On new album, Austin songwriter Guy Forsyth professes his complex love for America
You can tell a lot about somebody by the way they handle hate mail.
Take Guy Forsyth, for example. The rootsy Austin singer-songwriter recently received an e-mail flogging from a self-described "fourth-generation Texan" who had grown infuriated after repeatedly hearing Forsyth's song "Long Long Time" - the lead track on his new album Love Songs: For & Against - on Austin's adult-alternative radio station, KGSR.
|Guy Forsyth: Absorbing the slings and arrows of the music business with good humor.|
An alternately funny and sad rumination on the mythic power that the United States held for him as a child, "Long Long Time" is a white-guy rap about a boy who devoured comic books, found religion watching Luke Skywalker, and fell in love with the promise of the open road, only to grow up and find himself stuck in a corrupt, culturally empty, urban-sprawl wasteland. As Forsyth puts it in the climactic final verse: "I wonder how the world sees us/rich beyond compare, powerful without equal/a spoiled, drunk, 15-year-old waving a gun in their face."
Deciding that Forsyth was a sour malcontent, the e-mailer blasted his music and called him a "narcissistic waste of oxygen." Some recording artists would take objection to such name-calling, but Forsyth took the high road. He thanked the man for the feedback, explained that the song was about the disappointment that came with finding that his country was not as virtuous as he'd once believed, and asked the man about his life. Thoroughly disarmed, the e-mailer apologized for his own rudeness.
That's Guy Forsyth in a nutshell: patiently converting listeners one at a time.
"Long Long Time" hardly prepares you for the eclecticism of an album that touches on reggae ("Brand New Day"), blues ("Heart Shaped Hole"), gentle balladry ("On My Own"), high-octane rock ("So Hard"), and ragtime ("Shake It In a Circular Motion"), but thematically it serves as the key to a collection that Forsyth characterizes as a record of love songs to America.
| "In songs, like most art, it's so much more powerful and interesting to show people something than to tell them."
- Guy Forsyth
"'Long Long Time' looks at America's love affair with travel and the lure of the highway: Route 66, Harley culture, freedom, 'Paradise by the Dashboard Light,'" Forsyth explains. "It's really impossible to picture America without the hot rod."
Forsyth's own love of travel was instilled at a young age, as his father's job with TWA not only allowed for exotic vacations but required frequent family relocation. As a child, Forsyth moved from Colorado to Kansas City to New York to Connecticut to California and back to Kansas City. As he says with a laugh, "I have the American newscaster's accent because I've lived everywhere."
Forsyth started playing guitar and harmonica at the age of 16, transfixed by the raw Delta blues of Robert Johnson, but he took a wildly circuitous path to musical success.
"I worked at Renaissance Festivals as a stuntman and traveled around doing that. I started traveling around playing Robin Hood in a stunt show with a huge guy playing Little John on a plank over water. It was really like The Three Stooges or rodeo clowns. It was really slapstick.
"While doing that, I got to see Austin. Doing Renaissance Fairs, you'd do five or six shows on Friday and Saturday, and then you have the rest of the week to heal. So I'd go to Austin to see the music scene."
| Guy Forsyth: CD-release show
Thu, Aug 25
Jack's Patio Bar & Grill
2950 Thousand Oaks
Attracted by the musical community he sensed in Austin, he moved to the Capital City in 1990, and quickly established his place in its much-admired, singer-songwriter pantheon. While performing with his own band, he indulged his love of pre-World War II jazz by joining the Asylum Street Spankers.
Forsyth's songwriting eventually stretched his stylistic reach beyond acoustic blues, but his allegiance to the form has never wavered.
"When I'm putting on music to listen to or when I pick up a guitar and I'm playing for my own enjoyment at home, I'm still playing Robert Johnson," he says. "That's what made me want to play. One of the things that attracted me to Delta blues when I first started playing was it was easy to hear. If there's one person and a guitar, everything you hear on that recording is something that he's doing. So if you work hard enough at it, you'll be able to figure out what it is. With pop music, that's just not the case."
Love Songs: For & Against, Forsyth's second self-released disc after issuing three titles on Antone's Records, finds this normally solitary writer collaborating more than ever before. Darden Smith, Nina Singh, Papa Mali, Carolyn Wonderland, Rob Gjersoe, and Michael Ramos all help with the writing on various tracks. Forsyth worked with Smith on one of the album's standout cuts, "Take Advantage of You," a lament for America disguised as a love song to a mistreated woman. The song grew out of Forsyth's habitual visits to museums when he's on the road, and his attraction to the representation of a concept in goddess form.
"With 'Take Advantage of You,' I journaled on this idea of a beautiful, noble woman that you were longing for from afar," he says, "and some schmuck is treating her like this week's fruit. And that's a feeling I could identify with and I knew that other people could identify with it too."
He adds: "In songs, like most art, it's so much more powerful and interesting to show people something than to tell them. So, in that song, I wanted it to sneak up on you. My friend says with songs you can throw darts or blow bubbles. Sometimes it's better to blow bubbles, because nobody wants to be told what to do." •