Bay Area bandleader is taking off with a dance-friendly blend of indie-rap, rock, jazz and reggae
At home in the Bay Area, Forrest Day appears to be the Next Big Thing. His band and its unique, crowd-friendly sound sells out some of the biggest venues in San Francisco (The Independent, Slim’s) and most of the area’s major papers—The Chronicle, Bay Guardian and SF Weekly—have published glowing reviews.
But when Day steps outside of his realm of success to play shows at more modest venues on tours along the West Coast (much as he will at Chico’s Café Coda on Saturday, Feb. 18), his band is just another up-and-comer trying to build a following, a dozen or so audience members at a time.
“It is a dose of reality and it happens all the time,” Day said during a recent phone interview. “It’s fun to go play the place where people know us and they’re screaming the lyrics out and dancing, and the next day we’ll be in some town where nobody knows us. Obviously, the majority of the world doesn’t know who we are.”
Appropriately enough for someone deserving an introduction, Forrest Day’s self-titled debut album (released through Ninth Street Opus late last year) is mostly about himself, touching on deeply personal themes of paranoia, confusion and self-medication.
“I’m really a self-absorbed person,” Day said. “I write about what I feel and think, so if it sounds autobiographical, it is.”
Through a mix of impressively dexterous rapping and traditional-ish soul singing, we are given an inside look at an intriguing persona. Day’s music is at once engaging and disquieting—even as you’re compelled to bob your head or tap your feet, you are aware of distinctly dark undertones.
A good example is the album’s lead single, “Sleepwalk,” an infectiously catchy (yet haunting) track that alternates between surreal, airily sung verses and more punctual, jarring choruses set to a hip-hop loop. The song relates what it’s like to suddenly wake from a dream in an unfamiliar place, a circumstance Day regularly experiences during his reoccurring sleepwalking episodes.
“I’ll wake up injured or on random floors,” he said. “I’ve elbowed a hole in a wall, I’ve woken up with a cracked rib, I’ve slammed my head through a window. Yeah, all kinds of crazy shit.”
Day’s first musical forays began in elementary school, where he played jazz saxophone, but he didn’t write his own music until he was a teenager experimenting on the piano.
“I took jazz reasonably far,” he said. “Piano made it easier to write songs, because when you get into it as a jazz soloist you really have to understand chords, and those are the skills you really hone as a sax player. When I turned that into playing chords on the piano, it made my whole chord IQ much higher.”
It was around that same time he started singing and found he had a naturally soulful voice, but was unable to break from that mold until he started drawing influence from early Jay-Z records and independent rappers like Atmosphere’s Slug.
“It’s not even what I wanted to sound like, it’s just how I sounded,” he said of his singing voice. “Then I got more and more into hip-hop, and there were periods where I wanted to be a rapper. The rhythm and freedom in a good vocal flow in hip-hop is just unbeatable, so I had to incorporate it into my singing.”
Day, now 31, has stayed true to his many influences and created something original and exciting, a project that seems poised for bigger success. Although he welcomes such a possibility, he doesn’t plan to tackle a national tour anytime soon.
“I really just want to focus on California and build up our fan base here, and we’ll spread out naturally,” he said. “I’ve decided to not take on the whole country—it’s too tiring and it doesn’t make much sense anymore.”