Forrest Eaglespeaker's The North Sound tells a story of change
The North Sound's Forrest Eaglespeaker sits down (on top of a building, in the rain) with CBC Saskatchewan
Forrest Eaglespeaker wears many hats — "I'm a singer-songwriter, a multi-instrumentalist, a youth worker, I'm a dad, a family man, I do some stuff," he remarked.
The 26-year-old Blackfoot Cree man is wearing a striking hat when he meets with our CBC Saskatchewan crew. It's black, flat wide brim is adorned with a vibrant floral scarf, held in place by a pin that bares the logo of The North Sound (now a solo act). Sprigs of silver sage are nestled in the band.
He found the piece at Saskatoon's Hats & That and bonded with the owner over a love of beaded, fringed jackets. The city has been Eaglespeaker's home for the past year or so. He said he bounced back-and-forth between Saskatoon and Calgary throughout his young life. Though neither really feels like home. He's not attached to the prairies any more than he is to the mountains, ocean or forest. He appreciates it all the same.
It's a little like the music he makes. It's changed. It will probably change again.
Eaglespeaker was 17 when he decided he wanted to make music. He'd already been writing songs for years. Since, his sound has morphed from heavy metal to roots rock. His fluid approach to The North Sound mirrors changes in his life. He's survived turbulent spars with drinking, drugs and grief. He's also learned to see through new eyes thanks to the birth of his daughter (and with fatherhood came an appreciation for brunch — not the hungover kind of brunch. The nice kind).
He played "Between The Ditches" for us on top of the Hotel Saskatchewan, right before an epic storm rolled through the province's capital — the tune references pouring rain, and after two takes, the sky did just that.
I was living very recklessly. I didn't have an appreciation for life, whatsoever.- Forrest Eaglespeaker
After, we went inside to talk about his life and music. And about how storytelling makes everything better, really.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Madeline Kotzer: How has your trajectory as an artist evolved over the last couple years?
Forrest Eaglespeaker: I was in another band, in Calgary, and after that band came to an end I decided that I wanted to have a project that I could keep going no matter what, you know? There's so many factors that come into it when you have a band with other people. And, so, I wanted to eliminate a lot of the factors of other individuals and just be able to ensure that no matter what — if people came, if people went — you know? ... If those circumstances were to occur I could move forward ... And so I started The North Sound as, just as a thing. It wasn't necessarily a band. It wasn't a solo project. It was just a thing where I was able to write songs and and share them.
I've gone through multiple setups with The North Sound. It originated as a solo project and then it was a six piece band for a while. At that time it was kind of a blend of like Arkells-influenced Canadian rock, with like more of an edge, a heavier edge. Kind of also inspired by bands like Under Oath. I really liked heavy stuff. And over time I've moved more into, like, old country records from the 60s and 70s.
MK: That's quite a change. We were joking that you were going to sit in the old man chair, you know, you appreciate sober brunches where you're not hungover. And, it's a bit of a softening in your sound. Influenced by Under Oath to traditional Americana or country roots. What do you attribute it to; what in your life is causing that shift?
FE: I started to grow a greater appreciation for the art of storytelling. I started getting really into people like like Bob Dylan. I started getting really into The Band. Gram Parsons and Flying Burrito Brothers, you know, and it all sort of stemmed from initially falling in love with the songs of Ryan Adams. That's kind of where it all started for me.
I went through a lot of changes. I went through some loss. I lost my grandmother and I lost my my dad in the same year ... and that was very difficult.
So, at that time I really just started gravitating to, not necessarily sad songs, but really deep songs that have with a lot of imagery that sort of painted, you know, hard times ... that the vulnerable side of life. That really started impacting the way I was writing. I got really into Alabama Shakes. Their song "Hold On" was kind of the one that got me through a lot of those hard times. That was one of the songs that I really related to. At the time, I wasn't exactly living a great lifestyle. I had a drinking problem, quite a bit of a drug problem, and I was living very recklessly. I didn't have an appreciation for life, whatsoever. I didn't think that I would make it to each age after 18. Every year was a gamble in my mind, you know.
It's my belief that all young people have value. And their stories — we can learn a lot from their stories.- Forrest Eaglespeaker
And then I had my daughter. And then I got sober. And so those were two humongous things that really affected the way I write and really affected the way that I see the world because it no longer was about me. My selfishness started to slip away from me ... that really changed the way that I wrote as well because now I started writing things that I wanted other people to hear. How I wanted to communicate things to other individuals rather than telling my sad story over and over again.
MK: What do you think makes a really good song that tells a story?
FE: Well, the first thing is when I hear a song and I think 'I wish I would've wrote that.' Right? That's the given because, I tend to think I'm a pretty good songwriter. You know, especially in this industry you have to have that little bit of confidence about yourself and you need to be able to acknowledge your strengths. And so I think I'm a pretty good songwriter and so when I hear someone else write something that I wish I wrote that's a big thing for me. And then the other characteristic would be, when someone writes something — writes a line or even a guitar riff, or something — that is familiar. But, it's delivered in a completely different, original way. It doesn't necessarily need to be an original idea or something that's never been said, or heard, before but you can tell it's so incredibly personal to that writer.
MK: Did you start writing music when you were young?
FE: I started writing songs, and like little raps and poetry and stuff when I was about twelve. But my songs never really materialized until I started playing the guitar when I was 17. So that's when I really started writing songs. Before they were just, you know, they were ideas in my head.
I was [a teen] that wasn't necessarily in a very musical friend group or musical community at all ... I didn't play guitar at the time, I played drums, but it was hard. I hadn't figured out how to play drums and write songs. you know. So it wasn't really until I started playing the guitar when my songs started to materialize.
MK: How did that affect your life?
FE: It was encompassing. It took over everything. All I wanted to do was sit and write songs.
MK: When you work with young people for songwriting workshops, and things like that, do you see yourself in them?
FE: I see the same fire. I see the same passion. But I definitely really try and look through to see who the actual individual is, because we're all individual people. It's my experience that writing songs and creating is a great way to share your story. And it's my belief that all young people have value. And their stories — we can learn a lot from their stories. We really can. Youth don't get enough credit for what they know. Youth don't get enough credit for their experiences. There's always someone telling them that 'you're young, what do you know!' You know? Or, like, 'you haven't even really experienced pain' and I don't buy that. I don't believe that for one second. And so I use songwriting as a tool to encourage youth to share their stories.
MK: What are you listening to right now. What is your most-played song, right now?
FE: Probably a song called "Naturally" by Allen Stone ... he's really, really, really good. He's like a soul singer. He's like, red-haired, blue-eyed Stevie Wonder.
MK: Who are you looking forward to seeing this weekend at the Regina Folk Festival?
FE: Celeigh Cardinal, Jason Isbell, The Death South, Amanda Shires, Colter Wall, A Tribe Called Red, Ila Barker...
FE: Everybody. It's a great line-up.
Forrest Eaglespeaker joins mitakuye-oyasin: All Our Relations workshop at Regina Folk Festival, co-presented by CBC, Canada Council, and Multicultural Council of Saskatchewan (MCOS) with Quantum Tangle, Celeigh Cardinal and Ila Barker on Saturday, Aug. 10 at Sunlit Stage 2 from 2:45 p.m. to 3:50 p.m.
Eaglespeaker works with Canadian Roots Exchange, an organization that works with young people and focuses on reconciliation. He was recently awarded a bursary from SIGA and has used it to make some more music. His new single "Shed A Little Light" will be out later this year.