Youthful Energy | An Interview with Forty Feet Tall

One of the most vital things that we often erase from our minds is the blindness of being worried about being young. Amplify this notion with a group of your friends, and you find a recklessness and scrappiness that builds a shield around you. Formed in 2011 in Los Angeles, the ensemble of Forty Feet Tall constructed their vision of the band based on a communal rabidness for alternative rock, grunge, and classic rock. The band subsequently took this compilation and molded it to a frenetic and angular blend.

These days Forty Feet Tall calls Portland home, a bold move that escorted the band to flourish their sound to compelling alt-rock pop. The self-produced effort A Good Distraction (released this past March via Magnetic Moon Records) advances bursting enthusiasm in the tracks with meticulous guitar riffs and sophisticated vocals. The timespan of the collective features its strength from start to finish. The album opener “Rain Machine” pushes on the gas with an abundance of vitality, “Cavalcade” slinks into a thunderous duet of guitars and drums, “Julian” gently tips their cap to bands like The Strokes or Arctic Monkeys sonically.

What can you recall was one of the early memories of the band?

Growing up in LA, we got to play some of the most classic venues, Troubadour, Whisky, Roxy, and it was a wild feeling reading off all the bands that had stepped onto those stages. Standing and playing where Hendrix had ripped a solo or spit out some gum was nuts.

Looking back, how much do you cringe when you listen to those early tracks?

A very healthy amount. For sure, we had a sound, but it was very much the blues-rock of the Black Keys and Jack Whites. We’ll always have a tender spot for that stuff, but the PBR drinking dad-rock that we got lumped in with a lot got really stale. We’re very excited about all the new directions we’ve been going – much more punk, art-rock, and psych influences. But we love dads and we love PBR.

In the early days, did you find yourself immersed in the DIY scene in LA?

To be honest, we always struggled with that in LA. We had an incredible group of musicians and bands that we all loved and respected the hell out of, Soren Bryce (now Tummyache), Alyeska (Alaska Reid), to name a few, but I don’t know that we ever felt like we were part of a “scene.” It was high school and tough to find spots that let you hang out if you were underage after your gig.

How much did Portland change the landscape of the band sonically?

It changed it a lot, I think. We became much more exposed and involved in a more DIY, garage-y feel. Portland loves knowing the indie artist that you’ve never heard of, sometimes to a fault, but that really helped us coming from LA, where so much of it is the shine and connections and networking. It definitely exists in LA, but the “scene” feel and sense of community are much more tangible in Portland.

I saw that you had a set recently for the 107th birthday at Crystal Ballroom. How much did you miss performing live?

We did! Well, first off, it was amazing to play at the Crystal even though it was completely empty. Goddamn, it felt good to get on a stage and perform. It can be difficult to play without an audience, I think a lot of bands can attest to that in this live-stream wasteland we now live in, but we feel like we can always get the energy we need from each other. We’re good at hyping each other up.

I’m curious to learn more about the meaning behind the name of the band.

The name was inspired by a Dead Weather song, “60 Feet Tall.” We don’t really listen to them anymore, but they were a huge influence and still kick ass. We originally wanted to use fifty but it was taken, so we dropped ten feet; gotta have the alliteration. The name just felt big and powerful, this sort of surreal idea of confidence. Alison Mosshart, the lead singer, is just wailing away about how she can take any type of shit because she is, just that, sixty feet tall.

Having been together for some time, how do you feel the writing process has changed?

Well, we’ve gone through a few iterations, so in a lot of ways, this feels like a new band with a completely new attitude and sound. Only Jack (guitar) and Cole (guitar, vocals) are original members, so we’ve been treating this as a rebirth in a lot of ways. Ian (drums) and Brett (bass) have really brought that new energy. One of us will bring in some idea, or we’ll just start jamming something out and more often than not, we get a new song out of it. Starting is easy, but putting the finishing touches on a song is definitely the tougher part for us.

Did you find the writing for the new album being accessible or more challenging during the pandemic?

To be honest, we’ve been sitting on these songs for a while now. Despite some re-shuffling and timing hiccups, it’s finally come to a head, and we couldn’t be more psyched to release this album. Throughout the pandemic, though, we’ve been lucky enough to rehearse together, and we’ve actually been busting out tunes! We’re sitting on a completely new album, so we’re chomping at the bit to get back in the studio.

What were the driving influences while the band was putting together the new album?

All of these songs were written before the pandemic, but many of them still have a strong political influence and hopefully speak to all the bullshit that we’re going through now. There are definitely love songs in here, but the overall theme for this album, or what it came to be, was some sort of semblance of a welcomed distraction in the midst of chaos. In the end, though, no matter how tempting it is to turn a blind eye, we have to confront these ills – the racism, sexism, xenophobia, classism, and outright fascism we see in this country and throughout the world.

After releasing a few albums, how much pressure was there to drop the new album internally?

As said before, we’ve been sitting on these songs for a long time, so yeah, wanting to get ‘em out into the world is an understatement. We’re so proud of these songs, but at the same time so psyched to keep moving forward and experiment with new sounds.

What is the future looking like for the group?

With the state of the world, who really knows, but we’re hoping to be touring this album when it’s safe and feasible and cannot wait to play live again. Since signing with Magnetic Moon, we’ve been able to really dig in with music videos which have been amazing. Working with Haydn Cieri for our third video with him was, as always, a dream. On top of that, we had the privilege of working with Billy Fortier of Maydup Creative for our upcoming video that’s dropping with the album! We definitely want to keep making videos to connect with people remotely. It’s hard to really look too far into the future with all this general uncertainty, the state of things is truly shite, so we’re just taking it in stride and trying to write as much as we can, play and rehearse as much as we can, look out for each other and the community around us and stay safe.

Photo Courtesy: Billy Fortier