fire return with their third record this week – the affecting and hypnotic Screens. The band have travelled some distance since their guitar-fronted debut, Survival – frontman Mark Thresher now guiding his songs down a more dream-like path. We caught up with Mark to talk about the music.
Bowlegs: Your line-up has changed since Staring at the X – how has that affected this record in particular – was it a catalyst to make certain decisions on how the album went down?
Mark: We knew exactly what kind of record we wanted to make when we started to work on Screens. Our line-up change had nothing to do with the new record.
Bowlegs: What did working with an outside engineer (Jonathan Schenke) bring to the table? He has a great CV, anything in particular that drew you towards him?
Mark: What does CV stand for? Cute Vagina? Creative Vision? I’ve seen how Jonny works under pressure and I can assure you he has both A & B. Predictably those are the things that drew me to him.
Bowlegs: The first track I heard of yours was Fortune Teller – that was 4 years ago. Your sound has changed quite dramatically since then!
Mark: We’ve come a long way. I’ve gone through a lot as a songwriter too and couldn’t feel more disconnected from the early Forest Fire material.
Bowlegs: Moments of motorik rhythm and analogue synth sounds clearly demonstrate your love of Kraftwerk. What other bands would you deem an inspiration for this record? And what’s your favourite Kraftwerkrecord?
Mark: Joy Division’s Closer & Elvis Costello’s Imperial Bedroom were influences for me. Radio Activity is my favourite Kraftwerk album (it was Trans-Europe Express until Jonny turned me on to Radio Activity right before we started making Screens).
Bowlegs: Tracks like Never Far and Waiting in the Night have this beautiful sense of serenity – they are almost hypnotic at times. What was inspiring such an ambient vibe?
Bowlegs: Is there an over-riding theme to this record – the title refers to the many screens (phone, computers, iPads) we constantly looking at in our everyday lives – right?
Mark: Yes. Screens are everywhere. They are portals that connect us to another world & shields that we hold up for protection. They are in our bedrooms, on the streets, in our pockets. Other themes include yellow roses and infinite tunnels.
Bowlegs: So was the song Annie always going to be a 11 minute epic?- and who is Annie – she must be pretty special to get such a long track!
Mark: I have to keep that one to myself! She is real, but I don’t want to get in trouble. I will say that she is very special. And yes, it had to be 11 minutes long.
Bowlegs: How about the album cover –the Sandy Skoglund’s Pink Sink image – whose idea was that?
Mark: Natalie from Forest Fire was in direct communication with Sandy and basically sorted the whole thing out. That was a huge win for us. Much to our surprise Sandy was happy to collaborate, I don’t think we could be happier with the LP design.
Bowlegs: Is each album a learning curve, a new journey of self-discovery – if so what do you take from this particular experience?
Mark: Each record has been a dramatically different experience for me. I remember feeling really insecure about people hearing our first record Survival, but making it was fun. Staring at the X was a very frustrating record to make, but I think it has 2 or 3 great songs on it. Screens is a product of pure momentum. We were all on the same page, really excited about the songs & ready to work hard. I finally feel like I can stand behind the whole thing.
Bowlegs: So Spotify – are you on board?
Mark: Am I on board with Spotify…. ? I hear a lot of people defending it and that really surprises me. I would definitely appreciate the chance to make a living as a working musician and streaming services like Spotify make that virtually impossible. So I can’t say I am on board. But I’m hopeful. Humans have developed some incredible systems. I’m sure we can figure out a way to pay musicians a living wage as well as distribute affordable music to the masses.
- Interview by Charlie Holt-