Mother lowdown

Forever Goldrush angles for the big time

Forever Goldrush, left to right: Nate Gonzalez, Josh Lacey, Damon Wyckoff, Mason Demusey.

Forever Goldrush, left to right: Nate Gonzalez, Josh Lacey, Damon Wyckoff, Mason Demusey.

When someone in a family, or a close-knit circle of friends, dies suddenly, the dynamic that develops between the survivors can’t be predicted. Some pull together, others retreat, still others visit grief and anger on people around them. It’s something the four members of up-and-coming roots-rock quartet Forever Goldrush—singer-songwriter-guitarist Damon Wyckoff, guitarist Josh Lacey, bassist Mason DeMusey and drummer Nate Gonzalez—know firsthand.

“We played together in high school; we were all in a band together with Mason’s older brother Bill, who passed away—when we were all 19—in a car wreck,” says Wyckoff, now 25. “And then we just kinda said ‘Screw the music thing.’ We all split up. It kinda shattered our relationships for a while. It was like we were not really connected anymore, because he was the link.”

The remaining four, who all grew up together in and around Jackson or Pine Grove and Volcano, a pair of nearby historic Amador County hamlets, soon scattered. Wyckoff moved to Sacramento to go to college; Lacey and Gonzalez moved to San Francisco, and DeMusey threw on a backpack and took off to travel around America.

Then, serendipity. “We all ended up in one place at one time,” Wyckoff recalls, “and Josh and I started working on some stuff together. And then Mason showed up out of nowhere and wanted to play with us.”

That was three years ago. Wyckoff was pulling lattés at Capitol Garage, and he and Lacey would sometimes play the Tuesday-night open mike at the café. You could tell they had something; even with the limited palette offered by an open-mike stage, Wyckoff’s voice already was sporting a decent coat of railroad-tie creosote, and his and Lacey’s guitar parts evoked the backwoods California Mother Lode roots without sounding overtly country.

Still, their performances seemed tentative. “See, Sacramento was like the big leviathan,” Wyckoff confesses. “It was like, ‘Oh, my God—go to Sacramento and play music?’ “

The reticence didn’t last. By mid-1998, when Forever Goldrush started playing around town, it was like the band had burst, fully formed, from the fevered, drunken imagination of an old prospector fortified by weed, whiskey and Lynyrd Skynyrd eight-tracks, resolutely convinced there’s still plenty a gold in them thar hills. The since-departed Whit Burton on banjo and mandolin added a nice “Dire Wolf” vibe, and Wyckoff’s sandpaper voice—think Eddie Vedder with Johnny Cash’s soulfulness—sounded terrific backed by a full complement of musicians.

The band recorded its nine-song debut, Unknown Territory, the following winter, which it released on its own label. That CD, and subsequent gigging around, got noticed outside of Sacramento—by the type of folks who read No Depression, by roots-rock bands such as Whiskeytown and Slobberbone, and by Cargo Records, a San Diego-based indie label.

Halo in My Backpack, which Headhunter/Cargo just issued, is the result. From the opening “Vicious Ways,” with its Creedence-like backing vocals, to the appropriately named closing dirge “Bitter End,” the album is a clear step forward from an already excellent start.

According to Wyckoff, the Halo sessions, recorded at a studio near San Diego, were more high-pressure than the leisurely ones the band took to make its debut—which accounts for the album’s palpable tension. “There’s a feeling of this whole people-breathing-down-our-neck vibe,” Wyckoff explains. Factor in an engineer, Josquin des Pres, who played in the notorious French prog-rock band Magma, a label owner compulsively checking his investment and a passel of desert-fried country-rock types stopping by regularly, and you have a recipe for chaos.

Still, because Forever Goldrush already knows a thing or two about adversity, said chaos is a piece of cake.