Songwriters discussing their craft often focus on structure and style, or perhaps a particular genre that inspires their stylistic choices. However, songwriter Andy “Roo” Forrest’s writing process begins at his feet… literally. “I walk. I have written everything while walking. I sing, tap out rhythms, talk to myself and make noises while I walk and I record it on my phone. Because I’m sometimes walking briskly or uphill, there is the constant grinding of my heavy breathing in the background on all the recordings.”
Perhaps the roots of that kinesthetic approach to writing began in childhood, where Roo said he “grew up doing musical theater; being a ham on stage in that somewhat cheesy art-form of clever rhymes and over-acting.” This auspicious beginning would seem a perfect lead in to songwriting, but actually Roo, involved in a wide array of creative work, explored the landscape of songwriting almost accidentally. “One day, not too long ago, my son stopped taking guitar lessons, but his teacher kept coming over to the house. So I took my son’s place and learned a few chords”. Those chords were the catalyst for an explosion of creativity. Of this time, Roo reflected, “Suddenly the songs just started bursting out…kinda like that scene in the movie Alien, but without killing me.”
These bursts spring from a constant source. While other writers might agonize over what to write, Roo again uses his feet to fuel the muse. “Oh my God, everything inspires me. I’m probably over-stimulated by things. Walking is the thing that calms me down and helps me put some of it into digestible order.”
Some of the over-stimulation may be due to the full schedule of activities that fill up his life. “I’ve been blessed with a creative life, outside of songwriting, that supports me and my family. So I have not had to thread the art-and-commerce needle that can be stressful for so many artists.” As a result, he noted, “My challenges in the songwriting realm tend to be about my own orientation to the work, making enough time for it, finishing things I’ve started, that kind of thing.”
Though not having to “thread the art and commerce needle,” Roo’s work has not gone unnoticed by his audiences or his songwriting tribe, and it was one of those members that encouraged him to audition for a coveted spot in New Voices at the 2014 Kerrville Folk Festival. “Val D’alessio told me to apply,” he explained, “Val is connected to forces which are not of this world, so I try to listen to her directives.”
From 800 submissions from all over the world, Roo was one of 32 artists chosen to perform. Besides the musical experience, Kerrville had some surprises in store for Roo. “I was surprised at how little drugs, sex and general hedonism there was at Kerrville,” he reflected, “The people at Kerrville really care about the songs. I had been to other music festivals before but this one was more earnest…more sincere.”
For those just embarking on a songwriting journey, Roo’s advice was simple: “Write it like you feel it, sing it like you mean it, have a good time.” In addition, for Roo, most important in his own journey as a writer were good teachers… “mentors who were willing to show me things I didn’t know,” which may partially explain why he serves as a host of open mics for Songwriters in Seattle and a source of constant encouragement for his fellow songwriters.
To those who have experienced the songwriting of Roo Forrest, accolades are part and parcel of their descriptions of his work. But Roo is not one to easily tout his accomplishments. “Most of the time I feel grateful or fortunate. I wouldn’t describe it as feeling proud, because pride seems to imply that one’s actions led to a particular outcome. But in reflection, it doesn’t feel like I’m the one who’s responsible for positive results. It seems to be all a collaborative effort with different people: parents, my spouse, kids, business partners, employees, friends, strange and wonderful collaborators. Most of the time I just feel lucky to have smart, funny, talented people who are willing to tolerate me.”
Though he is a self-described “snarky singer songwriter”, a recent reviewer commented that Roo also has “a pervasive humor and detectable kindness which will leave you smiling.” That effect may reap rewards in his next project which could send him back to his roots: musical theater. “I’m writing a musical revue on world population, over consumption, and the future of the planet. As you can imagine, it’s a laugh riot.”
Unlike some, Roo did not have an epiphany when he realized becoming a songwriter was something he was “supposed to be doing” because “only my Mother knows that and I don’t find her a very credible authority, so I need to swim through the mystery one day at a time.”
One thing we can be sure of: Out on a walk somewhere, one step at a time, phone recorder running, punctuated by the sounds of leg slaps and labored breathing, that mystery will be revealed, one song at a time.
Find out more at www.rooforrest.com