The Lonely Forest are on tour with Death Cab For Cutie and play a very sold-out Bowery Ballroom tomorrow, June 1, but that's not their only tie to their fellow Washington State indie rockers. The Anacortes-based band, who just released their third album Arrows, are the first group signed to Death Cab guitarist Chris Walla's new label Trans Records, an imprint of Atlantic Records.
It's an auspicious career boost for The Lonely Forest (who might not be lonely for much longer). The group continues on the road with Death Cab For Cutie until June 9 and have yet another tour brewing with Two Door Cinema Club and Bombay Bicycle Club later this summer, bringing them back to New York on September 15 at Terminal 5.
Reveling in the uptick of attention, The Lonely Forest - singer/guitarist/keyboardist John Van Deusen, guitarist Tony Ruland, drummer Braydn Krueger, and bassist Eric Sturgeon - recently dropped by The Alternate Side for a generous, boisterous session with new songs from Arrows and they chatted about their connection to the small, pretty city near the San Juan Islands that continues to inspire them:
John Van Deusen: A Fourth of July parade actually.
Alisa: It wasn’t a very crowded parade.
John: We live in a small place.
Alisa: Well it looked like a fun parade. You guys getting on your bicycles and buying some fireworks. Are the legal in Washington?
Braydn Krueger: Only on that beach.
Alisa: So where do you have to go to buy them?
John: The Native American reservation.
Alisa: So are you guys a big fan of fireworks?
Braydn: When I was a kid I was really into fireworks. Less so now, but they’re still fun.
Alisa: Your third full-length album is Arrows. You’ve put out a couple of EPs too. You’ve been putting out records pretty steadily, almost a record a year since 2006.
John: Counting the EPs.
Alisa: And some of these songs from the full-length were included on the last self-titled EP that you put out last year. What made you decide to put those songs on this record?
John: They’re from the same session, actually. The two that were on there were. It was just to give people an idea of what was coming. A little fair warning.
Alisa: I think there’s a song on the new record that’s from a previous release.
John: Yes, “We Sing In Time” was also on We Sing The Body Electric!, our last full-length.
Alisa: But it’s very different.
John: Yes, the fidelity is better, it’s higher, it’s a different recording. The same song, nothing really changed as far as what we play or sing. There’s less going on, actually. The first version is very busy, but the newest version is more minimal as far as the instrumentation is concerned.
Alisa: Do you guys find yourself revisiting older songs, re-tweaking them?
John: On occasion. These songs have actually been around for a couple of years, most of them.
Alisa: So you recorded the EP and the album at the same session?
John: No. We actually recorded the record all together. We released the EP after the full-length had been recorded. We took two of the songs from the full-length session and put them on the EP to give people a taste of what the full-length was like.
Alisa: So it was like a sampler.
John: Exactly. As Braydn calls it, a "tide-me-over."
Braydn: A TMO.
Alisa: Was that because you wanted to get your album sooner but something was holding you back?
John: Yeah, we wanted the record to come out a lot quicker than it actually did so the EP served as a way for those who actually knew who we were to get their hands on something.
Alisa: What was the holdup?
John: We’re on a much bigger label now and dealing with a lot of people so it just takes more time and there’s a lot more thought put into the release. Whereas before, it was always a local thing. We pressed them ourselves essentially.
Alisa: How long did it take?
John: To record the record? About five or six weeks.
Alisa: A little bit of a love song to your home town?
Alisa: You guys love the Pacific Northwest.
John: Yes, we like living there a lot.
Alisa: You talk in that song about places where you don’t want to live.
John: Not exactly. People always take it a lot more seriously than how I really meant it. We actually do really like L.A. and Nashville, to be honest, but we’d rather live in the Pacific Northwest.
Braydn: I don’t want to live in either of those two places, but it doesn’t mean that we don’t like them.
Alisa: What is it that makes you want to live where you are?
John: We like Anacortes. It’s an hour and a half north of Seattle and an hour and a half south of the Canadian border. Right in the middle. You take the ferry from Anacortes to get to the San Juan Islands. It’s pretty beautiful. Mountains and islands.
Alisa: Are you guys outdoorsmen?
John: For the most part.
Braydn: Fishing, bike riding.
John: I don’t climb mountains if that’s what you’re asking.
Alisa: Eric, you hike?
Eric Sturgeon: Mountain bike.
Alisa: Is it metropolitan where you live?
John (laughs): No. Seventeen thousand people live there. It’s nothing like a big city. There’s people there, but not a lot of people. We’re in big cities all the time on tour.
Alisa: How do you feel about it when you’re in those big cities to tour?
John: They’re really exciting to see. I like city life, I just don’t want to live in a city.
Alisa: So first you fell in love and then she broke your heart. Or you broke someone’s heart.
John: Yeah, well, I’m pretty idealistic and had a conversation with a buddy who’s not. He’s the love skeptic. We were arguing about what love actually is.
Alisa: Did he make a pretty compelling case? Turn you to the dark side?
John: No. I’m definitely skeptical, but not about love. Love’s a big word; it’s a lot of different things. His idea was that there’s nothing special to love, which scares me.
Alisa: That’s sad.
John: I don’t know if he actually thinks that way. It could have been just that night that I talked with him. Maybe he’s changed.
Alisa: You know what I didn’t mention which is like burying the lead, but it’s a big deal that Arrows is the first record on Chris Walla’s new label. That’s very cool.
John: Yes, it’s very flattering.
Braydn: He’s a super sweet man.
Alisa: Did you know Chris beforehand?
John: No. There’s this column in a paper called The Stranger, a Seattle paper, he always reads a certain column and we were in it a bunch. So when We Sing The Body Electric! came out he thought he’d buy it and see what it was all about. Then a month later he was being interviewed on CNN with [Death Cab bassist] Nick Harmer, they asked him what he was listening to and he said us. We freaked out. I had his email because I almost bought an amp from him once. Then we went to a show, I got drunk, I’d asked him if he’d ever want to record us, and now we’re on his label.
Alisa: And he did record you.
John: He did.
Alisa: He did some producing and mixing as well.
John: We have always wanted to record with him so it’s been pretty fantastic.
Alisa: Did you watch him at the controls and try to pick up tricks?
John: There are so many knobs that I wouldn’t know what to do with all of that.
Alisa: It was a very positive experience?
Eric: Yes, very relaxed, fun and cheerful.
John: We’d never spent that much time in a studio making a record. Five weeks. It was very exciting. Sound City was the one studio since I was a little kid that I wanted to record in so when it was the first studio that he mentioned, I almost cried. Records that changed my life came out of there, like [Nirvana's] Nevermind and Tom Petty’s Damn The Torpedos. It was fantastic.