I first met up with the members of Forever Unknown at the Patchbay Music Festival in August. As the opening band for a festival held in the mid-day summer heat, I was surprised at the amount of people who were standing at the front of the stage for them. I was equally surprised at their sound when they started, as none of the members could have been any older than 18.
My assumption was correct, and in fact all of the members are 16 or 17 years old. But as I wrote in that review, they showed uncanny precision and on-stage maturity. Not only did they bring a huge cache of fans, but they raised over $1000 for the On Our Sleeves Foundation, which is no small task in today’s economy.
The band was initially formed when drummer Evan Pond and guitarists Blake Bennett and Jacob Hutmire were in fifth grade. The guys say that finding a name was their first hiccup.
“As a bunch of fifth graders, we couldn’t come up with anything that wasn’t cheesy. Because of that, we decided to go with Forever Unknown,” explains Bennett.
“Now that we are known, we stick with it because it goes back to our roots,” says Hutmire.
“There are people who kind of make fun of us because of it, but we take it as a compliment,” describes singer Micah Stromsoe-DeLorenzo. “They’re saying that we’re known, and that’s a good thing, you know?”
Stromsoe-DeLorenzo joined the group through a mutual acquaintance of bassist Sully Gerdeman, and has been one of the driving forces to the development of their sound. Although four of the five members were squashed together (by choice) on a couch at Porter’s Coffee House during our interview, she says things weren’t always so easy or friendly with the group.
“I auditioned for the part, but I was terrified,” she admits. “Being so young, it was scary getting things together.”
“We’ve come a really long way since then,” says Hutmire. “When we started, we barely knew her so we would just wrap up our practices and leave. We’ve grown so much as a band since then!
“Being in high school is hard enough, but I couldn’t ask for things to be going better with the five of us,” he finished.
The band all agreed that the Patchbay Festival was a great show, but the crowning jewel of their young playing career so far was playing ComFest over the summer.
“Being from Clintonville, I had been going to ComFest since I was super young,” says Stromsoe-DeLorenzo. “We got to play on the Off-Ramp stage, which is a good half-way point to really being ‘there’ in the musical world.”
Most recently, the band won an online competition to open up for national rockers Bayside. The event wasn’t without its share of controversy, but in the end the Columbus community rallied behind the youngsters and propelled them to victory.
“We entered to play that show because we saw our friends We Are The Movies trying to get on. We figured, why not?” explains Stromsoe-DeLorenzo. “At worst, we’d get to see a lot of cool bands. As it happens, we got a ton of support!”
The show was sold out at the A+R Music Bar, and served as a perfect tune-up for the band as they head into their EP release show, this Friday at the Big Room Bar. The band says they’re super excited to continue this roller-coaster ride of a summer they’ve been going through.
“We’ve played a ton of other release shows, and now it’s time for ours!” exclaimed Hutmire.
The EP was recorded at Groove U Music Career College in Dublin, and released through their imprint Elementary Records. The band won the college’s annual Instaband contest, previously won by bands like Cousin Simple and Max Beal, and scored a recording contract. The difficulty then became finding a way to get five high-schoolers together on a regular basis to record.
“We all have a lot going on, and we’re all over town between Pickerington and Clintonville,” acknowledged Hutmire. “We ended up getting everything put together over the course of five months, and now it’s time to show it all off.”
The group had already released three singles this year before their EP, aptly titled Study Hall, came together. Each song had a different sound and were launched to give potential fans something to absorb before seeing them live.
“We wanted to release those first to get more exposure down the line,” confessed Pond. “At that time, we didn’t have anything else to promote other than our shows. We wanted to make sure we had something out there for people to enjoy.”
The EP starts with Six, a song that Pond wrote the initial riff for. He says he was messing around with Led Zeppelin’s timeless classic Kashmir and everything just came together from there. Stromsoe-DeLorenzo says she penned four different versions of the lyrics before settling on the final version. The song has a grating bassline from Gerdeman and a wonderfully dense base of lyrics that seem almost impossible to have come from a high school lyricist. The line that hit me deepest was “Isn’t it strange, that our biggest fear is growing up lonely.”
The group also recorded an acoustic version of the song at the end of the EP. Stromsoe-DeLorenzo says she and Pond were just messing around in the hallway at Groove U and started rolling tape on it. There weren’t a lot of overdubs or anything else added, so it has much more of an emotional and stripped down, live quality to it. If you’re not paying attention you might think you were listening to two entirely different songs.
My favorite song off the EP is Bury Me. It is immediately recognizable by its upbeat guitar riff that had the folks over at Land-Grand dancing during the Patchbay Festival. Stromsoe-DeLorenzo says she wrote the initial guitar part, and that the lyrics have a special personal meaning to her.
“The idea behind Bury Me is wanting to put everything you have into something, whether it’s a person or a passion,” she revealed, “and knowing that it might end up hurting you in the end, but not caring because you love it so much.”
“Life can be so overwhelming sometimes for me because I give one hundred percent to everything, but that’s just how I want to do things.”
One of the reasons that all of the songs on Study Hall sound uniquely different is because each of the members have a habit of bringing their own compositions to the others. For Home, it’s Gerdeman who laid down the initial guitar parts. He said he was looking to write something completely different from one of their more upbeat singles, We Don’t Know Where We’re Going, and it became a more mellow and emotional effort.
“We had most of the song done pretty quickly but it took us months to find an ending,” admits Hutmire. “We liked the song so much because of how it hits you in the feels, but we couldn’t figure out an ending. Eventually we just let it end naturally.”
While the music is a group effort, Stromsoe-DeLorenzo writes the lyrics for the group and says the inspiration for Wonder Emporium did indeed come from the 2007 film featuring Dustin Hoffman and Natalie Portman. She even included the magical line “thirty-seven seconds, well used, is a lifetime” in the chorus. She says the chorus came quickly, but the rest of the song took a little more time. Fortunately, the rest of the band rallied around her on that one.
“It’s kind of weird how we come up with things. We never have a song that is more than two or three parts initially,” expounds Bennett. “It’s always lyrics and guitar, and we go from there. It’s rare that we need a lot of different takes too; we just love what we come up with initially.”
The band shot a music video in various locations through Clintonville for the song, which they said was extremely fun, if not tiring. They all agreed that carrying equipment around and wearing masks for a video became very trying, especially when it turned out Pond was allergic to the rat mask he was wearing. But in the end they were thrilled with the outcome and are excited to create another in the future.
While Wonder Emporium feels more like a CD102.5 song cut out of the mid-2000s, Paper Pyromaniac has a heavier feel. Hutmire says it throws some of their fans off because of how different it is, but people always seem to enjoy it. He says that they hadn’t even practiced it together when it came time to record.
“Blake literally came to the studio having not played the song before and laid down his guitar part right then and there,” he admits.
“We went to our producer and told him we had about half of a song, and he was a little hesitant. It kind of forced us to put it all together rather than overthinking it,” confesses Stromsoe-DeLorenzo.
“If we had overthought it, it might have ended up as eight minutes of gibberish,” laughs Hutmire “Hey, maybe that’ll be our next song!”
The record is impressively mature in both lyrical and musical form. Stromsoe-DeLorenzo previously told me that being in high school gives her a unique perspective on things from a lyrical standpoint. And while the band calls themselves “98.9 percent alternative,” they say that is because they aren’t looking to put a label on themselves.
“Every piece written about us before called us some sort of ‘alternative’ music, so we just thought we’d say that to be clever,” explains Hutmire.
It was definitely a smart idea to let each member have equal participation as far as putting the music together goes, and with age can only come experience and more wisdom. Their influences range between oldies, grunge and punk, to bands like Blondie, PJ Harvey, John Mayer and Mac Miller. One wonders what the band might sound like a year or two down the road, but in chatting with them I got the feeling that their sound will only get tighter.
One of the more interesting things that has ever happened during an interview for me cropped up midway through my time chatting with them. As we were talking about the EP, a gaggle of teenagers walked by and recognized the group. In what seemed like a wholly scripted moment, they mentioned how much they loved Study Hall, and to keep up the great work. I asked the group if they had planned that, but all five emphatically said it was merely coincidence.
“We’ve played a lot of shows at Corner Bar in Pickerington… it’s kind of our home turf,” says Hutmire. “But we didn’t plan that!”
The band was certainly surprised by it, but they seem to be taking their fandom in stride. The band has almost 1,000 followers on Facebook alone, and several of their songs have over 1,000 streams on Spotify, just mere months after their release. They told me they want to continue writing over the winter before attacking the festival scene again in 2020.
If you’re not doing anything this Friday, you should certainly head over to Big Room Bar for the EP release. We Are The Movies, Wreck League and Courtney From Work will be opening, guaranteeing a raucous and rockin’ good time for all involved. If you do have plans, cancel them. Who knows what this group has up their sleeves for this special occasion?
Forever Unknown – Wonder Emporium