To say that Forever Unknown has had a whirlwind existence so far would be something of an understatement. From winning the Instaband competition as high school sophomores back in 2019, to playing festivals and recording a second EP with two new members, it’s almost hard to believe that they are still as young as they are. As we spoke earlier this week, I couldn’t help but laugh about the first time we had gotten together to talk.
“As far as I can remember, that was the first time anyone had wanted to ask us about our music,” says guitarist Jacob Hutmire.
The mental image of 6 people crammed into a tiny coffee shop in Pickerington, with 4 band members squeezed into a loveseat sized couch, made guitarist Blake Bennett and singer Micah Stromsoe-DeLorenzo chuckle as well. The band had a lot of things clicking for them at the time, until suddenly the world decided that nothing was going to click musically anymore.
“We felt really bad about COVID stopping us in our tracks,” admits Micah. “I had all these personal things happening in my life, so the band was the most important thing in my life.”
“It was like my sanity was dependent on the band, and suddenly we couldn’t play out anymore.”
“It was rough for a while, but in some ways it was like hitting a reset button,” adds Hutmire. “We got two new members out of it. It was the end of an era, but the start of a new beginning.”
“Call it Forever Unknown 2.0,” Bennett quips. “Our chemistry and cohesion has improved during the pandemic.”
The band didn’t even have the opportunity to break in their newest members, bassist Isaac Fleece and drummer Gavin Hanners, until they played a backyard show last summer for Hutmire’s high school graduation.
“It was a really cool way to get things going again,” says Hutmire. “There was no pressure or stress because it wasn’t a real gig per se. We just went out and had a lot of fun.”
The addition of Fleece and Hanners has dramatically changed how the band approaches writing songs, as well as given their sound a new dynamic, as is evident by the new EP, say it back. The group feels that everything is more collaborative between the 5 of them than it was previously.
“I think everyone is a lot more involved these days. Our music is a lot more in depth and complex,” says Hutmire. “There’s something different happening on every song.”
“It’s still sort of a thing where I’ll write the lyrics and the basic song structure, but our communication is a lot better,” continues Micah. “On Study Hall (their debut EP, released in 2019), I was too nervous to say whether I liked something or not, whereas now we can critique each other and move things around to make better songs.”
The new EP dropped today and features 6 new songs with a heavy dose of attitude and energy. The entire band credits producer Jakob Mooney (of Mooney Recordings) with helping get the best out of themselves as well as helping craft the Forever Unknown experience.
“I’ve always been the type of person who needs a little pushing. I’ll settle once I’ve heard a few compliments,” Micah laughed “but he would always be like ‘let’s do another take, you can do better.’”
“He was extremely helpful – he contributed where we needed contributions and produced where we needed production.”
“This was my first time ever working with a studio engineer, and now I feel spoiled,” Fleece admitted.
“He definitely pushed me to be a better guitarist,” says Hutmire. “He’d say ‘I really like what you’re doing, but you need to practice this or that more’. It was the kickstart we needed as a group, plus he made everything fun.”
“It’s not easy to do that in studio recording sessions, but he does it well.”
The record opens with a blast of sound on Sometimes, where Hanners’ fast-paced punkish drum flair is put on full display. Hutmire and Bennett both agree that their stringed chemistry shines the brightest on this track.
“We’ve basically been playing together since the 5th grade. We’re pretty much on the same page with everything we write,” began Bennett. “We know each other’s roles and I feel like we complement each other pretty well.”
“I’ve written some of his parts, he’s written some of mine, and it’s never the same old from song to song,” Hutmire continued the thought. “I enjoy it a lot better that way. We can really bring a chorus like Sometimes alive because of that.”
Lyrically the song had been something that Micah was working on for a long time. She said she kept trying to incorporate the line “we all keep trying our very best, and I guess my best looks like a mess” into a song, and this ended up being the one where it stuck.
“The song is mostly about life being unfair, which is something I really struggle with,” she admits. “Instinctively I try to look for why things happen, and sometimes things happen that shouldn’t, but that’s life. It just sucks sometimes.”
As quickly as the band ramped the energy up for Sometimes, they bring things back to a chugging grind on their heaviest song to date, titled Gravity. Bennett says it was one the first songs the band ever wrote together.
“Once we decided to record it, we had to revamp it, because we felt the original version was just bland,” he admits. “Now that we have Gavin and Isaac, we made it much heavier. Isaac has a super heavy bassline, and Gavin beats the ever-loving shit out of his drums.”
“I think Isaac and I play off of each other really well,” adds Hanners. “When I write my parts, I tend to write them more towards the guitars, but once I figure that out, I try to see what fits from there. That’s where Isaac comes in big.”
“A lot of times I’ll struggle to find what works best, but I feel like Gavin and I have great chemistry,” says Fleece. “When I write, I want to do a good riff that works with the songs, and I honestly think Gravity is my favorite to play live.”
I’ve seen the song performed live a few times, and it absolutely gets crowds amped and moshing, especially when Bennett and Hutmire play their solos.
“I love my other guitarist!” Bennett flashed his trademark smile.
sad people, blue eyes takes the EP in a markedly different direction, with a softer opening and vocal harmonies from Micah and Bennett. The singer says that she wrote it about the rocky relationship she had with her birth mother. The first time I heard the song, it was the chorus that his me like a sack of bricks. It’s one of those lines that only Micah could have written.
“Don’t go chasing what you don’t want to find, and if I told you I loved you would you cry? The tragic hero always seems to have to die before anyone will love him, so I’ll try. But I’m done changing for you.”
“It’s about growing up with this dynamic of how I was treated, versus how it’s affected me,” she confessed. “Our relationship was really complicated because the older I got, the more she realized how things did affect me.”
The song feels mellow and mournful, yet the group still manages to throw in a blistering solo from Bennett.
“It feels nice to have solos, but I feel a little selfish because that one lasted so long…” he began.
“…but it’s so good!” interrupted Micah.
“Honestly, I came up with it the day before we recorded, and Mooney just made it sound unbelievable,” he finished.
The album takes its ultimate pivot on ghost town, with an acoustic opening and whispery soft vocals. Micah says its about her first high school heartbreak, with a chorus line of “I’m so sorry I decided you didn’t love me anymore.”
“I was aware that I was writing something different at the time, but I felt like I would rather make music that reflects what I’m feeling, as opposed to what people want me to sound like,” she conveyed. “I wanted it to be as accurate as possible to what I was feeling at the time.”
“I just felt bad bringing it to Gavin because it was softer!”
“When I first messaged Micah about joining the band, I told her I was willing to do any genre or style,” advised Hanners. “I don’t mind mixing things up.”
“When Micah brought the song to us, we were totally here for it. I don’t think anything is outside of our reach,” added Hutmire.
Anyone who has been through a tough relationship period in their life can relate to the middle third of the record. Micah has a unique ability to make her words both poignant and relatable while keeping things interesting with her delivery.
“I realized once we had brought the songs to studio that we had so many different sounding songs, and I was trying to imagine how the EP was going to feel like as a whole,” she revealed. “Because of COVID, these songs were written over an extended period of time. Gravity was from the beginning of the band, Dorothy was written pre-covid, but the rest happened during quarantine. It’s almost like a ‘stages of my life’ thing by the end of it.”
The Ballad of Dorothy Hale is based off Frida Kahlo’s famous painting The Suicide of Dorothy Hale, which itself is based off the tragic death of the Depression-era socialite. Despite the upbeat tempo and Study Hall-esque guitars, the songs lyrics paint an extremely depressing picture, and Micah says it was an exhausting task to complete.
“I love Frida Kahlo, and I had this idea based on the painting. I came up with the chorus, and I basically wrote the rest of the song on the ride to band practice one day,” she expressed. “After writing it, I was like, wow, I need a nap. It was draining, but I’m glad I didn’t sit on it for a long time.”
“It’s one of my favorite’s off of the record, because when you hear it for the first time you have this upbeat, jumpy bassline that’s a lot of fun to listen to,” says Hutmire. “But when you hear the lyrics, and it’s almost like you get a 2-for-1 with the sadness in a great song. It’s a sad song that isn’t terribly boring!”
“I think it’s my favorite song off the EP as well,” adds Fleece “You get this different dynamic of sad lyrics while the musicians are punching it out. It really does embody the painting, and it makes the story of Dorothy Hale a whole new piece of art.”
The album ends with the upbeat banger Manic Pixie Dream Girl. The band chose this one as their first single for obvious reasons: crushing drums, quotable lyrics, soaring chorus riffs… you name it. The song works as an energetic bookend to Sometimes.
“My goal was to do a full circle thing: it starts really intense, it gets heavy along the way, and then it slows down with a little sadness before ramping back up,” says Micah.
“The song was written about the same relationship as ghost town. I was so sick of men acting like just because I’m a girl with a nose ring who plays guitar, that I’m going to save them or something. It’s like a ‘fuck you’ song to them.”
The energy level doesn’t waver for the entire two minutes and forty seconds that it runs, features a callout on Morrissey (who Micah admits she loves from a musical standpoint), and has a hammering drum solo that I’ve seen send a crowd into a frenzy on more than one occasion.
“It’s such an upbeat and punk song, and out of nowhere Gavin brings us this half-beat breakdown during practice one day,” Bennett says. “And we were like ‘wow, this is so cool!’”
“I had told Micah that we needed a song with a drum solo!” adds Hutmire. “Every time we play it live, we’re all jumping around going crazy during the solo.”
“I have not played this song live without jumping up and down – it’s just so fun!” Fleece confirms.
“We had played Manic Pixie a few times in practice, and it just clicked in my head one day,” explains Hanners. “I was thinking about Green Day’s Dookie record, and naturally I thought we should have a song with a drum solo, too. So I played it at practice one time and everyone went crazy. I had to go home and actually write it down and work on it so I could play it for the EP.”
The first time I heard the song, I immediately had the mental image of Micah taking a machete (literally?) to any man, past present or future, who might have the idea of putting her on a pedestal simply to better themselves. Despite her youth, her lyrical maturity shines brightest on this track, especially on the final chorus where she screams “I am not your therapist, your catalyst, if anything I’m an arsonist! I’ll burn your fucking high horse to the ground!”
“We were literally practicing the song one day, and I had this inspiration so I had to tell the boys to pause for a minute so I could run out of the room and jot it down,” Micah revealed “and now it’s pretty much my favorite part of the song!”
“And, we’re all like, Micah, how the heck do you just write amazing lyrics out of nowhere like that?!” smiled Fleece.
It may only be six songs and just under 25 minutes of music, but Say It Back doesn’t waste a single second of recorded energy. The band exposes you to a vast array of emotions while keeping your head nodding. Every song that I’ve seen live has the exact same energy as it does on the record, and depending on mood, I could see any of the six songs being my favorite at any given time. At the moment of writing this, it’s sad people, blue eyes, but they all stand out and shine with their own brilliant light.
To put things in simpler terms, this record rocks, and I hope your ears and heart are ready to digest it.
If you want to see the 5-piece energy machine live, the band is playing a release show tonight at Big Room Bar with special guests Soda Straw, The Reedy Weeps and Simon Molnar. The show starts at 8 pm, which should give you plenty of time to listen to the record two or three (or ten) times between now and then.
Artist: Forever Unknown
Album / Label: Say It Back / Unsigned
- sad people, blue eyes
- ghost town
- The Ballad of Dorothy Hale
- Manic Pixie Dream Girl
- Manic Pixie Dream Girl (radio edit)