Part 1: Inspirations & Influences
Name: The Persian Leaps aka Drew Forsberg
Occupation: Singer, songwriter
Current release: The Persian Leaps' Drone Etiquette is out via Land Ski.
If you enjoyed this interview with The Persian Leaps and would like to find out more about the band, visit their official homepage. You can also find them on Instagram, Facebook, and twitter.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
My first musical crush was actually Simon & Garfunkel. My parents had two of their records and I literally wore out the vinyl listening to them.
I came of age as a teenager during the beginning of MTV and the so-called “second British invasion.” The New Wave and post-punk bands of that era were--and still are--huge influences on me. The Smiths, New Order, and Echo & the Bunnymen had a huge impact on my tastes. Since I grew up in the middle of nowhere in northern Minnesota, those pale and brooding English bands were exotic and definitely preferable to most American music (except for R.E.M.).
Similarly, indie rock from the early ‘90s, when I was just out of college, still influences me to this day. Pavement, Guided ByVoices, and Teenage Fanclub were some of my favorites, but it was all incredibly exciting. For a while, post-Nirvana, it felt like the rest of the world might catch on to the sort of music I had always been passionate about.
In general, I find myself drawn to music that’s catchy and has strong hooks yet goes down a road untraveled by most commercial pop music. Although, let’s be honest, I like ABBA, too.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
Honestly, it literally took me decades. I’ve been writing songs since my early teens, but it took 20-25 years of writing songs in my bedroom before I had the courage to do anything public.
Around the time I turned 40, I was talking to an old college friend who was also a musician. We’d always meant to do something musical together and we finally made it happen. We formed a band with another friend and spent about 1.5 years at it, playing live around the Twin Cities a few times. We performed about half indie rock covers and half originals, most of them mine. That was the first time I’d played my own songs for other people.
The band couldn’t last as my friends got busier in their adult personal lives, but I’d been bit by the bug and couldn’t go back to writing and playing songs in my bedroom. That experience inspired me to continue on and eventually form The Persian Leaps.
Some of the earliest songs we released as The Persian Leaps were quite old--at least one dating back to the late ‘90s. I’m proud of those songs, but in general, I feel like I wasn’t ready as an artist until I got older. I could write songs, and sometimes I got lucky, but I hadn’t honed my craft yet and developed a repeatable process.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
Initially, the challenge was just writing the basic parts of a song--the guitar, vocals, and lyrics. I could hear what I wanted it to sound like in my head, but I didn’t have the technology or skill to make it happen. Also, I didn’t have the language to express what I envisioned or the confidence to pursue it.
In college, I was the lead singer in a short-lived band that played mostly covers with a few originals written by our guitarist. Once or twice, I brought in one of my own songs for the band to try but it never worked out. My bandmates were game to try the songs, but I gave up too quickly and easily. I didn’t know how to describe what I had in mind and was too embarrassed to persevere when the results didn’t immediately sound good.
These days, I’m more confident in my skills as a composer and arranger. I know that in most cases, I can go into the studio and come out with a song that sounds very close to what I originally envisioned. I’m not a guitar or vocal prodigy, but I can perform well enough to express the ideas in my head. And I’ve built great relationships with others--like Neil Weir of Blue Bell Knoll, who’s recorded and mixed our music for years--and I can describe how I want the various parts to fit together.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
I actually started out as a drummer. My parents were supportive enough to buy me a drumset in my early teens and patient enough to tolerate the noise as I learned to play it. It was fun, and I still like to play drums when I can, but as I got older, I became more interested in melody. I had song ideas in my head so I taught myself to play guitar in order to express them.
My first real guitar was an acoustic 12-string, which was an unusual and perhaps not ideal choice. It’s harder to play, which I think steered me towards developing more of a strum-based or jangly playing style. To this day, I can’t play a proper solo to save my life!
When I started the Persian Leaps as a band, I actually had to go out and buy an electric guitar, an amp, and various effect pedals. That paradigm was new to me, since I’d been playing an acoustic guitar exclusively for decades. I’m sure that all those years of writing on an acoustic influenced my playing and writing style. To this day, I almost never write a song using a plugged-in electric guitar. Instead, I have an electric that I keep in my bedroom and play unplugged. It’s a 1973 Gibson SG Standard that actually sounds pretty good on its own. That’s the guitar I reach for when I have an idea or free time to explore. I don’t need amplification to write a hook.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
Modern software like Garageband and more complex DAWs like Logic and ProTools are absolutely incredible and have let me express myself more easily and fully. In the late ‘90s, when I recorded some demos on a 4-track, I slapped a little leather address book against the table for percussion. The results were not without their lo-fi charm, but these days, I can create fully-fleshed out compositions by myself, programming drums that sound like real drums. Even though we retired as a full, live band several years ago, I can keep producing songs that still sound like a band, which makes it easier for me to continue to release music on my own terms and timetable.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
Honestly, I’m a horrible collaborator. Or perhaps “untested” is a more accurate, fairer term. To date, The Persian Leaps has involved very little collaboration in a typical sense. When we were a full band, I’d bring fully fleshed-out demos to the rest of the band for them to learn. As a former drummer, I had pretty definite ideas about the drum parts; less so about the bass guitar. For better or worse, there are exactly zero Persian Leaps songs that originated from jamming or were co-written with bandmates. Collaborating sounds fun and fulfilling to me, but I haven’t tried it yet, and I don’t think it will happen as part of the Persian Leaps.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
There’s definitely no daily schedule or routine. Inspiration seems to strike by accident. I’ll pick up the guitar, strum some random chords, and a riff will emerge. Other times, nothing. When something good materializes, I’ll focus on it and spend a day or two putting together a full-band demo in Garageband.
Really, though, my schedule is more on a different time scale. I collect demos of songs over the years and add the ones I like best to a list, trying to assemble songs that fit well together into groups of 5-6 songs--basically, enough for an EP. I’ll typically have my releases planned 1-2 years in advance, including the release title, the song sequencing, and some rough ideas for the artwork.
For close to 10 years now, the band has had the same yearly schedule. I’ll start recording a new batch of songs in the late fall and finish up over the winter. By May, the recording and mixing is usually done and I send the release for mastering and then CD manufacturing. After that I get things lined up for a release in the fall, and I take the summer off from making music. The release usually comes out in September or October. After some downtime, the cycle starts all over again.