A Fiendish Conversation with the Lonely Forest's John Van Deusen
The Anacortes indie rock band prepares to play its final show at Bumbershoot.
The Lonely Forest have seen both soaring highs and crushing lows over the course of its ten year existence. The Anacortes band made a name for itself by winning the 2006 edition of EMP's Sound Off under-21 battle of the bands and went on to record multiple albums with Death Cab for Cutie's Chris Walla. But despite the group consistently creating intelligent and emotionally impactful rock tunes, the band suffered through a painful peroid in 2011 after being dropped by Atlantic Records. Now—after four records and hundreds of concerts—the Lonely Forest is ready to say goodbye. The band plans to go on an indefinate hiatis, but first they'll play one final set at this year's Bumbershoot festival (Saturday at 3:30 on the Fountain Lawn Stage). Expect a throng of devoted fans (including an undoubtedly strong contingent traveling down from Anacortes) to be singing along with every song during the band's farewell gig.
For our latest Fiendish Conversation, we chatted with frontman John Van Deusen about the decision to go on hiatis, his favorite the Lonely Forest record, calls to dad, and owning a cow.
What made you guys decide this was a good time to call it a day?
Well, we’ve been playing together since 2004, and we’ve seen lots of ups and downs. Toured for four years. We’ve been signed to labels, been dropped by labels, signed to other labels. We’ve really gone through a lot; it felt like trekking through the mud sometimes. And, you know, you reach a certain age where you get married and you just want to… not necessarily move on with your life, but you want to try a new direction and see where it takes you.
We love playing together and we’ve made a lot of music together that we really enjoy. I personally love the last record we released (Adding Up the Wasted Hours). And there was just a lot of really big issues with the release. We’ve really worked hard and we were tired, and, unfortunately we had come against some really tough obstacles. And even moments where it seemed like we were doing everything right, and still weren’t producing the results we were looking for.
And also, for me specifically, I’d say that the touring lifestyle is difficult. I’m not a huge lover of being away from home. I like to travel, but…
But actually traveling.
Yeah, exactly. Not just driving to a city and spending a couple hours in a neighborhood and then going to a hotel. (Laughs)
All of that is to say, I think we were just kind of reaching that place where it’s like “Okay, let’s take a break.” Let’s go to school. Let’s travel. Let’s try to have kids. Because being in a band takes it’s toll; it’s not an easy thing to do. (Laughs) I mean, even those bands that I think are achieving or experiencing some real level of success; that’s really tough life. Not a simple thing. I hope that explains what led to the hiatus.
So what does the future hold for you? What projects do you want to get accomplished?
Well, I have a family. I’ve been married for years and we want to have kids. This sounds kind of out of context probably, and a little funny but: I really want like chickens, and a cow, and goats, and dogs, you know? I just really enjoy that rural lifestyle. Not necessarily like farming, but—being around Anacortes—just that idea of being in the wilderness and being self-sustaining. Gardens and food and… I really kind of dream of that lifestyle.
So that and just desire to make music. I’d like to produce other records for other bands. I really want to compose music for films or video games. I’m not really sure what it will look like specifically, but I’d love to write songs; I’d love to write songs for other artists.
While it may be an impossible question, do you have a favorite the Lonely Forest song or ones you’re specifically excited to play at this last show?
There are some songs we probably won’t get to play just because they’re old. We’ve released four records and there’s some older songs that we haven’t really played for a long time. I kind of wish we could play those ones. My personal favorite record we ever did was our second record—We Sing The Body Electric!—and there’s some songs off that one… one called “Sugarloaf” that I really love that I don’t think we’ve ever played live. I wish that we could play that live on Saturday, but I don’t think we will.
But on Saturday I’m excited to play all the songs we’ve been playing for the last four years: “Turn Off This Song and Go Outside,” “We Sing In Time,” “Coyote,” a lot of the songs off Arrows. “Far Outer Banks” is one of the songs we play off We Sing the Body Electric!. I like playing the songs that people enjoy. And considering that this could very likely be the last time anybody hears us play these songs live, I’m hoping that people come and can really soak it in. If they’ve been in any way impacted by our music or would consider themselves fans, I hope they can connect with those songs.
Is there any reason why you’re doing the last show at Bumbershoot instead of having your own farewell show?
Yeah, it coincides well with a couple other events. We decided this a few months ago and it was all revolving around a few things. Maybe one member wanting to go to school. I’m actually going to go to Germany for six months with my wife, and we’re leaving September 2. That was the date that we bought our tickets, and we already had Bumbershoot booked, so Bumbershoot was going to be the last show before we took a break. And then we started talking more and more and just realized maybe it’s time to just focus on other things. It really felt like that was the right time. And Seattle Center’s right there in the hub of everything we’ve done for the last ten years. So it just felt right. I do wish we could do like our own show at Neptune or in Showbox, or something like that, but think Bumbershoot is going to be a lot of fun. I think it will be a great way for us to say farewell.
Do you have any sort of pre-show routines?
Yeah, absolutely. I always call my dad. Even if we’re on tour somewhere crazy like Montreal, I’d call my dad and say, “Hey, can we talk?” He’s just a really wise guy. It’s just always been this thing since I was 14 and playing my first shows with my first band. He was the dad who would drive us to wherever to play—Bellingham or Mount Vernon. And so he’s always there, so that really comforts me.
So as you guys approach the proverbial finish line and have been reflecting back on things, are there any standout moments from your time as a band that really stick with you?
The CD release show for We Sing The Body Electric! that we played at the Vera Project is one of my favorite moments in our career. Getting to record at Sound City with Chris Walla for Arrows was amazing. Even just that period of time (early on) where a lot of really amazing things were happening for us that we never expected. There were moments when we were recording our first two records in the garage where we’d been practicing since we played for the first time together. There were some really special, almost magical moments of creativity where there was just this pure youthful energy going into our songs that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to capture (again). I really believe it was a time in my life that I could never recreate.
Then there’s just the countless stories we have from touring. All the people we’ve met: the fans who have written us letters and said to me in tears how much this record meant to them. When you start a band you write songs about yourself and your experiences—it’s kind of self-indulgent. And so when you realize, over time, that the thing that sprung up inside of you that might’ve been somewhat self-indulgent or even just self-absorbed has helped other people, it kind of transcends that personal bubble. You know, “Wow. This person was affected in a really positive way by something I wrote about myself.” It really gives all of the eight or nine or ten years we spent playing music a lot of meaning. So, I think that’s what I’ll take away from it all. I don’t mean to sound cheesy or trite, but that’s honestly what I’ll look back on and be most fond of.
That and—I have to say—we laughed so much. The four of us as a band? Holy cow. We’ve laughed our asses off. Just perpetually for the last like eight or nine years.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I just that I hope people come to our show, this last show, and enjoy it. I really do hope that people rediscover our records someday, because I think there’re some really special moments.
Aug 30–Sept 1, Seattle Center, $62–$230; festival pass $175–$575