Rockin’ The Forrest Day Way

Artist on the rise Forrest Day talks about his musical training, doing videos on-the-fly and what it’s like to be living the dream.

Based out of San Francisco, Day isn’t your typical 31-year-old saxman/rapper/rocker/songwriter/… character. Leading a band named after him, Day loves to throw his emotions in his work, feeding off whatever feelings he might have when he hits the stage. Not only are his shows filled with improvisations, but Day’s offstage actions can be equally spontaneous. From talking a road construction worker into appearing in one of his videos to rapping while laying on a highway next to roadkill, Day can be totally unpredictable, a quality that makes him totally fun, hip and entertaining.

Day’s debut album, a self-titled disc on Ninth Street Opus, dropped Oct. 11. Day recently told Pollstar how he likes to unleash his aggression on stage, why he is a “hard 30” and his dissatisfaction with the San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridge.

You have a reputation for high energy, anything can happen shows combining rock, hip-hop and other genres. How did you arrive at this point?

I had extensive jazz training, classical, while growing up. I actually took it pretty seriously. Then I started playing sax in bands but I was doing more like, aggressive stuff. My musical tastes and what I’ve done in different bands have been all over the map.

Which bands did you play in?

I haven’t played in any bands that are famous. I was a sax player for the Blue Beat Stompers. They were a relatively famous California ska band in the ‘90s. I’ve been in bands since I was 14.

Was your interest in jazz all your own or did your parents or someone else point you in that direction?

My parents aren’t musicians. My interest in jazz was all my own but influenced by them because they played jazz for me as a kid. We had all kinds of music but I always loved jazz and I had a very early infatuation with the saxophone.

Musically, are you where you always wanted to be or is your current sound something that grew organically without any real planning?

I think what happened was I explored different styles of music and, in turn, ways of expressing myself and it all naturally came together. I think it started when I was 25 or 26. Not to toot my own horn, but my sound has always been different. I don’t think it’s ever [been] as much of a conglomerate as it is now after having explored so many different styles and really connecting with them. It’s not just like doing it as a hired gun. Like, play this field or this time signature, like a job. I actually connected with all this stuff.

For example, when I started this band, when I found the band members and started playing in this group, I had to stop playing in another band where I screamed a lot. It was kind of a punk mixture, kind of a rock/punk band. I was screaming so much I was losing my voice at least two or three days after shows. So I quit that band and I didn’t have that outlet anymore for screaming and getting my aggression out. I think that’s when Forrest Day began turning into a better band. I started incorporating that energy into the sound we were doing. We were more of an experimental hip-hop. Then we combined indie rock, a lot of genres in there. So I think the band really came into life when a little bit of aggression came into play.

While not completely about social issues, your music does touch on a few. What ticks you off these days?

The last time I got really ticked off was when I was driving across the Bay Bridge and had to pay six bucks. I was thinking, “Goddamn, in my lifetime I was paying a dollar at the bridge. And all the parking violations, all the tickets, I feel that we’re constantly being taken. Well, not exactly taken, but overtaxed.

Did you turn that into a song?

That kind of fire goes beyond a song like “Orders.” Corporate greed, throwing jobs everywhere but here. Not watering our own garden.

What’s the story behind “River Rat.” There are a lot of lyrics in the song and it almost sounds as if you were busting to get them all out.

I don’t really want to try and make more out of it than there is. There’s a great deal of meaning here and a little meaning there. Some of it is what I think is cool poetry and imagery. There are so many words coming out, it’s kind of like a big stream of consciousness. That’s how it was written. My pen was going a mile a minute.

Where was the video shot?

We started shooting once we got on 95 north off of Highway 80 going up to Boise. We decided we were going to drive all night, get to the hotel and sleep all day and then wake up and do the show. It was about five in the morning when we started shooting, when the sun was coming up. So we were all a little delirious. My guitar player said he woke up, looked out the window and I was skateboarding down the highway. That was like, 6 a.m. or something. It ended up being a blast.

I don’t consider it to be an official video. We’re calling our road videos “Tour Time.” “Tour Time Vol. 1” was the “River Rat” video. We might have an official video for “River Rat” but we’re also going to have our “Tour Time” version. Every time we go out on the road, we’re going to make a different road video.

In video terms, was the making of the “Tour Time” River Rat video as much stream-of-consciousness as writing the song?

Oh, yeah. There was absolutely no plan. It was really fun. We were driving down the highway and went, “Hey, look! Roadkill!” So we pulled over the van, got out and did a verse laying next to the roadkill.

We’d see a location. Like that location with the weird scarecrow that’s waving and we’re dancing in front of him? We saw that on the side of the road. We saw a big rig truck that was open and we decided to sit in it. Everything was done on the fly while we were driving.

That lady holding the construction STOP sign? That was all impromptu. We were the first in line. I got out of the car and asked her if she was down with being in a music video, me sitting next to her and even holding the sign. And she was like, “Okay.” She was a real sweetheart.

Are all your videos impromptu, spur-of-the-moment projects?

Our new “Sleepwalk” video just debuted. I’m immensely proud of it. We did it on a shoestring but it looks like it had a real budget. It’s tripped out.

Is all of your music original, or do you sample other recordings?

I’ve never sampled anything.

Do you record everything on analog tape?

With the exception of maybe a couple of things not even worth mentioning. There might have been a piece of percussion that I did digitally. I did find, and I’m going to keep this in mind for the next record, that for some harsh industrial tones, it’s better to go digital. The tape cuts the high-end stuff so much. I remember I wanted some really industrial-sounding stuff for the song “The Grease” and I wanted some hard-core, like glass shattering, industrial stuff. And I was getting some sounds in the studio that would just hurt my ears. I was like, “This is going to be bad ass.” But [on tape] it lost all of its harshness.

Considering the uniqueness of the band and its sound, when booking shows, how do you describe your style to someone who has never seen or heard you?

If we’re talking about San Francisco, all I have to pretty much talk [about] are numbers. Because our numbers are good in San Francisco.

For doing other stuff, I usually show them some kind of live page and a description of what we do. But I haven’t been doing any of that for a while, at least a year and a half since I booked a gig. But earlier on I did all the booking. Honestly, probably the toughest question I get confronted with all the time is “What kind of music do you play.” That is, for sure, the most difficult question to answer.

I never have the same answer twice. I start changing my mind about what I think the sound is like. I think this week I’m saying it’s a rock show filled with tons of different flavors and things. At the end of the day we’re a big live rock band.

You’ve been praised for delivering high-energy shows. How much of that is planned versus improvisation?

The shows are very much spontaneous. I come from the school of jazz where you let things happen. Jazz musicians are very free that way compared to a lot of the rock musicians I’ve played with. Jazz has a different attitude. You can just let people sit in. I’ve let rappers come sit in with us, spur of the moment, and we have a ridiculous exchange back and forth, taking solos, and nobody believes its spur of the moment, yet it really is. If you have a good band that can handle an audible – “Keep this part going,” or “Hit the bridge here.” As long everybody is ready for an audible, you can do amazing things on the fly.

When you’re improvising and everything’s jelling, what does that feel like?

It’s the greatest feeling ever. It’s my favorite. Something new that has never happened before is happening. Everybody is wide awake, looking at each other for whatever stuff comes. We might suddenly break it down and let whomever is the guest, or if it’s me, do something interesting over a broken down beat, bring the beat back in. I do a lot of directing while I’m performing. Especially managing a situation like that, making sure we properly build everything, bring it down for a second then come up to a huge climax. We have all of our hand signals. That’s just really fun. That’s when you’re really playing ball.

Before walking out on stage, is there any discussion at all as to what you and your bandmates are going to do?

We have a set list about 60, 70 percent of the time. I do not like to make the set list too much in advance. I kind of like to know how I’m feeling and kind of have a feel of the room, too. The first couple of songs we do, I want to be really into it. Like it’s a release that I actually need. I don’t want to come out and play a happy-go-lucky song if I feel like shit. We all need to get into it on a personal level and hopefully that’s contagious.

Who were your favorite artists to listen to while growing up?

Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye, Frank Sinatra, Jay-Z, A Tribe Called Quest, Charlie Parker, Radiohead, U2.

Do you think they all travel with you when you walk out on stage?

Absolutely. Maybe not on stage but in my writing. The way I express myself, I can hear all of them in there. Stan Getz in my sax playing, for sure. Sinatra in my voice.

What do you think you’d be doing today if you didn’t have music?

Drugs and a … (laughs) Who knows what kind of stuff I’d be into? Sometimes I think I’d actually be a rich businessman by now. I have kind of a business mind that’s developed over the past five years. I think I’d either be dead or a wealthy man.

Is it a lot of fun being Forrest Day?

It is a lot of fun. I feel very lucky. I’ve had a lot of laughs around the block for my age. I say I’m a hard 30. I’ve had a lot chapters and it makes me really happy that I’m still living life as fully as I am. Not that they’re doing anything wrong, but a lot of my friends and peers are married and pumping out kids and I find myself at 6 a.m. in Utah around a bonfire merrily drunk and about to drive to another city for a show, and I’m like, “Man, I’m really living.”

Photo: Randy Wentzel

Upcoming shows for Forrest Day include Crystal Bay, Nev., at Crystal Bay Club Casino Oct. 14; Gardnerville, Nev., at Jethro’s Oven & Grill Oct. 15; Santa Cruz, Calif., at Moe’s Alley Oct. 25; Chico, Calif., at Café Coda Oct. 27; Monterey, Calif, at Planet Gemini Oct. 29 and Ellensburg, Wash., at Raw Space Nov. 4. For more information, visit