MOST young songwriters debut their first material in front of a handful of friends at an open mic night down at a local pub; Steve Forrest’s songs enjoyed a slightly larger nascence with the 25-year-old Californian rocker singing them in front of 60,000 screaming fans. No pressure there then…
What saved Steve from having to play the toilet circuit was the fact that three years ago, he happened to join one of the biggest alternative rock bands on the planet back, becoming Placebo’s new drummer for their most recent album Battle For The Sun.
After a heavy schedule of touring the globe, playing sold out stadium shows from country to country, the band thought that they’d earned a well-deserved rest. So what did Steve do with his downtime? He started his own side project, Planes, who are just about to release their first EP and have begun touring the country bringing their own brand of alt. rock to a steadily growing legion of fans.
We caught up with Steve for a pint or two to discuss the best way to escape rock star trappings, mother-scaring tattoos and how to knock out members of the Arctic Monkeys.
"When I came to England I got treated so differently because of the way that I look, it ended up giving me so much anxiety... Over here there seems to be a lot of judgement flying around."
Hey Steve! Thanks for meeting us, you seem to lead a pretty busy life; what have you been up to lately?
Well, I went to see the Arctic Monkeys play the O2 arena on Sunday, which was awesome, such a great show. I actually went backstage to meet The Vaccines who were supporting them and bumped into all four of the Monkeys.
Small world – did you get along well?
Absolutely. They’re great guys, I actually ended up chatting with Matt Helders who’s the band’s drummer about his boxing injury which put him out of action for a few months last year. He showed me the scar of where his bone had popped out of the skin, it was pretty huge.
Jeez, sounds nasty. Perhaps you could moonlight for them if it should ever happen again?
That would be amazing. I love their music, so drumming for them would be much fun… although it would mean Matt getting hurt again.
Perhaps you could step into the ring with him?
I don’t know, man, he’s a pretty big guy. I guess could always encourage him to get in the ring with an even bigger guy, next time I have a free schedule… just kidding!
Food for thought. Enough monkey business, let’s chat about how you joined one of the biggest rock bands in the world.
Ok, well when I was nineteen I was playing in a band called Evaline and we ended up supporting Placebo at the House of Blues. I then left the band and started writing my own music, working in the industry as a techie, basically just getting by and then Brian (Molko, lead singer of Placebo) called me and asked if I’d like to talk about joining their band, saying that they’d really liked what I was doing last time they saw me play.
We got everything sorted and then within a few months we were playing gigs together; it’s weird because my last gig as a drummer was on stage with Placebo but in a different band, then my first gig back was with Placebo and in their band.
Wow, it sounds like you really won the lottery… so, at the age when most young adults are graduating from University or trying to find their first jobs you were touring the world with Placebo? Was there a lot of rock star excess?
I know, I kind of did win the lottery. It’s been an amazing experience so far. As for the excess, obviously there are pretty wild moments, but to be honest the kids at Uni probably party harder than I do because they don’t have to get up and catch a flight at 6:30 am the next morning then play a show in the afternoon.
Ha ha, we can see the headline now: ‘Students out-party rock stars!’
Yeah, catchy. I think that I’ve learned a lot from being around a lot of older musicians and performers and learning from the mistakes that they perhaps made when they were my age, which helps keep me balanced; I’m very lucky to have a lot of supportive people around me to stop me falling into the bullshit rock star trappings.
Glad to hear it. Tell us a little about Planes, your new venture.
Well, Placebo has a ‘three years on, one year off’ work ethic, so after the past three years of touring and recording I had some free time to fill; I’ve always written songs, but it was only until about five years ago that I actually sang in front of other people, as I didn’t think that I had the voice for it. Then when we were on tour, Brian asked me to fill in the support slot for a few shows, so the songs that I had written on my own in my bedroom or on a tour bus were suddenly being played to thousands of people.
You must have been more than a little nervous.
Just a bit – it was great though, the fans really liked it so I thought that I’d put a band together and see what we can come up with. The first person on my list was Ted Brunning (of The Second Line), who was one of the first friends that I made over here and is the best guitarist in the world, then Dan, Charlotte and Eddie joined us and we started jamming on my songs.
How does it feel going from being behind the drums to being the frontman of a band?
Well, the reason that I started playing drums in the first place was so that I could hide away; you’re not multi-tasking back there like the lead singer or guitarist, you’re just pounding away, doing clockwork; so to have the freedom to engage with an audience is a totally different ball game, but it’s a lot of fun, a really exciting challenge.
How would you describe Planes’ music?
When I was growing up the only music that my Dad would play in the house was country, bluegrass, blues and classic rock, so that’s definitely the root of my song writing; no matter how hard I might try to write something else, like a pop song or something, it always comes back to those styles. I suppose Planes’ music is alternative rock’ but that can mean so many things; I guess you’ll just have to listen to it to find out!
We certainly will be. How do the rest of Placebo feel about your new venture?
They’ve been amazing. I mean, Brian is the one who got me out on stage as a support act in the first place and he’s always encouraged me to write songs. Stef (Olsdal, Placebo’s bass guitarist) even came to our first gig at The Lexington and told me that he loved the show; he’s got a great way of saying things that’s so straight to the point, which is cool because you know that if he says he likes something, he really does… plus, he’s a genius, so any kudos from him is a big boost.
Let’s talk tattoos. You seem to be pretty well covered; when did you first get inked up?
I got my first tattoo when I was eighteen; it’s the one that goes right across my ribcage from the armpit to the hip and reads, ‘faith’. My mum cried.
Wow. That is a pretty big one for your first time!
I know, it took months of going back to the shop for retouches in order to finish it. It’s funny, when I came to England I got treated so differently because of the way that I look, it ended up giving me so much anxiety; it’s much easier to be a hippie or whatever in California. Over here there seems to be a lot of judgement flying around.
What first attracted you to getting tattoos?
I was always interested in them and I knew that I wanted to dedicate my body to the art of tattoos; it’s not like I got them to help get girls or stay out of fights… although I do get mad respect from the rudeboys in the street, they’re always like, ‘safe blood, loving your ink, bruv!’
Ha ha, and I bet it hasn’t hurt in getting the girls…
No, I suppose not.
How important is ‘the look’ to you in regards to your band?
Very important. I mean, we’re not a bunch of posers, but I think that when you’re up on stage you have a job to do and that’s is to be an entertainer and you’ve got to look the part. It’s a similar ethos to my attitude to tattoos, in taking it back to the old school where you have respect for your profession and take it seriously. You see all these bands turning up in scruffy jeans and T-shirts and… well, it can work for some people, but it’s definitely not for everyone.
So, just to wind up, we’ve got to ask; given that you’re so young to have enjoyed this much success, how do you possibly stay grounded?
The way that I see it is that I’m just getting started; if I’m going to have long, successful career, I can’t start it by acting like an asshole. Chatting to Dave Grohl really helped, as a perfect role model for anyone who wants to achieve longevity in this business, seeing as he really is the nicest guy in the music business.
With Nirvana and the Foo Fighters he has been part of two of the biggest rock bands ever as well as playing in one of the all time great rock bands Queens Of The Stone Age, yet he’s the most, pleasant, regular guy, completely free of pretensions. For me though, I guess the most important thing is to never believe the hype. Always remain grateful and try and be the person that you’re momma wanted you to be.
Planes release their debut EP on 14 November, available on iTunes.
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