by: Nancy Glass – EDN
Any living creature evolves with time. That is to say, it develops other features, and then turns into another living being. Such is the case with Eugene singer songwriter Tyler Fortier (pronounced For-teer). He certainly doesn’t look old enough to have released six albums since 2007. He doesn’t look like a man who once fronted a punk band with pink and purple hair. He certainly doesn’t look like a man who ever was a baseball jock. No, at first glance, Fortier looks more like a man who is a “starving artist” who loves nothing more than drinking whiskey, hanging with his fiancé and writing songs that entertain his ego. But then again, looks can be deceiving.
“If there is a purpose of my music, I’m guessing it’s something therapeutic. It’s a channeling of emotions. I don’t choose to write. It’s hardly ever a conscious thing. It just happens” Fortier tells me.
While talking with Fortier I was able to discover a world that exists between his ears. I was able to take a peek at his hard-earned emotional landscapes and listen to some of the most honest and sincere music this man can create. To put things in perspective, I checked on Wikipedia the discography of some well-known bands. At the age twenty-six Fortier has released as many records as The Doors, (in a four-year span) two more records than Led Zepplin and two more than Cream.
Trying to understand how it is that at twenty-six years old he has 6 albums out, (with another one on the way) Fortier tells me, “that’s a tough one. I can’t explain the fact that I write so much. There was a 4 month period where I wrote, and wrote, and wrote, and I haven’t written much of anything good lately. A door opened up somewhere in my mind.”
That opened door has given way to an extremely productive year for Fortier. In October he’ll release his seventh album, Bang on Time, marking the third release this year. In February he released …And They Rode Like Wildfire Snaking Through The Hills ‘Neath The Scarlet Sun. In April he released, Fear Of The Unknown.
I was able to hear two tracks off the soon to be released record Bang on Time; Will You Love Me and The World is Moving Slow. Both songs are still in production, however, Will You Love Me is a slow intimate confession of fear and loneliness sung with harmonies echoing each sentiment. The World is Moving Slow is a more up tempo song that is more about finding a home in the world. For these songs, Fortier has a somewhat expected style; think Springsteen meets Lovett meets Petty.
“Matt Greco engineered and mixed both of the last two records” he tells me. “He is amazing. He’s only 23 and is extremely advanced in his engineering and mixing skills.”
Fortier also saw his biggest tour this year, with performances in 8 states, including 2 showcases at South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas.
That kind of schedule could make a lot of ‘working musicians’ look bad. However it takes a lot of tenacity and perseverance as well as time to build up to such a level. Since his first band he knew he wanted to do music. “My first band was called The Marshmallows. I was in the sixth grade. We played once for a group of friends and I’ve had the performing bug ever since. I then played in punk bands, called Odd Man Out in the eighth and ninth grade, which later evolved into the band 24 HRS throughout high school. I remember we played once on top of a chili truck at the Rose Festival in Portland. If there was a strong wind, I don’t think we would have made it out alive.”
Born in Portland in 1985, Fortier grew up in Camas, Washington and formed an athletic identity early on. “I focused most of my time on sports until I was eighteen; though I did balance a bit of music (playing bass and singing in pop punk bands) from the age of thirteen on. “I wanted to be a professional baseball player because that’s all I ever did was play baseball. As I got older (into high school) I had thoughts about being a teacher. I’m not sure why? I still play around with ideas of becoming a counselor/teacher/therapist” he tells me.
With very supportive parents who (as Fortier puts it) “have my back no matter what” he’s always felt guided and encouraged towards pursing what makes him happy. He is quick to point out, “monetary value has rarely, if ever, been lumped into this category of, “happy” he tells me. “My dad used to play guitar and sing me to sleep often; it’s an extremely fond memory to say the least.”
His own musical tastes rooted in strong songwriting, Fortier remembers the first song he ever recorded. “There is a cassette tape somewhere of me walking around as a very small child in my grandparent’s house singing the Loggins and Messina song, “Danny’s Song.” The first CD he ever bought was Billy Joel’s, River of Dreams in the fifth grade. Over the years his tastes have branched out to “some strange musical fixations” including Ace of Base, No Doubt, Everclear, and Metallica.
It wasn’t until his senior year of high school that he discovered acoustic music and started to really play. “I never performed for anyone, except for the occasional impromptu performance at a party” he says sheepishly.
Who could have predicted which doors Fortier would open simply by listening to acoustic music? After graduating high school in 2003 he moved to Eugene and completed the audio engineering program at Lane Community College. It took him actually going through the entire program before realizing he wanted to do something else. “I realized the technical side of sound wasn’t the side I was as interested in as I thought (though I do love recording, as I practically live in my studio). In 2005, I started to perform solo and slowly began to grow and evolve into more of the sound people hear today. I took a break from school to record my first album “drunk” at Sprout City Studios here in Eugene in 2006. Then I ended up going back to school and graduating from the U of O in 2010 with a Sociology major/Writing minor.”
Fortier illustrates that there are many elements to writing a song. And there are many ‘lives’ a song must endure before being released on a record. “Songs for me, usually start with one lyrical line and from there, they build. There are a few different stages in writing a song whether it takes 5 minutes or 5 weeks to write it. The song evolves from the time of conception till the time you perform it live. Once it’s performed live the song can go one of three ways: 1. the song could die there on the spot, 2. keep its form or 3. continue to evolve to what it needs (this could be a chord change, a different time signature or verse melody, or even key change).
A song then takes another life in the recording stage. This is where I think a song truly lives or dies. A good song unfortunately turns into a “bad” song pretty fast without the right production, recording, or intent. I think there are four completely different “arts” in place that dictate the life of that song: 1. Writing 2. Performance 3. Production 4. Recording. It’s my opinion that most people don’t understand that there is more to a song than simply writing it, performing it and or recording it. the studio.”
“I think writing is the most fun element for me. To sit with my ideas, to build and bring something to life; I love writing. Inspiration on the other hand doesn’t come as easy as he would like. “Inspiration comes and goes. It’s like some days people feel really motivated and they make a to-do list. They feel productive and decide to make some life changes. But these kind of thoughts don’t happen every day (at least not for me). I think we all know the sensation of a feeling coming over us, but then it’s gone; emotions, motivation, inspiration, etc. Sometimes inspiration comes over me and then it’s gone as fast as it came. It does seem, however, that the best songs always come by surprise. And it seems when I’m not over-thinking or trying to force creativity, doors open up.”
It’s through this kind perseverance Fortier has doors opening up before him. With a successful year, he reflects on his career. “As an independent artist, the most challenging aspect for me is selling myself. Poster printing, show booking, press kits, promotion, web updating, CD pressing and design. I hate it all. I just want to write songs and perform them for people who appreciate them. I would rather play to a room of one who is attentive than to a room full of a hundred loud, indifferent listeners. The really good shows are few and far between. Good shows, to me are, attentive people who make an effort to connect to my lyrics, sign up on mailing list, purchase my music…it’s a really good feeling.”
“Anytime I sell a CD, honestly, is my proudest moment. It’s so hard to make money as a traveling musician.There have also been a few occasions where someone has messaged me or told me that they really love a song of mine and listen to it all the time. That’s enough to make a guy burst with pride.”
For Fortier connecting to his audience is a talent that seems to come as naturally as it does mysteriously. “I think making people feel invested in a song, or in you, is a very tricky thing. It’s a challenge to make people feel; whether that is happiness, sadness, thoughtfulness, or reflection, or anything at all.”
As a full-time singer/songwriter performer Fortier does make that connection with his audience, despite the fact that he hates selling himself and confesses “I’m not that good of a musician. In fact, I don’t consider myself a musician at all. I sort of play guitar. I sort of play piano. I kind of sing. I’m a writer so I feel I am limited to what I can do musically.”
Limited or not, Fortier surrounds himself with very talented musicians on stage as well as in the studio. While the band line up changes from time to time, it’s been pretty much the same with Ben Klenz-drums, Joseph Intile-bass, Matt Greco-keys, Abby Young-violin, and Erin Flood-vocals. Erik Berg-Johansen has been filling in w/electric guitar, violin, and mandolin and David Michael Frank has also contributed with electric guitar. I have an amazing and talented cast of musicians to help sort out all of my madness.”
Being in a band and a relationship concurrently can sometimes be taxing. Fortunately for Fortier, his fiancé, Erin Flood, is also in the band. “She’s an amazing singer. She’s also an incredibly talented songwriter. It’s always great getting to do things with your best friend.”
Unplugging from the demands of work is often somewhat of art as well. Fortier takes comfort in the everyday “normal’ aspects of life. “I’ve been so engulfed with music over the last 2 years it’s hard to even think about relaxing. To relax, I play with my dog, Topper, or spend time with my fiancée, or pretend I don’t hate golf. Maybe I’ll watch the TV shows 30 Rock or Scrubs? Or I might have a “quarter-life” crises about my career decisions and money issues…you know, the usual.”
Looking toward the future Fortier says “I am feeling pretty accomplished at the moment. Also really run down after such a long, tedious, and diligent year. I won’t be recording any CD’s for a while and any touring I will be doing won’t be too far from home. In 2012, I hope these records will receive the proper promotion they deserve. I think people hear 3 CD’s in a year and think that I am just recording everything I write. The truth is, I’ve thrown away half, if not more, of all the songs I wrote in 2010/11. The songs on these 3 CD’s are well thought out, well constructed, and something I am very proud of. It has been a long process to get where I am today, and I hope in a few years I am even miles away from where I am today.”