theaussieword.com catches up with Jon O’Neill (frontman of Forest Falls)
Give us an introduction. How did it all begin? What had you first interested in music?
I wasn’t always a Melbourne-ite. I grew up in the Perth hills, comparable to the Dandenong ranges in Victoria. There wasn’t much to do besides head down to Middy-G (Midland Gate shopping centre) and catch a movie at the cinemas. When I wasn’t hanging with my friends I was walking through John Forrest National Park getting lost in my head and my music. Mum had a great record collection; I was listening to bands like The Cowsills, Crosby, Stills and Nash, The Mamas and the Papas, and the Travelling Wilburys. Everything in that lists instilled in me a passion for big, bold vocal harmonies.
I went through some tough times at the end of 2009. Back then I was working in the health industry. I wanted to help people, but four patients in a day just wasn’t enough for me. With the right lyrics and chord combinations, music has an incredible healing effect. When I’m writing I try to put a little something in the song that strikes a chord with me, and engage that every time I’m playing.
I soon decided that I wanted to take my musical career seriously so I packed up and headed across the Nullarbor to Melbourne where I met Jamie. Jamie is seriously a great drummer and I really loved (and still love) the way he plays drums. When he plays, there is so much more than the beat, he has great vibe and feel. Once Jamie and I brainstormed about other people that could join our crusade, we found Jeremy. If you haven’t already noticed, Jeremy is a phenomenal bass player (you will see what I mean when you listen to Hounds – super sexy bass lines, let me tell you!). Watching both Jamie and Jeremy play together is just an incredible sight to see.
When Jeremy said to me that he knew a guitarist, I instantly said, “Well, you guys are amazing and if you recommend Gabe, let’s get him!” Gabe put my guitar playing to shame. Early on, Gabe got a chance to study abroad and we needed to find a replacement in Shaun. Shaun is an amazing songwriter and the way he plays guitar it’s like it’s been his best friend for his whole life. When Gabe came back, we also recruited Lucy (violin, vocals), who has the gift of being articulate (unlike me). Lucy is absolutely amazing at helping me get my ideas out of my head and making them translate in the live setting. When I look back and think how did all these incredible people find their way into my life – I am just so grateful.
What motivates or influences you in your quest to make great music?
I think that as much as people don’t like to always admit it, everyone wants to be able to express emotion openly. Whether it’s anger, lust, sadness, elation, or somewhere in the middle – it’s human to feel. I think this is why we are drawn to, and why we always incorporate, our multi-part harmonies. Different voices whipping out big harmonies together creates an emotion that is greater than the sum of its parts!
What are your biggest goals you hope to accomplish as an artist?
Obviously every artist wants to be heard and a goal of ours is to be heard all over our home country but also see our music break into the international market. There’s also the physical aspect of touring and playing live shows and meeting the people and fans who support our music. On a more abstract note, one of my biggest personal goals is to do what I had set out to do after quitting my previous job – make music and share its amazing qualities. If one of our songs is the turning point for the better in even just one person’s life, that would make the hard work and uphill struggles worth it. We love hearing feedback!
What can we expect from you in the coming months? Any plans to tour?
We will be releasing a new EP titled ‘Hounds’ in May. The first single from the EP, also called ‘Hounds’, has been released last month. The plan is to tour the EP in Victoria and New South Wales. Confirmed tour dates have been announced on our social media and website. I was really hoping we’d have to chance to play back home in Perth but logistically it simply didn’t come together for this run, but hopefully we can make it happen soon.
Tell us a bit about your latest release and how would you best describe your music?
We couldn’t be more proud of our latest EP, Hounds. For us it’s the perfect concoction of everything Forest Falls is and has come to be over the last three years: lush, five-part harmonies, thoughtful and hook-laden instrumentation, and this soul-peppered alt-folk sensibility which puts the musician and the voice at the forefront of the record. We aim to immerse our audience in an experience – we want you to come away from listening to our record or seeing us feeling fuller and ready to kick on!
Success, what is the secret to it?
Being passionate, persuasive and repaying favours with a slab of beer never hurts! I have been following the mantra of: Ask forgiveness, not permission. You just have to get out there and do it, do something, even if it doesn’t work out the first time. Success will come to those who work for it.
What has been your biggest career highlight?
I don’t know if I can name just one! We haven’t been around for all that long to call it a career, but since the end of 2014 we have toured with Canadian powerhouse folk/indie outfit Paper Lions and played with singer/songwriter Andy Brown, who are now our North American buddies – they also come from small towns and we just got on really well. It’s very comforting to see that nice guys do make it big and stay nice! Our summer highlight was playing at St Kilda Festival, which is my local music festival now, and recently, we supported our new friends Husky at another local institution, the Espy. And finally, a videoclip of us playing our newest single Hounds on the Number 16 tram from St Kilda has appeared as part of Tram Sessions – if you haven’t seen a Tram Session already, get onto it! It’s an ingenious idea to marry two Melbourne icons, trams and music. So many artists have already been part of it and we’re proud to join the family.
Which stars of the music industry do you find inspiring?
Wayne Connolly, who we worked with on our latest EP, is one of those quiet achievers in the music industry – he’s been responsible for recording and producing the work of some amazing people and musicians. As a frontman, I often do look at other frontmen for inspiration – Guy Garvey (Elbow) is my number one! Nothing beats cracking jokes and reciting poetry in that British accent. Then there’s bands like Arcade Fire, Husky, First Aid Kit – the power of voices singing together that know each other so well cannot be underestimated.
Any new projects in the pipeline?
We will be heading back into the studio before the end of the year to record some new material we’ve been working on – so exciting. We’re also working on releasing details of a bunch of secret shows in rad little locations around Melbourne – you can keep tabs on http://www.forestfallsband.com for further details! We can’t wait.
The music industry is huge, where do you see yourself a few years from now?
There’s no doubt that I want to be playing all over the world with Forest Falls. We are hard-working, passionate, and writing what I think is some amazing material at the moment. I’ve never been more excited.
Name a few of your favourite Aussie artists.
The Paper Kites, Husky, Gotye, Playwrite, Boy and Bear. There’s no shortage of good Australian music out there. People should go to more live and local gigs! There’s nothing better than sampling the best of what your hometown has to offer.
The shape of the music industry has changed significantly over the years, including the use of social media, how do you feel about the industry as a whole and what does it mean to you in getting your records out into the public eye?
Well… hasn’t social media just completely changed the scene! Facebook isn’t enough anymore. It’s pretty much a full-time job keeping the social media channels up to date but luckily we have some really amazing people as part of our team. Socials can also be responsible for some amazing activity that we couldn’t achieve without it. We did a Pozible crowdfunding campaign back in 2014 to help get our new EP ‘Hounds’ into the real world. It was a huge success! People from around the world donated a total of $10,000 to help us get a record we really believed in out there.
Thanks for the interview! What final message do you have for us today?
Now that we have our Hounds EP ready to go, we wanted to give a BIG shout out to all those ‘pledgends’ who got us over the $10,000 mark. We made it happen thanks to you! Long-time and new friends can continue following our story online: