Future of Forestry, aka Eric Owyoung and his revolving cast of musical friends, is easily one of the most exciting and inventive acts in the industry. Working through concept EP’s like the Travel series and more, Owyoung has shown remarkable creativity and artistic progression, always pressing forward with his sound. That movement continues on the band’s latest, the Advent Christmas EP, Vol. 3, as Owyoung continues to bring his signature spin to some holiday classics, reworking them into arts that are truly all his own. Soul-Audio recently had the chance to catch up with Owyoung and discuss the challenges of creating a Christmas record, the ups and downs of being a “solo” performer, and what his Christmas holiday looks like this year.
Soul-Audio: This is your third Christmas EP; what is it about this time of year that brings out the creative juices for you? And do you think it’s an experiment that will continue?
Eric Owyoung: You are right about this season bringing out a different creative side to my music career. I think I just hear Christmas in a very nostalgic way. So it brings out a lot of my orchestral and ambient sounds. Celestial, I guess you could call it. Who knows how long it will last? I suppose until I’ve expired all the possible Christmas songs to arrange.
SA: Let’s talk a bit about the challenge of taking preexisting songs, songs that are in many cases ingrained in people’s minds and memories, and drawing them into a new place with new arrangements. How do you approach that challenge? Do you feel that it’s more difficult to deal with this material than to craft something totally new?
Owyoung: There is only one rule I apply in rearranging the Christmas songs. I preserve the actual melody (with lyrics). It’s those melodies that have lasted for centuries and I don’t want to be the one to screw it up in people’s minds. But from there, they sky is the limit on how I can arrange the music behind those melodies. I can mess with totally different chord structures and totally different kinds of timbres and rhythms and moods. Sometimes it can be a challenge in that I have already heard the songs in certain very traditional styles. So I have to go against what I know to try and create something fresh. If I can take the song into a totally distant world and bring a new perspective and emotion to the song, yet retain its integrity as the same song, I’m pretty happy about it.
SA: And how do you go about choosing those songs? What’s your criteria or is it more of an emotive thing, just picking the one that feels right? Are there any songs that, for you, are too “hallowed,” so to speak, that you won’t consider reworking them?
Owyoung: Picking the songs is the hardest part. I have spent a pretty decent amount of time with songs to try to take them up a notch but without success. So it’s a bit of luck in some ways whether I can hit something special and worth moving forward to record. A lot of songs went on the B-list for this last album. It’s hard to find ones that I know will fit within the realm of what I do best.
I don’t think there are any “hallowed” songs, however, “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” was a tough one because I wanted to really respect all the counterpoint lines that Bach wrote. So I retained a lot of those parts, more than I typically would. I also sang the song in German as an ode to Bach’s heritage.
SA: One of the beautiful aspects, at least to me, about your Advent EP’s has been the span of artistic growth throughout the process. You’ve moved from the earlier, almost Sigor Ros tones to what is on this record, while still drawing from some of those some wells, something more classical, or perhaps orchestral is a better word? What drives the progression? Is it the songs or just simple growth as an artist?
Owyoung: I think it’s a little of both. On a logistical sense, I’m learning to manipulate sounds in new ways, and really paying attention to the sonority and emotional weight that singular sound can carry. That’s a new step for me. But yes, its true; progression is a natural part of an artist that doesn’t just want to repeat the other albums he/she has done in the past.
SA: Christmas music does manage to hold that sort of appeal even though, in many ways, the song selection is somewhat limited. What are the holiday tracks that have ultimately spoken to you over the years and why? Not just the song but the performance…
Owyoung: “O Holy Night” is one of those songs that captures a real moment for me. When I do that song live, there is never a gig on the Advent Christmas tour that it doesn’t feel like heaven comes down into the venue for a visit. It’s really special.
SA: I’d love to change gears for a bit and ask you a bit about your creative process. The Future of Forestry moniker is a bit disarming because, by and large, it’s just you. Do you find the process of creating everything from the ground up by yourself freeing? Are there some days you long to have a slate of band members’ input?
Owyoung: Working solo has its ups and downs. The up is that you have the time and space to just create whatever you want. So in some ways it’s nice to just have the freedom and time. But working with others is great because there is the creative interaction that can really move things forward. When it comes down to it, I’m always working with someone in the studio in one way or another. I have a long list of musicians that are eager to come in and work with me, so its fun to have others involved. On this album in particular, my studio assistant Brandon Zedaker who also plays bass for me in tour, ended up playing a lot of the drum, bass, and mallet parts.
SA: So what’s up next for you? Are you going to be doing a Christmas tour with this record? And what can fans expect to come next, and when, from Future of Forestry?
Owyoung: This album release is actually replacing the tour this year. I’ve toured for 8 years straight, and I’ve paid a price by not being able to spend Christmas with family. This year will be the first in a long time.
SA: Lastly, just because it seems like an appropriate question since we’ve spent so much time talking Christmas, how will Eric Owyoung spend his holidays?
Owyoung: Eating, opening presents, and simply enjoying the warm presence of my family instead of the cold road of tour.