By Pam Windsor | Photography by William Aubrey Reynolds
They started out at Nashville’s Belmont University as friends who share a love of great music. Today they make up Forest Fire Gospel Choir, a dedicated rock band that has been steadily adding tour dates and building a strong fan base throughout the South.
Known for soulful lyrics, guitar riffs, and strong songwriting, the group has a unique sound that comes from bringing together the musical influences of each of its members.
“We come from different parts of the country,” explains guitarist Sam Hunt, “so we have very different kind of cultural upbringings and we really work hard to embrace that and see what that blend sounds like. It’s been a big journey of self-exploration for us.”
Hunt, Will McGee, Will Lynde, and Nick Fields all came to Belmont to study music or music business and have a deep appreciation for rock music in one form or another.
“Several of us come from the same background of having grown up on classic rock or soul music, essentially what you would expect all our fathers to have listened to,” says guitarist Nick Fields. “And then as far as our musical tastes go, Sam would end up being the odd man out of having appreciated more of the L.A.-based rock scene like Queens of the Stone Age and stuff like that. So we’d have three like-minded opinions as far as what we enjoy and want to create.”
They began exploring their sound and the kind of music they wanted to make with an early recording session at lead singer and bass player Will McGee’s lake house in Arkansas. It’s part of where the name of the band originated.
“It’s in a really rural part of Arkansas right across the street from where I grew up,” he says. “And I had a house fire when I was a kid. It was a painful part of my past, but it was interesting bringing all these people there right in the heart of it. The name kind of popped in my head a couple of days later.”
The “choir” part of Forest Fire Gospel Choir relates more directly to the music.
“I just love 60’s and 70’s rock with the big background vocals on it,” McGee goes on to say. “It’s very soulful like the kind of stuff you hear on “Gimme Shelter” and other old popular songs. We put a lot of work into getting harmony to sound great. It’s fun when we use the instrumentation of a song, when we can have a lot of energy there, and kind of match it and push it over the edge with all of the harmonies.”
Part of what gives the group such a strong foundation is their friendship. They live together in a big house complete with a basement studio they designed themselves.
“One of the biggest things for me that’s awesome about this band,” notes keyboardist Will Lynde, “is how we all interact with each other. We’re all friends. We make music a lot of the time, but sometimes we just hang out, play games, and have a good time.”
That close relationship has made traveling a lot easier with the band doing a lot more shows on the road.
“We get along so well that we can handle those long van rides together,” McGee says. “We have a lot of the same hobbies, we love playing old video games. It’s pretty regular if we’re taking a long road trip we’ll hook up a Nintendo in the back and play all kinds of games. We take care of each other and we goof off together, so it’s a non-stop party.”
They’re family. And newest member, drummer Daniel Closser, has been warmly welcomed into the fold. Closser, who went to school at Vanderbilt and has more of an indie music background, has been able to add his influence to the band.
“It’s been really fun to be able to add my modern influence spin on stuff and have it be appreciated and morphed into something cool and new.”
There’s a lot that’s cool and new for Forest Fire Gospel Choir. The band traveled to Austin in March to perform at South by Southwest, and has a number of tour dates already in place for later this year. And they’re working on new music.
“We’re making our own recordings now and they sound really good,” says McGee. “I think the rest of the summer we’ll be recording new songs, rolling out more singles, and playing as many kickass shows as we can.”
There’s also a music video in the works that McGee describes as Memphis-inspired and “really fun.”
They’re having a good time and are excited about the future.
“One of the things I think is really important to the sound of this band is we’re always pushing the envelope and taking ideas a little farther out, together,” McGee says. “I think the way we’re able to do that, we’re always going to have something new.”
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