Interview: Dan Forsyth
The Cold Mountain Music Festival returns for a third year to Canton’s Lake Logan, May 31-June 1, with such prominent groups as Calexico, Milk Carton Kids, and Yonder Mountain String Band.
Also on the bill with a 2:45-4 p.m. set on June 1 is Binghamton, NY, folk rock band Driftwood. Back in the Asheville area, which he calls “an incredible spot for string music,” the quintet’s Dan Forsyth (guitar/vocals) spoke with Asheville Stages about recent festival experiences, staying healthy on the road, and the role a certain vehicle played in jump-starting his musical career.
…on the band’s recent Merlefest experience.
We had an early set. We played at 11:45 — super early, but it was beautiful because so many people were up and ready for the music. It was a great day, and then we got to hang out and go see some other folks. We got to see our friends Donna the Buffalo play. They’re from up by us and it was great to see them there and get to check out whole set. We’re friends, but it’s very rare that we get to see our friends play — and that was really special for us.
We spent almost the whole day after that checking out music. We got to see Ana Egge — she’s an amazing singer/songwriter that was under our radar. We didn’t know who she was until a few years back and then we saw her randomly in DC and everyone fell in love with her. We were so excited to see that she was there, so we got to check out her set. Then we got to see Keb’ Mo’ and then Molly Tuttle and were completely blown away by both of them. It was a really inspiring day for us. It’s very rare that we get to check out other music because we’re always playing on the weekends, but festivals, and especially a fest like that, are great opportunities for us to get out and check out music.
…on the defining moment when he and and his bandmates knew they’d turn music into their career.
We actually formed in 2006, but with this lineup it’s been around 10 years. It’s always a challenge at any level to get out there and get in front of ears. You’re constantly trying to get into a festival or break through into a market and just take it to the next level — I feel like that’s what what everyone’s doing all the time. Especially now because there’s not that much money in music. So, for us, back in the day, we all wanted to do it full time, we all believed in it, but we always had other jobs and we had this thing. At some point, we took it full time and we got a van — our first van. That was 2010 and that was an “all of the sudden” type of moment because we could tour across the country. It was about two months and there were some great shows, but there were a lot of dead shows, too.
But I think in general, that time was a time where we were all saying to ourselves, “OK, I think we’re doing this full time.” But we’ve always just been kind of a working band. We work throughout the year. We might have tours where we go out for three weeks at a time, but when we come home we go right back to it that weekend. We’ve never been a band to be on for six months and off for six months. We’re always going, so that’s sort of been the theme from the beginning. We picked up enough steam at some point and enough money where we could do it — and we’re lucky to be able to.
…on steps the band takes to stay healthy and motivated with a demanding tour schedule.
There’s tons. Most of the time when you start out touring in a van, it’s a very flighty kind of thing. You start doing it and it’s very exciting, but it’s a really tough life. It’s really hard to get rest and stay healthy and keep in the right mindset. Over the years, we’ve all taken different routes just to keep our heads in it and try to stay as normal as we possibly can.
We have an RV now that is much better for touring. There’s a lot more space, a lot more opportunities for sleep, which is good. We have two runners — Claire [Byrne, violin/vocals] runs a lot and Joe [Kollar, banjo/guitar/vocals] does a lot of yoga, and everybody meditates a little bit here and there. And, of course, we all write music and play on the road — we have a ukulele in there.
But overall, we’re not partiers anymore. When we first started, [we’d have] a couple of beers a night, maybe, but everybody’s toned it down so much. We’re all adults. [Laughs] It’s a very grown-up tour experience with us. It’s actually a lot harder than it used to be. We do a lot more driving in between gigs and a lot of running, a lot of radio stuff, especially now with an album out. But there’s always more stops, earlier arrival times, and stuff like that. Honestly, it’s the toughest job [laughs] I have ever had. It’s so physically demanding and I definitely cope with it by trying to lay down when I can, trying to rest my eyes here and there. And then music is always right there. It’s a funny thing, but it helps — trying to write a tune, playing a little bit on the little ukulele. We all have our things, our ways to decompress or kind of tune out.
…on whittling down the band’s numerous demos to the 11 that made it onto its April 2019 album, Tree of Shade.
A lot of it was the producer [Simone Felice, whose credits include the Lumineers' Cleopatra]. He was the one who picked a ton of them. Some of them had been fleshed out more than others, so they were easier to take to the next place. There were maybe one or two songs where we said, “Nah, we want to really record this one,” and made it happen. It was nice to have somebody to make sense of 50 demos. [Laughs] That’s a tough thing for a band to decide.
…on determining whether he, Claire, or Joe will sing lead vocals on a particular song.
Bring a song to the table and the writer sings it. It’s usually a good little process, like, “We want to do some new stuff.” “Oh, I’ve got a song.” “Ah, I heard you playing that song last week!” It’s funny because we’ve had different people ask us that, and it’s like, “No, it’s all just super organic.”
…on the band’s preferred festival set length.
A 90-minute set is a good one for a festival. 50 minutes is all right, but an hour and 15 [minutes] is really nice. Sometimes when you get a 45 minute or an hour set, you’re like, “Man, I was just getting warmed up.” Especially if it’s early in the morning and still a little cold and you’re warming up your fingers. But we just kind of adapt. We’ve gotten so much better at playing those shows. We used to just be a bar band. When we first started, we were used to two or three hour shows. I remember the first time we went down to New York City, they said, “OK, you’ve got 45 minutes,” and we didn’t know what to do. [Laughs] But we’re pretty good at adapting and adjusting for any size set. But it’s nice to be able to stretch out, for sure.
IF YOU GO
What: Cold Mountain Music Festival
When: May 31-June 1
Where: Lake Logan, 25 Wormy Chestnut Lane, Canton, coldmountainmusic.org
(Photo courtesy of Thomas E Bush IV)