Preserving The Art: An Interview With Peter Sumić Of Forest Ray

Forest Ray have submerged themselves into experimenting with guitar-driven psych-rock with elements of raw synth-laced post-punk, Americana, garage, and organ-laden pop.  This labor of love has instilled a new variation to the classic garage rock ensemble, which in turn provides a lively spirit.  Their first two full-length LPs, Musical Witchcraft and Laughing, were released to vinyl over 2016-18. They have recently toured the US and played SXSW 2019 in support of their 7″ split record with Lasso Spells, released Spring 2019 on Nashville’s Cold Lunch Recordings label. In the fall of 2019, Forest Ray released the LP Faded Reflection along with a collection of basement recorded analog tracks titled the Wedgwood Tapes.

Forest Ray’s fourth full-length vinyl LP, Black Pine, was recorded at The Croatian American church in Anacortes, Washington, in a fully analog recording process tracked live to tape.  The album underlines the recent events that transpired over the course of lead songwriter Peter Sumić’s return from Croatia.  While he was there, Sumić visited family for a wedding but was given the difficult task of laying his grandfather to rest.  Black Pine pays homage to his deceased family member and Sumić’s roots in the Balkan peninsula and fate, forcing him to live far from home. The songs all have a nostalgic quality. Some lyrics can be distilled to some retrospection and nostalgia, which coupled with the aged sound and analog production, adds a layer of mystique and longing to the tracks and themes.

Black Pine, which was released in November, is available on premium 180g vinyl via the group’s self-run, Forest Ray Records label. The album was mixed by Erik Takuichi Wallace at Jackpot Studios in Portland, Oregon and mastered by Paul Gold at Salt Mastering in Brooklyn, NY.

How did the band come together?

The band was started as a recording project in 2015 with myself and good friend/fellow recording engineer Robby Porovich. After graduating from school in San Luis Obispo, we moved up to Seattle to play music together. Since then, the various members of the band that have come and gone are in double digits over the last five years. Some still involved in many ways, some have had to leave due to unfortunate circumstances like substance use/life changes, but I try to keep the same approach and find replacements as quickly as possible and have been pretty successful in doing so. Our group now consists of musicians that I’m both proud of having in the band and love playing with.

What I appreciate is the attention to analog.  How important was it for the group to continue recording music on tape instead of digitally?

For me personally, the analog recording thing came by way of finding a recording process that felt satisfying and rewarding for me personally. I’m typically more satisfied with the tones and “charm” or human element the analog tracking is able to capture. Part of it is also a fascination with the technology and my love of history. Being part of a generation that is so removed from all things analog, the mystique of the old machines is something that I’ve just fallen in love with.  Preserving this art form and way of recording it in my creation and songwriting is something that has made sense to me and felt natural.

Throughout the pandemic, has the band focused on writing more than you normally would?

You know, it’s been pretty consistent for most of my adult life – I’m kind of a write everyday believer. Obviously, some really click and really excite me more than others, but I find comfort in the process and the craft. I try to be selective about what songs make it through, but all in all writing songs and playing guitar is probably the only routine I find I can diligently maintain in my life, haha. Overall, the pandemic has certainly challenged us by eliminating shows, a big source of income for the group to maintain our ongoing projects. It has also been an obstacle for our home sessions and rehearsals that help the band connect on new material or get it realized – I have more songs written that I’d like to record here in our studio, but the space is small and gathering the whole crew can be risky. And at this time, we have material ready to hit record but we are really carefully considering our families and each other’s safety. We have many friends with autoimmune disorders, elderly parents, and most of us are “smokers” so it does pose a real risk to us and those we love.

What were some of the takeaways from recording the new album that you didn’t have in previous efforts?

This album’s lyrical content came from a more personal place and was a bit different than past albums. We also had some additions to the band that really added unique marks. Our flutist and keyboardist left some really big impressions on songs like shadows and had a great ear for writing our glockenspiel melodies that counterpoint guitars and vocals. I also play in a jazz duet with my good friend, Ashlyn Nagel, who sang harmonies on the record and really did a phenomenal job.

Is the songwriting primarily collaborative?

Usually, the songs begin with chords and melody, often both vocals and guitar, maybe an idea for groove/bass pattern and then I’ll present it to the band and let everyone offer their twist. From there, the songs usually take a life of their own.

What is coming up with the band?

Right now, our hope is to continue to record when we’re able to meet again and hopefully tour this record as soon as things can kick off around 2021/2022. We had three live streams during the pandemic and had a planned festival for 2020 to celebrate our label’s 10th vinyl release that had currently been left in limbo. Once a vaccine is safely distributed, we definitely plan to get that up and running again and reuniting with our music scene here in Seattle! I might have some exclusive home recordings go up on Bandcamp as well for the next couple of Bandcamp Fridays while we’re at home. Stay tuned!