“ELECTRO-GLIDE IN HUES”
by Harry C. Tuniese
Forget, Forget is an indie synth-pop duo from Portland, ME, consisting of Tyler DeVos (guitar/ vocals) and Patia Maule (synths/ vocals/ programming). Their music is equal parts dance party and introspection, defined by analog warmth, intertwining instrumental parts, vocal harmonies, swirling textures, and reflective lyrics. Their second full-length album, You’re Not Gone, was released last July and is one of my fave albums of 2017. They play frequently in the Northeast U.S. and I have been lucky to catch them several times playing in the Boston area. I have a guilty pleasure for synth-pop and have been following that style for many decades. Though it’s now been categorized as a “sound,” I see it more as a set of expansive ideas that stretch the concepts of limitation. These two have formed an intriguing partnership with talented vision and promise. Let’s check in on them.
Noise: Give us some background on what steered you into music. How did you two meet? As you originally conceived the group, has it met your expectations, since the size and style eventually changed? What were your values of trying to find that mixture of tradition and innovation?
Tyler: Patia and I met after she was recommended to me as a violinist. My band at the time was covering Arcade Fire songs requiring violin and Patia ended up being one of the musicians we worked with. Patia’s abilities and generous musicianship instilled an eagerness in me to collaborate further. So we started a band.
Forget, Forget met my original expectations with our first record. Since then our expectations have shifted and our music has evolved to meet those expectations. As our band shifted from seven-piece to a two-piece we had options for replacing members. We were deliberate in how we adapted. Ultimately, I think there has been a wave of two-piece rock/pop outfits in the indie world because it’s exponentially easier to manage schedules, to keep cost down, etc. We’re in an era of financially independent music. No one’s business strategy is to appeal to a label anymore. It’s pointless. So every band is essentially a start-up business with artistic aspirations. That means keeping overhead low and committing to whatever fits into a band’s schedule. It means expectations and aspirations vary a lot from band to band as well.
As far as tradition and innovation goes, that’s pretty natural. We listen to pop music of all varieties. We’re just as likely to throw a Young Thug album on as we are a Blondie album. And our music is informed by anyone who is making music we connect with. If they make music that fits our system of writing, then yeah, we’ll talk about how an artist accomplished something we like and how we might go about working it into our music.
Patia: As Tyler mentioned, I initially joined the band as a violinist, but I’m much more comfortable on keyboard and so I found myself looking for opportunities to play keys instead of violin whenever I could. Once I started down the synth rabbit hole, I didn’t look back – I felt like I had found the instrument with which I could have the most fun with and arrange best. So in terms of expectations, the kind of arrangements we’re coming up with now – and the amount of fun I have when performing – definitely far exceed what I had in mind for myself when we started five years ago!
Noise: Your current output is shape-shifting atmospheric synth-pop. The intricate delicacy that pervades your music must demand constant dedication. How does it come about – through the initial songwriting, the arrangements, or rehearsal sessions?
Tyler: It’s a combination. We’re careful arrangers. The nature of our music doesn’t allow for boring arrangement, so we have to make a lot of decisions on when to add parts, when to cut parts, when should a beat drop, when should a arpeggiator enter. The arranging process can feel a bit mechanical, but when we’re arranging well, one of us will suggest something and the other will know, without explanation, exactly why the suggestion was made and why it will work. Then when we listen back, if we’ve done a good job, we’re rewarded with the desired effect we’ve been searching for.
Noise: How do you compose – independently or collectively, intuitively or academically? Many of your tunes sketch themes of struggles, relationships, connections, or melancholy into a patchwork that form an exquisite whole. How do you finalize these songs?
Tyler: I compose chords and melodies 90% of the time. Then Patia will make suggestions that will edit chords, melodic phrasing, etc. Once her thoughts have been applied to the original demo, it’s time to arrange. This process can take days. And it’s often frustrating. We have to be disciplined in that we have to lock ourselves in a room. Typically an arrangement stems from a set of sounds that Patia makes on her synths that compliment each other and excite us. From there we build the beat and decide when each synth sound should be applied and what mixture of sounds will best drive the song. We definitely compose intuitively. We finalize songs after we’ve performed them for a few months. Testing songs out on audiences is always very revealing. It’s an act of courage to test new songs out on an audience. I’m always impressed when a band does so in a genuine and thoughtful way.
Patia: I’ll add that on the rare occasion that we compose “academically,” so to speak, it’s to restrict ourselves a bit and simplify things. “Seashells” started out as an exercise in harmonic restraint; as a writer, I tend to favor complex Radiohead-style chord progressions, but songs can get bogged down with too much harmony going on. I challenged myself to write a catchy song with just two chords in the verse and chorus, and “Seashells” was the result (you can decide for yourself if I was successful in meeting my challenge…).
Noise: Here’s the big composition question since a lot of your songs contrast beautiful melodies and deep introspective moods. Do the songs grow from the music or the words? Are you conscious of that or do the themes just wander into cohesion? Are you seeking that tension? Are you committed to certain themes? Is there anyone who influenced this style?
Tyler: I don’t know where the songs grow from, or if there’s any one answer to that question. We definitely are conscious of that tension. The idea we talk about a lot is a character probably born most directly out of Robyn’s incredible song “Dancing On My Own.” The idea basically breaks down to someone who is deeply depressed, dysfunctional, perhaps delusional, but they’ve decided the best way to deal with all their inner-turmoil is to dance their ass off singing “I’m not the one you’re taking home. Ooh. I’m just dancing on my own!” It’s a very inspiring mantra.
Patia: Yup, well said.
Noise: You both have two distinct voices, but your harmony vocal textures are captivating and luscious. Do you spend much time with your vocalizing or is it all wrapped in the dynamics of the arrangements?
Tyler: We sing together a lot. We experiment with different harmonies and we shift our songs into different keys to find the best register for our voices. Vocals are pretty central to our writing, so a lot of the harmonies and vocal interplay you hear on the record was written before the majority of the arrangement.
Noise: Let’s make the link when you see the evolution of electronic music. What do you listen to for inspiration? Would you say that your music just touches on nostalgia, but with a modern aspect? To my ears, your music sounds futuristic and complete, especially the way you put the sounds together or combine them with effects, editing, drum loops, programming…very inventive.
Patia: I’m not sure if this is actually an achievable goal, but the intention I hold is to try to create a sound palate that won’t sound obviously dated. Coming up with my own sounds and not using the latest patches in a DAW is part of that, and then it’s about making decisions based on what I think might have a chance of still sounding good a decade or two or three from now. If you listen to Kraftwerk, not knowing what you’re hearing, it sounds like it could have come out decades after when it actually did. And Bach still sounds bad-ass even though it’s centuries old. Some things stand the test of time; I strive for that. And also… I don’t want to listen back to our music later in life and cringe!
Tyler: I think we listen to a wide range. We like new-wave, but we’re not revivalists. We’re just as likely to be listening to the new Missy Elliott single as we are Tears For Fears. I never understand people who believe there’s no more good music. There’s tons!
Noise: The shift from chamber acoustic-rock to techno ambience is quite dramatic and your choice of instrumentation has dictated that lush analog EDM era. Now, here’s a techie question: What’s your equipment set-up and why did you choose it?
Tyler: [Laughs] This is Patia’s to answer.
Patia: My main polyphonic synth and the backbone of my sound palette is an Acces Virus B. It came out around 2000 so it’s not vintage – it’s got most of the features of brand new top of the line polyphonic synths, but with an older interface. It’s an extremely capable and great sounding analog modeling synth (i.e. it’s not actually analog). You can store patches, which makes consistent performance easy. I love it. All of the pads and chordal arps on the album are played on the Virus.
The other two main elements of my sound are a Dave Smith Mopho keyboard, which provides most of the bass sounds on the album as well as some lead lines and sequences, and a Vermona MKIII drum synth. These are both 100% analog and you can hear that warmth, fatness, and character in their sound.
I try to limit the number of synths I use so that when I play live I don’t have to pack up a whole studio (although sometimes it feels like I do!). Even though my setup might look a little complicated, it’s really just two synths, a mixer, a reverb pedal and delay pedal, and an iPad to trigger our drum tracks.
Noise: You actually address this influence quite well in the song “Statues” (“My favorite records have shaped my sound/ And you have shaped it too/ All my songs haunted by your eyes are statues.”) Was it the case that your newest songwriting needed the usage of synthesizer technology?
Tyler: For sure. I think what we listened to as we paired down to a duo often were artists who made music with what we had available to us; what we could control. By the time we became a duo we knew Patia could do synths, I could do guitars, and we could both sing and write. And actually that’s a lot. That’s a full band’s worth of noise. Patia’s also a gifted percussionist, so writing beats was very natural for her. She also is studious and a perfectionist. Those are good qualities in someone who builds sounds from scratch. It gives our music a chance to stand shoulder to shoulder with any other electronic artist out there.
Noise: I want to discuss some of the tunes… some of my faves are “Seashells,” “Public Places,” “City,” “Year of Transition,” “Parades” and “A Week or So.” What was on your minds?
Tyler: The whole album had a few themes running through, connecting the songs. We focused on seasons. We focused on challenging times in life, transitions, uncertainty. We focused on acknowledgement and acceptance of difficulty, but we also ultimately focused on optimism. Other than that, I think specifics of each song is better left explained over a few whiskeys in a dark bar. [I’ll take you up on that! – H.C.T.]
Noise: Do you think things have changed for the better in the way that music is no longer so strictly stratified and marketed as it once was? You have a home studio with modern equipment and use social media for connections. You both have jobs, but except for extensive financing, you can still do-it-yourself in the full spectrum. Any thoughts?
Patia: DIY means anyone can make music and try to put it out there… but it also means you have to have an incredibly diverse skill set. You can’t just write and play music; you also have to know or be willing to learn how to book shows, engineer recordings, edit tracks, promote, utilize social media effectively, network, make videos, budget, maintain a website… I don’t think we’re exactly nailing it on all fronts, but we try!
Tyler: I think we’re more in control of our music now, which gives us more agency. That’s always a good thing, though it can feel scary. Ultimately I like to stay focused on making good music. So long as that is in place, I’m happy.
Noise: Where does Forget, Forget go from here? More live gigs, more videos – and of course, more music?
Tyler & Patia: Yes, Yes, and of course, YES!