“The thing is words can have many meanings, like the word love for example. It can be used in many ways and for different purposes but when you are using music, you are using frequencies or tones and when it’s there, you can try and give it a thousand definitions but the impression is only one. I think that’s why our drummer refuses to talk too much because all he needs to say is all in his music – it’s already there.” – Guoguo of Forests
Going by their usual default, Forests is a 3-piece act consisting of Zun Long on the drums, Guoguo on the bass and Jon Du serving as the front of the band. With each of them being remarkably well-versed, multitalented, and having vast experiences in music as individual artists, the trio talks about their shared history with formations and disjoints, logic and non-logic, and the animalistic primitiveness perpetually circling around them and the music they make.
We got the chance to sneak in the studio to have a little discussion with the lads who were in between recording sessions at the time. Although given a limited time period, we managed to tackle some hefty topics.
You’re in the process of recording today – can you tell us a little about what’s happening?
JON DU: Right now we are recording a compilation. Guoguo and I bought and lugged this huge console all the way from America – shit was fucking heavy. So we are just recording a bunch of bands and people we like in Taipei as a sort of christening, I guess, of this actual magical thing.
So you’re not recording new materials for your band?
JON: No, not right now. Maybe after we record these people. Basically, we’ve been recording a different act each day and each act has one song. So we will get this out of the way and then record our next album.
When you make new music, how strict do you put new material side by side with your older stuff? Do you deliberately compare and make decisions from there?
JON: Especially in the creation stage there is no rationalisation. Normally when we make music together, we never talk about what we’re gonna do or how we are going to do it exactly. We kind of just let it happen. The rationalisation stuff comes way later but when we are making songs it’s definitely just a ‘stream of consciousness’ kind of thing.
Do you think then that this method is more important than consciously trying to be innovative or ‘keeping it fresh’ each time?
GUOGUO: We don’t try to really use our rational brain to think about music because sometimes we are, in a way, trying to create something from nothing – all the other stuff comes over time. We are always circling around a thing, this thing… but we never think about it. We never talk about what we have to say.
JON: Yeah, but there absolutely is a theme. We don’t try to be like ‘this is what it looks like’. It’s already there, it’s always there and we can’t control it. We can’t say ‘now this is it’s name’ but we definitely bow down to it.
GUOGUO: We have played music together for a long time – 7 years now. A lot of things are beyond words. We don’t really need to discuss or talk about stuff. We don’t have a set way of writing music. We just jam most of the time and we listen to our jam and think about if we want to organise all these jams into a song or incorporate it in an album. So we will use our version of stuff to figure it out but how we make music or what theme we work with, we don’t talk about. It’s always about time as well. As I said we’ve been together for a long time, we all understand each other, and so we don’t really need to talk much.
JON: But then I would say it’ll be wrong to say that there is no rationalisation completely… but in order to define it, that’s hard.
GUOGUO: If you want to give something a definition then it should be something that’s already been done. That’s the time we can figure out what it means to us. It’s something like post modern stuff. After that then you can give it definition.
JON: How I’d put it is we are channeling a sort of thing we don’t really know and to try and know beforehand is a sin. It’s only after it’s done or after it has a certain form that it becomes something I can finally relate to myself.
As of the moment, Forests has 2 albums in its repertoire. As this gets more expansive, does it get harder or easier to channel this ‘theme’ to produce more work?
JON: No, I think it’s endless. It’s always there, has been and forever will be.
GUOGUO: It’s really dynamic. Sometimes there is a period of time that we won’t feel anything about the music we do and sometimes we will suddenly realise that a few months ago one jam we did actually has something that we couldn’t recognise at the time. So we are not always super creative every day. But looking back, we always cherish the things that do happen.
JON: Yeah, it’s always easy, it’s always hard. We always have the same outlook on how we are going to create or do things but over time it is different because there’s a whole fucking universe constantly circling around it so it meets at different points like orbits of planets. Sometimes there are eclipses and such. Some people might call it blind luck or just pure faith but well it’s a system and we just keep doing it.
GUOGUO: And also there’s this thing about having one subject with two sides – a bright side and a dark side. If you can think about it as easy or that it is difficult, that makes the theme, you can see the subject clearer. You can say happy or sad… everything is with an opposite and the conflict will help you sum up the whole subject.
JON: It’s really strange because we’ve never talked about this but honestly a lot of the lyrics that are going on with the songs I write are exactly talking about that – the light and darkness. There’s so much of that. I don’t know why exactly yet but maybe I’m just being too psychedelic. But that’s the thing, the thing we’ve been circling around.
Genre-wise at least, I know your band self-identifies with ‘sweater fuzz’ – I’ve never heard of this phrase before. What does ‘sweater fuzz’ mean to you?
JON: Oh man, we gotta change that! That was from way back in the day.
GUOGUO: Actually it started from ‘sweater punk’ and turned into sweater fuzz.
JON: Because there was a period of time where we would wear sweaters but then play really noisy abrasive type stuff and so we were like oh it’s like sweater punk. But then, we just started to use more ‘fuzzes’- I don’t know. I think it’s one of our friends who coined that term.
Alright before I forget, let’s talk a little bit about Forests’ backstory – how did you guys get together?
JON: 7 years ago we were in a band together. It was called ‘Boys and Girl.’ It was mostly shoe-gaze noise type stuff. There was a girl in the band and her former band back then had just broken up and then I had just been around and so she asked me to come in and we just kind of fell into it. Since then we have been in a couple of different bands. There was also ‘Sunset Rollercoaster’ before Forests. There was a dark period where I just didn’t do anything. I don’t know why but I was probably really depressed. Buy yeah, this, Forests, this incarnation has just been the people who’s always been around. We’ve been playing together in different forms for many years and so Forests is the first band we’ve been in that has made it into a second record and perhaps a third. But who knows maybe we’ll die in ten minutes.
Your relations have been brought about musically then you would say?
JON: Well maybe it started more so with alcohol to be honest- alcohol and art. There used to be a place not far from here called ‘Underworld’ and that’s where everybody played; that’s how I met everybody that I knew in Taiwan. We would all go and drink and see bands and puke into gutters and whatever. It’s dead now, that place is gone – you came way too late!
Shame… Underworld sounds grimy and real cool.
JON: Yeah, it was fucking fantastic.
Now, there’s three of you in the band – I read somewhere in cyberspace that an odd-numbered group is harder to manage – true or untrue? What’s the dynamic like between the members?
JON: For me I’ve always liked triangles or even the idea of a tripod. Any time I’ve had a really good friend group it has always been in threes. So that’s the exact opposite of my experience but I can see how that is. But with us, I think we are capable of standing on our own. Each one of us have fronted bands, that kind of thing, and we don’t always need to be together…
GUOGUO: There’s no brotherhood here! [Laughs]
But the times that you are together, not doing anything music related, what would you most likely be doing?
JON: I don’t know… We would probably just drink.
GUOGUO: It’s very seldom. Recently it has been very seldom that the three of us are together.
JON: Yeah, it’s very rare too that you just got a picture of the three of us together. Usually even during shows there are not many photos of all of us together. It’s usually just the two of us in a shot, that kind of thing. I don’t know if that is indicative of anything but yeah that’s the thing.
GUOGUO: But yeah we can mentally hang out! We don’t need to physically hang out. We can be in separate places and I could think ‘hmm maybe Jon is drinking… maybe I should drink as well!’
JON: That’s not the… [laughs] That’s not the craziest assumption to make! We’re not… there’s definitely a lot of other bands that ‘live together’ and we don’t.. I mean we did that before, we had to and it was always just the craziest time. There’s so much shit that happens when we were together. I’m not saying it’s always bad but it was always extreme! So at this point I think we just need a break time.
GUOGUO: Yeah I want to go back home to my bed and make sure I can get some sleep and won’t hear anybody screaming downstairs!
That’s the thing, it’s actually more stressful than it seems! Nowadays even being a relatively ‘successful’ music act is not as well compensated as it used to be a decade ago or so. Tell me, what made this career still personally appealing to you?
JON: For me I don’t think it has ever been a choice. That’s how I can describe it. I tried to get away from it a long time ago but I’m more at peace with it now. It’s always come back to ‘this is what I do.’ That’s how I’d put it.
GUOGUO: Actually, these past two years I’ve been involved with a lot of other bands. Some bands are really, really professional and I can play guitar around the world and tour and make money – much like a real job. I’m 100% Taiwanese and so my family is always like — ‘oh if you want to play music and be an artist, you have to make sure you can support yourself and maybe even be able to have a family someday’ — just super Taiwanese traditional ideals. I don’t really give a shit about that but of course I still try to make my family happy. I really want to prove myself to them and say, ‘Okay, I love music and I can fucking do it, give my family money, and go Bam!’ So yeah they really believe that I can do it now. But I don’t think that this is even the true point. What I’m really thinking about is that I’m really, really lucky because a lot of people are still just trying to find things that they really love, a thing they want to dedicate themselves to and sometimes they just can’t. Most people can’t… they will spend their whole lives searching. I realised this when I was a kid, that I want to play the guitar, I want to play the bass, and that’s the whole point. I don’t think too much about the rest like, ‘Oh what if I end up poor… what if… what if…’ I don’t think of this as my career, I think of it as my life.
JON: I agree. I don’t think it should be referred to as a career, if it ends up being one then yeah but it doesn’t inform whatsoever how we do anything.
GUOGUO: Hmmm… Language is too reasonable. I want to elaborate on this actually. Music is something like a language too, you still communicate to people. Music is like a really, really common and general super basic language but instead you are just using frequencies and tones to talk to people. But I think language is more of a ‘socialising tool’ that has its own beauty but the music’s form of beauty is even more pure. Just like colour, the impression is already there.
JON: I think that ties with what we said about how we do things when it comes to making music.
GUOGUO: I also think… shit! Why do I want to talk too much?! Can I?
This is what this interview is for – go for it!
GUOGUO: Whatever you can say about the sound form it’s really, really primitive and therefore really original. It’s really animalistic like when whales can make 80hrz of frequency and talk to other whales. But we are human beings still so we got reason, we have rationality. We got that but we are also still ‘animals’ so we are capable of being really dynamic. So knowing this we can then understand that in life you can go to a very rational place and to a very irrational place and come back and you have to realise that sometimes you can be an animal and sometimes you can be god. Sometimes you understand stuff and sometimes you don’t give a shit about anything because you understand this fact. That’s why from maybe the 17th century, the classical music pushed the rational form to the super extreme, to the farthest place… that’s why we are still playing music and still having this conversation because we are still humans… We as a band cherish the primitive, really wild instinct stuff. But no matter what, even if we are anti-form, we still somehow go back to the rational world. So for me that’s the whole process of music – I need that instinct, the passion, the pulse of the group and after that I can be rational again. So as a musician, sometimes I feel that I use really low basic language because it’s music but we still try to embed our higher ideas into the the basic form of music.
Aside from these sensibilities and of course musical inclinations, what are other factors that prove crucial for a musician to prosper?
GUOGUO: I think the patience to practise.
JON: And I would disagree. I definitely still practise, sure, but since I grew up learning a lot of instruments when I was young, learnt how to read scores and what’s in tune or not – for me I want to forget all that. But it’s still embedded within me. As for Guoguo, his parents never made him play any instruments and there’s definitely this point where we would’ve agreed with each other but we are way passed that. I would say people practise too much.
GUOGUO: There use to be a time where I wanted to be super accurate. I wanted everything to be on time. It was like discovering myself. When you play in a band you want to communicate with other people but you need practise to communicate with yourself. It’s not just about skills; you need to talk to yourself. But yeah the process of practising can be really boring but when you get to that point where you’re having that communication with yourself, now that’s very important. Everyday we understand ourselves a little bit more and alternatively we could also understand a little bit less. When Im playing that 16 notes I can see and realise that these group of notes represent me… and that’s why I still enjoy practising.
JON: So that exact thing that he is talking about of knowing himself through practising for me I do the same by… I don’t know… by listening to a loud truck go by? The only time I’ll practise is when I just can’t fucking play it. When I have it in my head and I can’t play it.
Talking about cannots, what’s the least enjoyable part of being a musician and why?
JON: Practise. [Laughs] The business side of things probably. Like promoting yourself and promoting your music. At the baseline is we need money; if we want to make a record, we need money. If we want to tour, we need money. So that kind of thing.
GUOGUO: I think the socialising, having to describe the music, for example, to promoters and they end up not understanding shit! Having to put into language what our music is. Having to explain myself.
Where do you guys usually play around Taipei?
GUOGUO: 95% of the time actually.
People continue to go to live shows to feel the music through the overall performance and presentation, but as the artists – the ones on stage – what do you take away from this exchange?
JON: First and foremost, I think being on stage is something for me – a catharsis for me. And after that it doesn’t matter much what’s going on. It’s good if everybody else is having a good time as well as it can boost and detract from it but very minutely. Yeah that’s my answer. The end.
GUOGUO: For me when you get on stage, you always have to prepare yourself 200% because when you get on stage, you can get nervous and maybe just end up only being able to give the audience less than 100%. On the stage you have to communicate to the audience, definitely, they are part of the whole thing. Now more than ever when I get on stage and plug in my bass in the amp, I tell myself that the only thing I need to do is to completely lose myself. When you totally lose yourself actually you feel nothing in a sense that you feel that everybody, the whole stage, the whole place, the whole venue is one – the whole venue is you. You don’t think about it at all when you are there and that’s why I practise a lot so I can express myself this way. When we get on stage the only purpose for me is to act as the medium so that the audience and the stage can combine into one. For me it’s really a spiritual experience.
At the end of the day, what can you say is your true driving force for all this? What makes you keep doing what you do creatively?
JON: I think what I’d call it is ‘creative entity’ because I guess I don’t know how else to define it really. But it’s like a blanket that covers the entire universe and we are just pulling strands from it. So I guess what’s driving me is that fact that I know that I can always pull strands from it when the timing is right.
GUOGUO: Actually I can’t find a reason. What I can just say is that I feel lucky. I’m a super rational person and I would always think about stuff a lot… but with music I’m just there and I’m always having a good time when I get into it and that’s it, that’s all. Sometime I hear voices in my head when I play guitar saying ‘Yeah. That’s all you need.’
Quick last question, I’m a little curious… if you didn’t decide on music, what would you have seen yourself doing instead?
JON: Bank robber maybe? Like Bonnie and Clyde. I’ll find my Bonnie.
ZUN LONG: A cat…
GUOGUO: I really don’t know. Maybe I’ll be a good real-estate salesman. I can show you houses!
JON: I think you’d be really good at that! Maybe even an investment banker – he would sell lots of shit!
PHOTOGRAPHY BY JULIA KAO