Interviews : Forest Stream
Last September, I had a pleasure of interviewing Forest Stream over the phone. But due to my carelessness, the tape with our conversation was somehow lost. Admitting my mistake and willing to rectify it, I got in touch with Sonm "The Darkest" and asked for another crack at it, to which he replied "No problem. It can happen to anyone."
Building on traditional elements of Cathedral and My Dying Bride while adding plenty of individual influences, Forest Stream continues to evolve as one of the better bands in the doom metal genre. Below is my recent chat with the leader of this excellent band. Read on!
If I am not mistaken, you are one step closer to getting your PhD! How much more do you have until you can officially be called "the most educated metalhead ever?"
That's right. I've nearly finished this everlasting torment. Four long and dark years filled with whole bunch of really "pleasant" feelings such as fear and despair will probably have a logical conclusion - my [thesis] defense is to be carried out this coming winter. But I am not going to get called the most educated metalhead ever. I'd be proud to be one though, but all I will become is just a modest "Doctor of Philosophy." But who cares, right?
Are you back on Russian soil now? How do you find the country ever since you've been back?
No, I am still in Holland, but I've been to Russia just a couple of months ago because of my teeth problem. You know, I got some of them broken because of a motorbike accident. It's much cheaper to get your teeth repaired in Russia than in Holland even considering the air ticket cost. Yes, cheaper and faster, which actually doesn't mean worse. And I like it there a lot. There is less people compared to Europe where someone always breathes on your neck wherever you go, at least in small countries. I feel much more comfortable walking somewhere alone, or with my best friend, where you never get disturbed. But if you ask about "progressive" places like Moscow, then, well, the country is good. The places I like haven't been really changed. They just acquired some subtle shade of sadness. But it can be because of me, who is getting older.
The band is working on a trilogy for Elitist records. Since you have fulfilled "all the sorrow" aspect of the trilogy, are you currently working on the new one now? How is that coming along?
Yes, that's absolutely correct. Now we are working on the second album, which will be called "The Crown of Winter." Before releasing the first album it was announced that we would record a trilogy, which would be something like our vision of Darkness. Three parts of it: Sorrow, Majesty and Hate. But to tell the truth, it is not as simple as those three items. It's something we'd like to express with our songs. No words are really suitable for a decent description.
What I can say about this concept would look more like an incoherent sequence of words. It's all about feelings, what we feel when contemplate Darkness in its incomprehensible power. The Darkness that created all in the universe that hides the deepest sense for our existence. You know, some people say it's the God, who is behind every piece in the world. Some people say, well, this term (God) is a nice shutter to hide your fear of understanding all the complexity of nature and it is the easiest way to give an explanation to what you can't really explain. To me God sounds too primitive and quantum physics sound too materialistic. I am a bloody scientist myself, that's why I don't explain things which are unknown to me. And to be honest there are no known things at all.... Yes, sure, there are some modern theories, that describe things, and there are technologies that are well approved and in usage. But why this all works, why this all goes, I don't think there ever will be a good answer. I understand that very well and that brings me to the final of my poor explanation.
There is Sorrow because we'll never be able to defeat this pitiful thirst - to know what we are. But even then our essence is within this desperate striving, to know, what can not be revealed. There is Majesty in all our deaths. And there is Hate towards the one who made it all this way, yet he was a damn clever one. This all still works. He was a well-experienced creator...
So the new album is nearly finished and all we have to do is to bring me back to Russia. We all are working on that, and I am the one who's doing the most difficult part of the task. After I am back we just have to go to a studio and record it.
There are only 3 members on the promo cover of "Tears of Mortal Solitude." How many people actually wrote and recorded that album?
Two. Omin and I. Everything was done just by the two of us. He did all guitars and bass, while I programmed drums, recorded keys and vocals. Omin was working in Russia, I was in Holland. That's the story.
In our previous conversation dating back to September 2003, you told me a truly unbelievable story about how you recorded Tears of Mortal Solitude. Would you mind telling it again? It is unbelievable the trials and tribulations you had to go through!
Well, it's a very delicate question though! When we recall that we feel like we have to tell the story about us being robbed and raped or so! Now everything that has happened to us during that period seems so funny, but it wasn't the case back then. Well, maybe it was funny in a way, but cost us a lot of wasted time, nerve cells and money. Because of some problem with my bank account we started with a zero budget. That's not a big deal. The big deal was a distance between me in Holland and Omin in Russia. It was just horrible. Neither Omin nor I had any experience with serious recording that's why Omin (who was recording guitars and bass in Russia) faced a lot of non-trivial problems. One of them was so called "lavatory pan guitar sound." It just means that you record something and then it sounds like your combo in the very throat of your lavatory pan. In our recording log-book one still can see a picture of a bomb dropped on a huge evil lavatory pan. And things like that. Well, for instance Omin couldn't get some connections between his computer, sound card, microphone and headphones. So he was playing guitar listening to an under-layer from his headphones and simultaneously to the combo, directly from its speaker. When I discovered that I have laughed my ass off but then had to sing like that. Listening to the music from headphones without my voice mixed in.
Apart from all those technical problems we (when I came back from the Netherlands) suffered by a tremendous heat wave. It was well above 40 centigrade, very humid and damn smoky, because some assholes were burning peat in the swamps around our small town. The peat was set on fire exactly when we started doing the vocals. No I mean it was really damn horrible. Bloody smoke was everywhere no matter how tight you closed your window. After a few minutes of growling I was loosing my voice. So we made a mixture of milk, honey, beer and butter to soften my poor throat. (If you need to throw up - drink that kind of stuff. Believe me it will work!) Yeah, I forgot to mention that at the same time our ubiquitous administration officials discovered that the road in front of Omin's house became a true car killer and ordered to repair it. Since the day Omin started his recordings he was accompanied by a non-stopping puncher noise. From 8 in the morning and till 5in the evening, Cheers. So it was rather restless time.
It speaks volumes for your professionalism and your ability as musicians to produce something as great sounding as you did at home. Would you mind sharing some of your secrets with many of us who record at home? What kind of equipment did you use to hide distortion and to record keyboards?
Thanks for telling us that but I would disagree. There is nothing really special about our skills or anything, which can allow to make a good record at home. Maybe what we did was a decent record, which is suitable for a debut CD, but the second album will be recorded in a real studio. But I can tell you what kind of equipment we used. We had Pentium 400 Mhz, 128MB RAM, Tascam 24Bit 96 KHz I/O stereo Sound Card with an external D/A converter. No mixer, actually we had one but it was damn noisy and introduced a lot of weird sound distortion (famous lavatory pan sound was partially because of its intrinsic weirdness!) so we gave it a big kick. We had just two guitars. One of them was Russian (surprisingly good item!) Russtone and one made in Korea, a replica of one of Ibanez models. Then we had two combos. One was 100 Watt Randall guitar combo and another one was Crate-B 100. Then we used Roland XP-30 keys and one mic for everything - Shenheizer and I don't remember the model. I just saw same mic was used during some party for karaoke stuff. And then a couple of asses for sitting on them, 4 ears, 4 hands, two heads and two throats. That's the secret! Sorry. Forgot to tell you that we used Cakewalk 9.1, Sound Forge 5, Wavelab 3, Samplitude Studio and Samplitude Director and Cool Edit Pro software. If you have it then you are in business, if you don't have it, well then you are in business too!!
You never disguised the fact that you used a drum machine on your recording. While it sounds phenomenal, there are definite advantages to having a drummer, especially in the live setting. Have you found someone who can keep up with you at practice as well as be a good drinking buddy?
Yes indeed, on "Tears..." we used a drum machine but just because it is unimaginably difficult to find a drummer in Russia. Fortunately our search was successful so we have found a very good chap Kir, who is a great drummer and a cool person too. It looks like he really does fit the band, so I guess our collaboration will be damn fun and serious at the same time.
Unlike many of the former Soviet bands, Forest Stream does not extol Slavic heritage. On the other hand, you pay respect to the old school doom topics like nature and solitude. Not feeling patriotic or simply trying to "save" the doom metal tradition from complete extinction?
Slavic heritage? That sounds weird. I remember these things were popular during post-soviet times. I, personally, don't share any concept of bragging with your nationality. Instead of that we prefer thinking in a more progressive way. We really don't care of what nationality you are, what your skin color is, what country you are coming from and that kind of stupid ideas, which some band mix together with their music and concepts. It's true that I hate only one nationality - morons. And they can be from anywhere. Being Slavic doesn't make me a special one. Undoubtedly, it would be interesting if a band can bring some national features in their music. That would make it more unique and distinguishable for sure. But putting things like your national heritage in front of everything doesn't sound good to me. You know, a heritage can be really different. We sing and write music the way we want to. Just the way it goes from our hearts. I guess it acquires all those Slavic specialties automatically. As for patriotism, I think the music we play doesn't go well together with patriotism. So we just make music because of music and nothing else. I don't dare to say we think about things from this world, when we write music, to tell you the truth.
Most of your lyrics as well as the band name deal with nature, and there is noting more beautiful than Russian nature, at least to us - Russians. What else inspires you to create music and lyrics for Forest Stream?
Actually, that can be anything! All music was written by me and Omin, so I know for sure - anything can inspire us, because we are such freaks. No, we are definitely two freakozoids, who can't live without saying weird things, odd jokes, and bizarre fairy tales. Don't get me wrong, we simply want to live like we want. Yeah, damn, I think I am answering a different question. Sorry...I hope Lee won't be reading this interview....So welcome back to BBC news. I think that the whole life inspires us. The only difference with others is that we live a different life. It's half a fairy-tale. Hard to explain, but we like it. So our own life and life of our fairy-tale heroes as well as every day events is what inspires us. But this usual for us and weird for others; [our life is a] dish is spiced with a strange sadness and sorrow. Every day is like a day before the Doom's Day.
You create some really interesting arrangements by sounding completely unpredictable and unforced. How does an average Forest Stream song come about?
All of them just pop up in our mess that we call our brains or just come by itself while listening to what your hands are doing with keys or guitar. We never push ourselves towards writing. Personally, I think it always should be like that. Music can not be written, it's just already somewhere out there. You have to listen.
Many of American musicians are complete bums outside of music, making money driving cabs or working in repair shops, while I noticed that quite a few Eastern European musicians have impressive degrees. What do you attribute this to? Do you think it is a part of the Russian mentality that a musician is always a hobby but being an "engineer," for example, is an adequate way to make a living?
Well, maybe I can tell you why that would be the case in Russia. The answer hides behind the fact that in Russia every man is obliged to do a military service. Well, of course there aren't many, who would like to waste these 2 years. But that doesn't apply to students. See? That's why so many people want to enter a university after 18 which is the age for dong either army stuff, or becoming a student. The second option is more preferable because you can get a half-time job or spend your free time playing in a band. That's the secret, I reckon. There is a second explanation though. You hardly can get a well paid job if you aren't educated. To be a cab driver isn't that bad, but I don't think the atmosphere in that business in Russia would be good for playing in a band. If you are a cab driver, then you are a cab driver for the whole week and nothing else. So there it goes.
Through my frequent visits to your forum or Elitist records forum, I found that you and the label boss, Lee Barrett have a very good personal relationship. How much interaction is there between you two on daily, weekly basis? Is it as much of business as it is a friendly relationship?
Lee is a very friendly person. But he is probably annoyed by numerous people who, ant to talk to him. I'd be so for sure. Sometimes I talk to 20 people on my ICQ simultaneously and after half an hour my brain is nearly boiling over. I guess he has hundred times more friends and acquaintances than I. So from time to time we write e-mails and Sms to each other, sometimes I call him. But he constantly has problems with his e-mail, you know, this bloody spam stuff and all. But I guess we talk more about the business, although I just have sent him a package full of weird things. sometimes I wonder why I do things like that and cannot find an answer to. But I know for sure, in this world many of us lack communication. A person is more isolated and independent nowadays than it was 10 years ago. I reckon it does suck big time.
Lee came to visit you guys in Russia about a year ago. This had to be the first time you guys met in person. How scary, intimidating was it to meet your boss and the guy responsible for discovering such acts like Enslaved and Opeth, to name a few?
Actually, I met him in Holland first. Well, that wasn't scary at all. But no, it was just a normal meeting, I guess. No cult and stuff. Sometimes it looks like the world around isn't real. Yup, to me that happens quite often, but that time it wasn't special at all. Of course I wanted to meet him because the whole stuff with the Elitist was really interesting. We agreed to meet first at death-prog fest in Holland but he didn't come and didn't tell me that just one day before he decided not to come. So I was walking across the venue and looking in the eyes of all bearded black haired guys with round faces. Goodness, they probably thought I was a gay...
So after all of this I met him at an Opeth show in Tilburg (Holland) and it wasn't scary and intimidating, although he looks really scary especially when drunk.
So many bands in the heavy music industry release a couple of albums but then never heard from again. What will it take for Forest Stream to continue releasing music and possibly reach status of a band like My Dying Bride in the future?
Well, basically nothing. We just should continue, that's it I guess. We still have a lot of music inside of us. But you never know. Today you answer an interview, tomorrow someone reads a burial service over you. So the only thing that will be taken is time, so to speak. And, of course, I have to be together with others, otherwise it's really hard to get the band going further, to get its sound and music developing and evolving. I say "time" but I imply hard work, really hard work. Work on your music, sound, image and all other stuff, which is equally important. You know, nobody brings you what you want.
Do you think playing live may be one of those things that will propel Forest Stream into upper echelons of heavy bands?
That's definitely the one of the most important things in our business. Heaving a good album doesn't mean anything for your band. You have to play live. And the more good shows you have the bigger is the chance you can go up further. That's my opinion, built on many facts and opinions of other, sometimes really experienced people. To get a proof for that you don't have to think much. Just make a list of the most successful bands. I guess that all of them, with no exceptions are performing or were performing live.
Sonm, if you don't mind, let's play a little "blitz." I will name a band and you tell me the first thing that comes to mind [as it proved, Sonm literally responded with the first thing that came to his mind]:
Anathema: I imagine a hero of our (we have it with Omin) own fairy-tale, her name is Evdoka. It is a filthy old woman. So I imagine her with her fists above her head. She looks really angry and furious.
Tatu: Pedophile's fun. No! Actually, many from Earache's team like them, so I better say adulthood is a good thing to use for making money.
Satyricon: Satirik On (Rus) [which literally means, he is a satirist - Mike] He is a satirist. (Sorry folks, but I was asked to tell you the first thing that comes into my mind!
Paradise Lost: Man, that's not an east task. Actually right now my mind was visited by a question whether Lee has got my package with a Gabonian dwarf or not. It's not a joke and not slang. I asked him what he wants as a present for his birthday and he answered that he doesn't want anything but a Gabonian dwraf. So I guess the answer is a Gabonian dwarf.
Shape of Despair: The Mountains of Grief, The Dry River. Their music describes the state of my mood I dwell in very often. Great stuff.
You are signed to a label full of talented, eclectic bands. What would you say are some of your favorites?
I like Farmakon and Without Face very much. Cool bands. Very talented and play awesome music. Others are also good but slightly out of my interests. Ephel Duath, for instance, are damn great, but to listen to them I guess I need a joint, which I have never tried before.
I know that your biggest gig was with Cradle of Filth. How was it playing live with those guys? Are they as snotty as people say they are or completely different and down to earth lads?
Well, I really hope that our biggest gig is still to come. But the show with Cradle of Filth was really great. We enjoyed that a lot. It was our first experience in such a big club. Almost 3000 people were there. We were the first band on that evening. You know how it goes in Russia. If you're not well known band and you are from Russia, then what you can expect is a burst of "fuck you," which is addressed by the crowd in front of you to you in particular. But we just didn't care what they say and started our set. For some reason we had much better sound than Cradle of Filth, so nearly everyone liked us. Actually many of them were surprised that doom metal can have such a charging effect. Overall, it was great, but I felt a bit sad after that gig. As for Cradle of Filth, well, you know, personally, I found them very good and friendly people. Dani asked me if I could give him our CD, because he liked what we played. We talked a lot to other guys, especially to Martin. And who says they are snotty? Well, I really didn't find that out.
Sonm, this is all I have. Good luck to you and Forest Stream in all your future endeavors. The last words are yours.
I'd like to thank you for your time and your interest towards our band. It was quite a while ago when you have sent me these great questions. So excuse me for a long delay, I had a hard time with my Ph.D. project. Forest Stream is greeting everyone, who finds our music interesting. Cheers guys!