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Chris Forsyth: The Cosmic American.

March 13, 2014

ChrisForsythOnline06Text by Kevin Stairiker. Images by Michael Bucher.

Chris Forsyth lights up sound – whether it’s through his jammed-out, haze-dream supernova solo work (like on 2012’s Kenzo Deluxe LP), the Velvet Underground-like experiment in psych (via his past work with the group Peeesseye), or his most recent vehicle, The Solar Motel Band.

The 40-year-old calls his sound ‘cosmic Americana,’ which started as a genre tag a reviewer gave his music and then ended up sticking.

“Categories are useful,” admits Forsyth. “It’s an attempt at some other way of talking about the music. There are American roots in the things that I do. There’s also a psychedelic thing running through it, so it sounds good to me.”

Indeed, this is what runs through Forsyth’s newest body of work, the four-part Solar Motel suite for which he decided to put together a full band. Grooves and riffs are established in early parts and expand into cowbell-infused guitar freakouts with a huge driving pulse. It’s psychedelic in the way that “Black Sabbath” (the movie) is, with technicolor lights and cascading rhythms. “Part I” and  “Part II” work as bookending guitar workouts based rhythmically in Forsyth’s muted strums and come together to form an impressive sound. “Part III” and “Part IV” reveal the definite Americana vibe, proving the tag sits correctly in description. All four parts seem to run the gamut of sounds that a guitar can be bent and shaped into making.

Forsyth and the rest of the four-piece Solar Motel Band were able to hone in on what these compositions could really become through extensive practice  last June during the group’s month-long residency at Ortlieb’s. The band played two sets every Thursday night of the month.

“Honestly, I think we were kind of blowing people away,” Forsyth says, referring to his improvisational technique. “There’s a real alchemy within the band when we perform live. There’s no substitute for that. You can’t plan or make it happen.”

Forsyth received his first guitar at age 14 after seeing Randy Rhoads, former guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne, on the cover of a Guitar magazine.

“Playing guitar is a social thing,” Forsyth says. “Playing guitar at 15, you become the focal point … and there’s the girl thing … but it soon becomes a cosmic thing. I remember sitting in my room, strumming a D chord, hitting it over and over again and thinking, ‘It feels so good.’ I try to get that same feeling of hitting that D chord over and over when I was 15 every time I play, though. Age or experience brings some sort of conceptual gravity, but that first instinct is still an ideal.”

Solar Motel drummer Steven Urgo sees Forsyth as the ideal musician for a few different reasons.

“He’s a total virtuoso as far as guitar playing goes,” Urgo says. “The crazy thing is that he’s also a really good songwriter. A very rock ‘n’ roll songwriter, at that.”

Since moving to Kensington from Brooklyn in 2009, Forsyth has found himself in an ideal place to make music unencumbered by some of the restrictions he felt were palpable there.

“Philly’s great,” Forsyth says. “It actually reminds me a lot of Brooklyn when I first moved there. It’s cheap and if there’s something you want to do, you can just go do it. There are places to play and there are good musicians. It feels like a community.”

It was in Brooklyn that Forsyth first explored the outer reaches of guitar music, through his work with Peeesseye and his other musical endeavors.

“I was playing with a bunch of rock bands before investigating improvisation, drone and minimalism,” says Forsyth. “I did that for six or seven years but I was always attracted to the different textures of rock music.”

Forsyth recently embarked on a solo tour through Europe, where audiences cast a curious eye on his experimental style of guitar playing. He is used to being considered one the strange ones, musically-speaking, so he had not expected those overseas to be as receptive to “cosmic Americana” as the Americans themselves.

“There’s an exoticism in Europe,” Forsyth says. “People in Europe my age didn’t grow up listening to rock bands. They grew up listening to techno. There’s not many people who can convincingly bend a note on the guitar or whatever, so it’s like, ‘Oh, who is this primitive American street musician?’”

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