mikedolbear.com "Interview with Steve Forrest", Jun'11

by Gemma Hill
published: 15.06.2011

Steve Forrest is only just reaching his mid twenties but he has already moved to the UK from his hometown in California and toured the world with one of the hugest bands on the planet, Placebo. It would have been a daunting, life changing event for any drummer but Steve is bright and cheerful and seems to have taken it all in his stride. In a very frank interview he talks about the highs and lows of being on the road for almost 2 years with such a major band.

Oh, and modeling underwear for Vivienne Westwood and his plans to completely cover his body with tattoos…

Tell us how you took up drumming

I started getting into music when I was about 8. My uncle’s band came and stayed with us and the drummer showed me his kit; I thought it was really great because everyone had to follow you and you got to hide behind this huge wall of noise so I tried to make a drum kit with my Dr Seuss books. I finally got a kit when I was about 12 and a drummer friend of mine, Josh Madruga, who’s now an amazing jazz musician that travels round the states, he’d bring his kit over and we’d combine them and make a super Neil Peart kit. Then just band after band until finally it got me over here to London to where I’ve now joined Placebo.

How did the gig with Placebo happen for you?

The band that I was in before that was called Everline and it started in my garage when I was about 15. I was in that for 5 and a half years and we did quite well. We started from scratch and then got signed to Warner Brothers and opened up for Placebo when they came to the States. I met Placebo through that and it was only like 3 gigs we did with them or something. Then 3 months later they kicked me out of Everline, cos me and the singer had problems, and then when Steve Hewitt had left, about a year later, I contacted Placebo and sent them this drum resume and videos that I had made of myself. They didn’t want to do auditions and neither did I, cos they’re soul destroying, so we figured I’d just come over to London for a couple of weeks and hang out. I was really chuffed because I had always wanted to come here. I had been obsessed with the culture since I was little and I had this good feeling about it so as soon as I landed I just felt that I was home.

I made sure I made it work and we jammed and got along; we still get along really well. You know when you have your right band because it clicks and it felt like we’d been playing together for years. It’s been three years now and I’m just getting ready to write the second record with them in about a year. There were a lot of new experiences because I was recording my very first LP; before that I’d recorded hundreds of EP’s and demos but never sat down in a proper professional studio with a producer so that was really good.

You were saying earlier that you’ve been on the road for 22 months. What routines do you have for fitness and practice?

Routine is key. You’ve got to get a routine or you’ll go mad! If it was a show day my routine would be to get up, have breakfast and do a light work out. Whatever city you’re in spend at least a couple of hours walking around and try to enjoy it cos you’re killing time before the gig. You don’t go on the stage until between 9 and 1 in the morning, depending on whether it’s your gig or a festival. I stay well into my fitness and try to kill time with writing songs in my hotel room or practicing on a pad; anything to keep your mind off the fact that you’re just waiting around.

By the end of the 22 months it doesn’t matter how much routine you’ve got, all you want to do is go home. It’s not even the gigs that get annoying; it got to a point at the end of the 22 months that that was the only time I was enjoying myself. I was so miserable and it wasn’t because of the people I was with or anything, it was just simply because of the traveling and not being grounded.

When we got back and did our last two gigs at Brixton Academy in September it was amazing and it was really sad to see it go cos I was like, ‘I’m not ready to stop playing music with you guys!’. We see so much of each other on the road that we don’t really hang out. Me and one of the guys, Bill, we hang out and every now and then I see Fiona Brice, who plays strings. But Brian and Stefan, our singer and other guitarist, it doesn’t really work out, so I knew that I wouldn’t be seeing them for a long time.

After 22 months you get institutionalised BIG time. You come off and it’s so hard to adjust and get back into the swing of things…the whole post tour blues. Everyone gets it and I certainly did. I drove everyone around me nuts, including myself. Now it’s been a few months and even on the way over here, I was thinking about the mindset that I was in, what I cared about. I would change everything about myself just to work with that gig and you come back and it’s like, ‘I feel like Steve again. I can’t believe I actually cared about that!’. I suppose it’s like with anybody. You look at yourself when you were 13 and you’re like, ‘I can’t believe I wore that!’ or ‘I cried over that!’. I wouldn’t change it for sure.

When you hang out with a group of people that closely and for that long, like you said, you do change. Are there characteristics that you’ve taken on from your band mates and if so, what are they?

You do, its funny. I think from Brian…before I met him I was very American, very nice and gullible. I’m still really nice but I just learned from him and Stefan that you can’t really trust anybody, in a sense. It’s not that you can’t trust anybody but you’ve always got to make sure that you’ve got yourself sorted in case anybody tries to screw you over; always make sure that you’re on your feet. I grew up fast because of him because he was really hard on me, big time. Him and Stef both completely broke me down to build me back up so naturally through that there’s certain things that I’m going to address like them or think like they do.

Nick, an extra musician who comes with us for live, he’s from Essex, so I learned English humour through him. I’d get really offended; I didn’t really get the whole concept of taking the piss but now when I go back to California I’m looked at like I’m the jerk. They’re like, ‘Why are you being so mean?’ and I’m like, ‘No! You’re my mates!’.

Everyone in the band has been doing it professionally for over 10 years and so I try to absorb all the advice that they throw at me. I’ve really raced ahead cos I’m only 24 but I think I just see life in a different way. I had to; it was the only way to survive. It was either get tough or you lose the gig.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of being in a band that big?

The advantages are obviously you have security, you have annual income, you get to travel and see the world and meet amazing people. You get to do an amazing thing; that’s all obvious. The disadvantages are things that no one sees like not being home, going insane in your own little world. Every single day going from a plane to a van to a hotel to a van to a gig to a van to a hotel to a van to a plane and another country all within 24 hours. It’s the repetition of that that gets nuts. It’s being with people that are constantly looking over your shoulder, constantly on your back. Being a drummer you have to be better than all of them; you have to be tighter and sharper. You have no room, you have to be perfect and so the stress of that and forced to being a 15 year professional when it’s only my first world tour, that was really, really hard. You have to dig deep and stop yourself from reacting in a way that might normally react to somebody that’s being really in your face.

The advantages and disadvantages…it’s just like any other job. I mean you’ve got the bits that you hate and there’s days that you don’t want to go into work and you’ve got bits that really make it all worthwhile. As long as you can still enjoy going on stage and performing and you’re still nervous about it in a really good way, I think that you’re still doing all right. You can hate the rest of it after a while, that’s fair, because anybody that’s been doing it for more than 10 years can really start to hate it. That’s why my band members don’t really like doing interviews and they don’t really stop and sign things for fans. They’ve had 16 years of it and the only bit they really love now is making music and going on stage and performing it. I mean obviously they love the fans but you get a bit jaded after a while and I haven’t hit that yet so I’m trying to enjoy things as much I can.

What kind of stuff have you had to do? Are there rules you have to follow?

One of them is definitely no going out on a school night. No drinking or going out when you have a gig the next day, which is good and very smart because playing drums hung over is horrible. Brian and Stefan, my band mates, love to be big uncle fatherly figures because they’ve been through so much and they want this band to be tight and clean. So there’s no alcohol allowed in the dressing room or on the tour bus. You have to stay in the gym; you have to stay on the routine with your training. I had to start getting drum lessons and stick with that. You have to constantly be improving yourself because this is your career; this is your life.

I’m not allowed to skydive, or get a scooter when we’re on tour. I’m not allowed to do anything that potentially would cause me to miss a gig. Not because they care about my health but because they’ll lose money! That was weird getting used to. But there are certain things I put my foot down with. Like they tried to tell me not to surf but there’s no way! Some bands won’t let them drive a car or do this and that. Some famous actors and musicians that I’ve come across have told me stuff…’You think you’ve got it bad! I’m not allowed to do this…my producer says I can’t do this and I’ll get fined if I’m seen doing this’. So it’s not too bad for me.

What are you working on in lessons and in your own time?

Jazz! I just started seeing Mike (Dolbear) about a year or so ago and at first, when I was on tour, we were working on correcting my technique. I was self-taught so all these little things - readjust the kit to where you’re not putting so much effort into playing it and all that stuff. Now that I’m off tour we can get down to the fun stuff! I never thought I’d be able to play proper jazz. Everyone has a jazz pattern down but I’m really enjoying the independence stuff. It’s the excitement that you get when you first start playing drums in your bedroom and you figure it out. I’ve got my electric kit set up at home so I’ll go home and try to do it again and it’s just so much fun to be into that exciting new world again! So yeah, jazz from ‘Advanced techniques for the modern drummer as applied to jazz and be bop’.

It needs a snappier title!

Yeah! You say it and people lose interest half way through!

What do you do on breaks between tours? Have you got your own band or music that you’re working on?

Yeah I’m really into song writing and I think I have been for just about as long as I’ve been playing drums. I started getting into playing guitar when I started drums because I found that they complimented each other and that’s why I play a number of instruments now. I have a project called ‘Planes’ that I’m playing guitar and singing in and hopefully we’ll be putting out a short album, a 10 track record. I just try to raise my profile as a musician and get stuck into the business as much as I can, not so much for financial gain, just because I want to see if I can do it as I’ve always wanted to.

The next question…how can I phrase this without it sounding really bad? Mike suggested I ask you about modeling…

Oh no! Yeah I’ve done a bit of modeling for Vivienne Westwood…

And what were you modeling?!

Err…men’s pants. You knew about this didn’t you!

Mike told me!

Of course he did. Jeez!

So let’s hear a bit more about it!

My friend Donald, who does hair and make up for us, he’s sort of in with all the celebs and does all the TV shows and movies so every now and then he’ll invite us to come see something with him. He just did this programme on Channel 4 about Boy George called ‘Worried about the boy’. He did the make up and costume designs, all the wigs, that’s all him. He’s amazing; Donald McInnes, he’s the queen of Glasgow and everybody wants him. So he said, ‘Why don’t you come to this premiere?’. It was a private screening. So I went there and Vivienne Westwood’s right hand man, Murray, was there and he was like, ‘Oh my god! You’re gorgeous! Have you ever thought about modeling?’. And I was like, ‘I don’t know if you’ve noticed but I’m not really the modeling type, I’ve got tattoos all over my whole body’. And he said ‘That’s perfect! That’s the way forward!’.

I thought it was going to be suits and I love getting quite smart. And Vivienne Westwood… so of course! I show up and they were just like, ‘Here, put these pants on’. And these pants would fit my 7 year old nephew. So I’m in the room with all these really camp 19 year old boys from all over. There was one American guy from Texas, there was a German kid, one kid from Russia. All these tall skinny guys and I walk into this room, like the holding cell, and everyone was doing that sort of puffed out chest thing and here I come, 5 foot 9, ‘Alright guys? You good?!’. It was very strange but I did enjoy it. It was fun and I don’t know if I would like to go into the pants world but I definitely did enjoy being in front of the camera. I’m a bit of an exhibitionist; I did a nude photo shoot with Scarlett Page, Jimmy Page’s daughter, and that was really fun.

Did you have people helping and telling you what to do?

Oh God yeah! It was like, ‘Open your mouth a little bit more and pout’ or ‘Can you turn around and flex?’. It was silly but I didn’t feel that uncomfortable cos they were still very professional, not like, ‘Oh yeah pick up that pencil over there!’. Nothing like that.

Tell us about your tattoos

So far I’ve got 75 percent or more of my body done. I’ve got my entire left leg and foot, both my arms, my ribs, my entire frontal, my neck, my lip, my ear, my fingers and two giant pieces on my right leg. I’ve just got to finish up this leg, do my full back and then my whole body’s done. The reason I got into that was cos when I was a kid I saw these pictures of these people at a carnival back in the day, the circus freaks in the 30’s. I thought, ‘What a wonderful way to be unique and stand out’. I talk so much anyway, if people can look at me and this is basically me without saying a word, that’s good. I got really into it and it forced me into music. I couldn’t get a job in a bank! Couldn’t become a teacher or anything like that and it worked out, thank God.

What was your very first tattoo?

My ribs. I wanted to get my whole body done and I’d planned it out; what I wanted to do first and all the big pieces. I got this big piece that says ‘Faith’ with some nice roses.

Did you design everything?

No they chose it, my mates who did it. I went and saw them and said, ‘Alright boys, we’re going to do this today’ and I’d jot out something and they’d go, ‘Well that’s OK but lets tweak it’. Through that I actually got into tattooing and I ended up apprenticing underneath them and tattooing for about two or three years on smaller pieces. I got well into it and painting and art and all that, which comes to another way of keeping your mind occupied. I have a short attention span; I get bored really easily and I have too much energy for my own good.

What do you think you’ll go on to do? Are there any other bands that you’d want to play for?

I would love for Joey Castillo to not be able to do a tour so I could go do a tour with Queens (Of The Stone Age). There are so many bands I’d love to drum with but I wouldn’t actually go for that - my plan is to stay with Placebo until they retire. I love these boys and have really found a family unit. When we’re off tour that’s when it’s OK if this great band needs a drummer for a few gigs; I wouldn’t mind doing that. But I hope just to always have a gig and keep working. If they retire then hopefully my other band will be doing well by then so I could do that but I’ll always want to drum so we’ll see.

Steve’s band, ‘Planes’, have their debut gig at The Lexington in London on the 28th June.

Source: mikedolbear