Interview with Matt Walsh of The Forms

Hey, Matt. Have you been enjoying the nice cold weather we have here in New York?

It’s the worst. I had knee surgery in Mexico like two weeks ago.

Oh, that’s crazy.

I can’t really walk too well. I’m constantly almost falling down.

Do you have a cane to help you walk?

[Laughs] I do, actually. There are these therapeutic canes. They’re so ugly and have plastic handles. My uncle gave me a shillelagh, which is like an Irish cane. It’s really not that sturdy.

You could always pick yourself up a nice walker. Or try walking around with a shopping cart all day. That would be cool.

[Laughs].

You would of course need to fill up the shopping cart. You don’t want to look too suspicious.

It might be hard to carry the shopping cart over the snow mounds that you occasionally have to climb over.

[Laughs] True. So you’ve been up to a lot of work lately. How long have The Forms been together, a couple years?

15 years.

Wow. 15 years is a little bit more than just a couple years.

We’ve been playing under the name The Forms for maybe 10 or 11 years. But, Alex and I have been playing in various bands for around 15 — no, maybe even more than that. It’s more like 17 years.

Awesome. So The Forms is around 10 years old now.

Yeah. Our first record was called ‘Icarus.’ We didn’t have a name for the band. We just called the project Icarus and then that was the band name. We even played some shows with made-up band names in the late 90s. ‘Icarus’ is from the late 90s and we didn’t find a way to get it distributed for real until 2003. We didn’t get our ducks in a row until then, which is far too long, but that’s what happened.

Interesting. After all these years, do you feel like you’re finally getting more exposure?

I don’t know. Everything in New York turns over every two or three years. Everyone has completely forgotten everything unless you’re like Animal Collective. When our first album came out, it was a big deal. One Pitchfork writer gave it his top album of 2003. We just take so long to do everything. By the time we’re ready to do something else, it’s like 4 years later. We were also always doing other things. I was always making other people’s records and playing in other bands. For instance, I just made [Dirty Projectors bassist] Nat Baldwin’s new record at my studio with him. That took a little while. I think people are starting to write about The Forms again because we have something to write about. If you don’t have a new record, nobody is going to write about you. And The Forms isn’t the poppiest music in the world.

That makes sense. You guys have some new shows coming up. Before we get into that, how did your short December run go?

It didn’t end up really happening that well. It was right around that gigantic snowstorm [in NYC]. One of the shows got canceled. The best show was actually in New Paltz. There were a bunch of crazy ass hippie people getting wasted and there were some weird bands you would never see in NYC. It was like a freak scene. I’m kind of down on New York City. It’s too self-conscious. When you’re at a show, it seems like everyone is paying attention more to the crowd and themselves. They’ll look around and see if they look cool enough. Also, I feel like two years ago there were a lot more bands on the scene that I liked. It just feels like there’s less exciting — I don’t know — it’s neither here nor there.

You’re starting to play a lot more guitar now, right?

Yeah, I haven’t played guitar in a band in a really long time. I played drums in this band for the first decade. I mean, I always played a little guitar on the record. We’re back on our native instruments. Alex is really a keyboard player who kinda sorta could play guitar. He played guitar in the band for a long time. I started out on guitar, in general. I only played guitar in The Forms in the very very beginning. I played drums because we couldn’t find a drummer. The drums and bass were always more important in The Forms than lead guitar.

Being a duo now, is it easier to bounce ideas off of each other?

Especially for us, we’ve been friends for so long. Alex lived next door, and we’ve been playing music together for 17 years or even longer. After all that time it becomes difficult to involve other people. We have successfully had a lot of friends play with us, but now it’s just down to raw materials. The Forms was always so rhythm-oriented. It’s cool because now I’ve got this drum machine that I really like. I can express myself better than I was able to on drums. I can work on the music by myself. When Alex comes he’ll do his thing, but I can do the drum beats and set up sequences and play guitar. It’s just so much quicker. It’s a different sort of thing. It’s more about content than form. It’s more about the actual music than some crazy rock performance. We just play really well together.

You guys recently played a show with The Dismemberment Plan. How was it?

It was cool. There were a lot of people there. The sound was great. Honestly, my leg is still bothering me a bit so we didn’t do some of the stuff that we normally do. I’ll play steel drum, which we didn’t do because when I put it around my neck my leg was bothering me. Not doing it made me realize how much I like doing it. The show was pretty good as a whole. It went pretty well.

Sweet. You’ll be playing with them again on February 20.

Yeah, in Chicago, which is always cool. Chicago’s awesome. It’s always a good show in Chicago. I don’t know why.

In a recent press release, Alex said “I think ‘Derealization’ includes some of the best ideas that we’ve had over the years.” Pretty big statement.

Yeah, I thought so, I thought that was a big statement myself [laughs]. I guess I hear what he’s saying. The way I think of it, we’ve been a rock band for a long time. This EP is sort of an epitaph on that band. It was a way of destroying that band and renewing it at the same time. We were like, “Let’s just fuck everything that we know and experiment and see what happens.” We were just trying to figure out where we were going to go. We had a lot of ideas, but we hadn’t had a lot of practice in executing those ideas. This is a hard thing for a band to do. Bands get used to executing ideas the way they know how. We tried to do things we’ve never attempted before. I think that’s what Alex means. Some of the ideas are heavier, [denser]. Also, some of the stuff is musically different.

How did this melding of old material and new ideas come about?

If I had known how long it was going to take and how difficult it was going to be, we probably wouldn’t have done it. We were listening to the last record on vinyl and just fooling around with the speed. That’s how we started. We were like, “Alright, let’s sample pieces of the record and slow it down and speed it up.” At the same time, we were sort of doing rehearsals for our tour in 2008 or 2009. It all just started to evolve. We started recording in the beginning of 2009 and it took us almost a year. Since this last record, we also built this awesome studio. We don’t have a lot of plug-ins and stuff. For us, it’s more about outboard gear. So we spent time doing that and regrouping. We just stuck with what worked. For our next record, we’ll have a more definitive plan. The idea for this EP just came in piece by piece. It wasn’t as conscious in the beginning as it eventually became.

Cool. Is the idea for your next full-length based off of this EP?

No, it’s actually quite different. While we were working on this EP, I was working on new material. By the time we finished, I had like 15 very fleshed out ideas. We’ve been playing half of that material in our live set and half material that’s on the EP. Obviously we don’t have strings and stuff, so we have to rearrange for the live set. We have a good amount of new material, which we never had before. Always when we finished something, we had absolutely fucking nothing else [laughs]. That was it, that was every song that we had was on that last record. We have probably 18 or 20 demos now and 12 or 13 that are looking like they pan out for the record.

Nice.

I’m really really excited. I’m more excited than I’ve been about finishing a project in a very long time.

Ah, the force is strong within you.

We’ll see if it’s strong after this. It’s fun to do sketches, but it’s hard to turn those sketches into a record. And we’re kind of writing as we’re rehearsing. Coming up with ways to play these and simultaneously working out the songs is fun.

To me, this EP is science and the new

Warped Tour 2013

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is religion. What I mean by that is that the science is like figuring out how to express yourself. We would like to express certain things. If you don’t have the technical chops, you can’t do it. You may be the best songwriter in the world, but if you don’t know how to play guitar or piano, it’s going to be hard for you to write songs. I think with this project we wanted to learn how to aestheticize properly in the studio. On our old records we were a trio — guitar, bass, and drums. Those were cool, but I don’t think we could have gone much further with that. I think it becomes really fucking boring for the listener. If we made another rock record like that I’d be fucking bored as shit. I think our last record combined with our previous record — I don’t think we could have done much more as a rock band. I don’t see what more we could have done.

Strong words.

Yeah, sorry for getting on my soapbox. Flame off.

Tell us about the cool guest spots on the EP.

We were just friends with all of them. The only person we weren’t really friends with was [Shudder To Think vocalist] Craig Wedren. We kind of just cold called him. We love Shudder To Think. I’ve met Craig a lot of times. Alex knew Aaron [Dessner, bassist/guitarist/keyboardist] and Bryce [Dessner, guitarist/keyboardist] from The National. We played with them in 1996 or so. They weren’t called The National then. And then Alex ended up knowing [The National vocalist] Matt [Berninger] from this job he had. We played with them in 2000 or 2001 to like 20 or 30 people. I was really more friends with Dave [Longstreth] from Dirty Projectors and I guess that’s how I met Nat. Daniel [Hart] from St. Vincent, we’ve played with his other band a lot, The Physics of Meaning. We’re just friends. We’ve known Pattern Is Movement for years and years — a long ass time.

Did they all come to your studio to track their parts?

It was all different. I didn’t even see Craig. Craig actually wrote some of that song with us. We were having trouble with it and we were like, “If anything pops in your head, give it a shot.” We got this tape back from him and it was all different and shit. We were like, “This is awesome, but it totally wrecks all of our ideas. How are we going to put this together?” In the end, it worked really cool.

We told Andrew [Thiboldeaux from Pattern Is Movement] to do whatever he wanted. Half of it, we were like, “Whoa, this is sick.” Half of it was so weird and we weren’t totally into it. We did the verses a month later in Philadelphia because we weren’t happy, but we left the choruses.

With Nat, I had him in here for a day or two taking on the parts one by one. Right before he played them, we’d do a little rehearsal.

This girl on the EP, Dylan Edrich, I met in Austin. She did sound for The Forms for this thing in Austin. She was really cool. When we came back to New York, I asked her to play. She was awesome, she was great. She’s not one of the more well-known people on the EP, but she did such a great job. She played viola and violin.

There’s a lot going on here for such a small EP.

That’s another reason it took so long. You have to coordinate schedules and people live in all different cities. No more of that. We’re limiting it to New York [laughs].

The artwork for the EP is pretty cool.

It’s a tree on a cliff actually. You can kinda see it. Derealization is an illness where you think the world is not real, you start to feel like everything around you is not real. That’s kind of the way we’ve been feeling. It’s been really weird for us — it was fitting. The artwork is an oil painting that I did. I actually don’t like the painting. I stuck it into Photoshop and started to really get into manipulating it. The painting itself is really simple. I’m not usually happy with artwork, but I’m pretty happy with this. I actually like the back cover better. It’s a little weirder. Alex didn’t want to use it at all.

Do you draw and paint a lot?

I used to. The problem with being in a band is that you can’t really do much else. It’s so time consuming. My wife’s an artist. I actually think I painted the cover at her old place. Sometimes when she’s painting I’ll hang out with her and do stuff. Otherwise I don’t think I would really do it anymore.

You guys have a few tour dates coming up, right?

Yeah, it’s like five and a half weeks or something. We weren’t even going to do that much, but there were offers. It might be fun, we’ll see. We’ve never toured as a duo. This is sort of new for us. I don’t even know how it’s going to go. In six months there will probably be some really funny shit to talk about.

Thanks for chatting with us, Matt. Good luck on tour.

Thanks.

Pick up The Forms’ new EP, Derealization.

For upcoming tour dates, check out their Myspace page.