FOREST FIRES is Christopher Pappas of local favorites the Everyday Visuals gone solo. His new album, Hark! And Other Lost Transmissions, is a lo-fi, twangy, melancholy departure from his other band's usual Chiltonified pop, though it still retains some of their sweetness. Tonight, Pappas will wrap up a month-long residency at Arts for the Armory in Somerville, which I hear tell is a pretty good place to hear some live music. Jesse Gallagher from Apollo Sunshine opens. You can download an mp3 of "Son Son (Son)" below for a taste. Pappas will also conduct the Hark! Philharmonic Orchestra downstairs at the Middle East on May 19. I got Pappas on the phone to discuss that, his decision to go solo, and his distaste for the recording process.
LISTEN: Forest Fires, "Son Son (Son)" (mp3)
What made you decide to go out on your own with these songs?For such a long time, whatever I wrote was just automatically a Visuals tune. So when we made the last record, the self-titled one, we definitely made a conscious effort to make the sound more unified, and so with that, I started to feel like "I'm starting to see the difference between something that the Visuals do versus other things that I'm interested in." What started happening was that I started writing songs that I wanted to release, but knew that they didn't fit the Visuals' aesthetic. I had never released a record by myself, and I just had this sound in my head that I knew that the Visuals couldn't do. I just went for it, and started collecting songs. It's kind of turned into my main thing right now; I'm focusing on that. But it definitely started out of this idea that the Visuals had found a sound. This records are what I would like records to sound like. This is more of me.Do you have a specific idea of the difference that's defined in your head, or do you just know it when you hear it?It's a little of both. I think just in general Forest Fires tends to be a little more mellow and little more low key and lo-fi, really. The whole aesthetic of Forest Fires is supposed to have that basement recordings vibe, whereas the Visuals tend to be very produced and put-together and be more like solid pop music. Forest Fires is supposed to be a little more rough around the edges, a little more loose. And it wasn't a purposeful decision, it's just that that's just what I had to go with. I had to record in my apartment because I didn't have a studio, and I'm not very good at it so you can hear snaps and pops and tape hiss.So it just sort of worked out that way.Right. But it works out that way also because that's what I enjoy listening to. For other people, it would be like, "oh, we need to correct that," [but] I'm like "let's leave it." First of all, it's what came out, and second of all, I enjoy it. So it's like a happy partnership between being a delightful idiot, but being happy about it, I guess you could say.How did you get other people, like Pierre DeReader (of Rilo Kiley), involved with it?I had been a fan of Rilo Kiley for a while. He was putting out a solo record, so I just wrote him. I was like "hey, the Visuals are coming and touring out west, and we wanted to know if you wanted to do some dates with us." And he's like, "yeah, that sounds great." We did some dates with him. He's a really sweet guy, so we just kept in touch. I approached him - I was like "Hey, I'm making this solo record, I'd love for you to play on it." And he was like "yeah, let me hear the tune." It developed from there - he owns a studio out in LA, and he was like "you should come out and record, and I'll produce it." So we decided I'm going to be making an EP with him out in L.A. We just forged a friendship.As for as the others, Austin Nevins from Josh Ritter's band, we were on the same booking agency as Josh Ritter, so we opened for him a couple times, and I met the band and again we just kind of became friends. And Tim Walker who played lap steel, I met him while he was touring with Pete Yorn. He was in this band called Minibar, they were opening for Pete Yorn, and they did a club date, and we played with them, and I kept in touch with him. Every time I go out to L.A., I stay with him. So it's been really cool to have positive feedback from friends. I completely loved recording the record on my own - well, with Aaron, too, Aaron Benson from Thick as Thieves helped - but for the most part, I'd be tracking alone in my apartment. But there was still that need to be collaborative. As much as I enjoyed just having it be me and not really answering to other people's ideas, there was a part of me that still knows that music is supposed to be a collaborative, dynamic thing, so I enjoyed having other people put their stamps on it. It's a lot of musicians from far and wide.Right. Austin is a local boy, and then I had Anne Heaton, who's a Boston girl sing on it. But you're right; the rest of them, like Anthony Polcino sang some harmonies on it - he's from a band called Low Vs. Diamond - it was pretty spread out. It was done all via e-mail and stuff like that. The wonders of our digital age.Exactly. It was kind of exciting too, to send off the tracks. A few days later I get a file back - it's kind of exciting to open it up and see what he did as opposed to being in the studio and looking over his shoulder while he's doing it.You get a moment of anticipation.Exactly. And plus, to be honest, I fucking hate recording. I hate it. I would just rather play live. So being able to send it off and be like, "record it, and let me know when you're done," was a good thing.Can you expand on why you hate recording?Recording to me is the complete antithesis of what music is supposed to be. I find music to be interactive and collaborative, and when you're playing live there's always this push and pull with the audience, where the audience becomes a part of the performance. They affect the music and the music affects them and there's this kind of symbiotic relationship. With recording, what you really are doing is taking a snapshot of a song that is evolving and will always evolve. But we try and pass it off like this is the version of the song. The album version is the version to which all other versions are measured against. It isn't that. It feels like you're trying to pose family photos that you plot. "Remember this Christmas funny? Let's try and recreate it. Everybody pose in the positions that you were in, and take the picture." It seems so forced to me. So I've always had real trouble in the studio trying to keep the songs sounding inspired and sounding like they're progressing, even though, by definition, those are going to be sealed in time for that moment.I also wanted to ask about this orchestra project you're doing.Yeah. I went to school for music education, and while I was there, I wrote for string quartets and choirs and stuff like that. And I always had some orchestral projects in my head. And so we were doing string arrangements for the last Visuals record, and we had a string quartet come in. And the viola, Susannah Plaster, I got to talking to her about this idea. I was like "I really would love to see an orchestra headline a dingy rock club. I think that would be really cool." She was like, "You mean play along with the band?" "No, no, no - I mean literally just an orchestra playing orchestral music. I always wanted to conduct an orchestra. But when is that going to happen?" And she was like, "if you write the music, I'll get you an orchestra." And I was like, "okay, I'm going to hold you to that." Four months later, I e-mailed her, and I'm like "I've got the music," and she's like "what have I done?" [Laughs] But she held to her word, and via her contacts, and I filled out some of the parts via Craig's List and such, we got together about 27 players. It's going to be an honest-to-god full orchestra. We're going to do four songs - three I composed and one Vivaldi concerto.
Do you have any words about "Son Son (Son)"?I usually give this caveat live that it's not about an actual son that I have somewhere that I'm not paying child support on or something [Laughs]. I'm very clear, because the words could be misinterpreted. Basically that song is kind of like the reverse of "Cats in the Cradle." It's about how I'd always pictured, like, "I'm gonna make music, and I'm gonna tour, and I'm gonna be successful and make money that way, and also, I'm gonna have a house, and have kids, and get married." And you start to get older and you start to think "maybe I need to choose between the two, maybe the paths aren't going to meet up," and then you start thinking "maybe I've already chosen." So that's what that song is about. I'm kind of apologizing to my other life, really, of how it never really lined up and I'm sorry.