Writing a song is a bit like sending a message in a bottle out to sea, hoping it will defy the odds and find a gracious recipient on the other side. One Portland band, The Forever Agos, are about to send out a fleet of such messages through the release of their debut album, Foolin Around. Despite the album's name, this is a group with serious intentions to create something worth listening to. Something timeless.
“When we first got started, I was really into the concept of songs as time capsules,” says Wes Phillips, lead vocalist and guitarist. “Tobin Tanner [drums], Derrin Twiford [keys] and I all grew up in Alaska and knew each other through different bands in Portland. We were hanging out one day and Tobin invited us over to a recording studio where he was interning. We ended up jamming out a bit and wrote a song on the spot, ‘Foolin Around,’ which ultimately became the title track for our album.”
“Then we all moved in together. And then everyone's girlfriends joined,” Twiford adds.
Vocalist Lara Lee Ingram is a bit more lyrical in describing the band’s dichotomy. “We’re a group of friends and lovers chronicling tales of whiskey and woe,” she says. “And we have a badass lady choir,” she adds, speaking on behalf of these girlfriend vocalists who round out the striking harmonies, including herself, Stacey Malstrom and Stefanie Bae. The full band lineup was finalized with the addition of bassist Casey McLafferty.
The chosen name for this group of singers and players is not just a clever title. Nostalgia is a big player in the music they like to make. And as a seven-person collaboration, there’s no shortage of individual musical influences to bring to the table. Their sources of inspiration range from the Motown sound of The Supremes, to the full breadth of The Beatles’ catalogue, and on up through to more contemporary alternative-folk heroes like Elliott Smith.
Combining their depth of inspiration with the band's talent, Foolin Around showcases a spectrum ranging from jazzy folk rock on one side to tender piano ballads on the other. While they traverse both sides with ease, they overall seem to find a cozy spot nestled somewhere in the middle. The Head and the Heart and The Lumineers come to mind as mainstream comparisons, but the rich, at times gospel-like, harmonies help The Forever Agos stand out as something special and unique. For Phillips, making good music comes from being true to real experiences and emotions.
“You take all these memories of events, feelings, times, people, and you write them into a song. It's a way to carry them with you. You reopen them a little bit when you play them, and sometimes even put something new in them,” Phillips explains, making it immediately apparent why his bandmates fondly refer to him as the "band dad" of this chosen family.
And Twiford, despite being the band’s self-declared annoying little brother, has a rather nice way of describing their musical message to audiences. “It’s friend folk. Friendly folk for the fun times, and buddy ballads for the bad times,” he says.
In times like these, what could be a better message to receive than that?