Guy Forsyth w/ Dave Ramont
The Freedom to Fail marks an exploration into new territory for 20-year Austin veteran Guy Forsyth. Rather than focus his efforts solely on producing an album that embodied the energy surrounding he and his band's dynamic live performances, Forsyth instead opted to create a work that doubled as a message to his young daughter, one instilling upon her that she had to grow up feeling the freedom to fail.
"These songs represent an articulation of the changes in my viewpoints and the new legality that I see," Forsyth explains of the album, his first on Houston’s imprint Blue Corn Music. "Becoming a father in this period of time and looking around me and trying to figure out what it is that I had to say to my daughter to explain myself. I don't feel the need to explain myself to everyone, but I sure as hell feel the need to explain myself to my daughter, because I want her to have that sort of connection with her origins."
Produced by Matt Smith and recorded at the Lost Oasis Studio in Austin, Texas, The Freedom to Fail finds Forsyth handling a wide array of stringed instruments both contemporary and traditional, including the banjo, mandolin, baritone guitar, and harp guitar, a 12-stringed instrument made popular at the turn of the 20th century. Forsyth's diverse play gets a boost in the form of support players like local icon Jon Dee Graham, fellow Asylum Street Spankers alum John Doyle, multi-instrumentalist Sick, trumpeter Oliver Steck, and long-standing, and newly married, rhythm section drummer Nina Singh-Botta and bassist Jeff Botta.
"When I started to figure out what I wanted the recording to be, it really did become an album about things that I really wanted to say," Forsyth says. "They were things that I wanted to go on record as having said, songs like "The Things that Matter." They're very simple, and they're certainly not unique. But that is the sentiment. I can't be too clever about this, because the truth of it is simple."
Guy Forsyth arrived in Austin on January 10, 1990, with a guitar, a harmonica, and a rented U- Haul truck. A street-smart entertainer raised on American western standards and musical soundtracks while growing up in Kansas City, Mo., he cut his teeth working as a comic stuntman at renaissance faires, passing tip jars from crowd to crowd after each sideshow performance left the room in awe.
He was a natural. When Guy Forsyth got to Austin, it didn’t take him long to find his calling.
Forsyth started by busking on the streets of Austin and quickly working his way up to bars— bars like the now famous Joe's Generic that didn’t pay but would let you play for tips. It worked, he remembers. All of a sudden, he'd built himself a band. He also found himself a fan in a Dutch record label that helped him cut his debut album High Temperature and brought him across the Atlantic to tour. When he got back, he found that he was starting to earn the attention of the bigger players in Austin's music scene.
He started holding residencies at Antone's, and in 1995, he cut his first record, Needlegun, for the legendary blues venue's sister shop Antone's Records and Tapes.
Needlegun took Forsyth to Europe again, and when he returned, he came back to busk corners with the band he helped form in 1994: the Asylum Street Spankers, an old-time gutbucket blues crew. Forsyth would captain the Spankers until 1997, when preparations began for his third album, Can You Live Without, his second record to be released on Antone’s.
But Antone's was struggling to stay afloat, and soon after Can You Live Without came out, Forsyth found himself stuck with a record contract that centered less around what the label could do for the artist and more on what the artist owed the label. He played out his contract in 2000 with his fourth album Steak, but by then, Antone's Records was on life support and it became impossible for Guy to get records to sell at shows – a disastrous situation for a full-time musician who lives off what he makes when he plays shows.
Antone's was sold to Texas Music Group, leaving Forsyth caught without cover in the no-man’s land left by an “industry standard contract It took a team of kind-hearted lawyers working largely pro bono to unravel the web of indecencies and confusion spun by the Texas Music Groupwho eventually responded to the litigation by declaring bankruptcy, Their extensive catalog of Texas artists, including the likes of Don Walser, Tish Hinjosa and of course Guy, was purchased at auction by New West Records. Guy’s first three albums are slated to be the first of the re-releases from the Antone’s catalog (Needlegun, Steak, and Can You Live Without).
The recoup may never repay Forsyth for the opportunities lost while mired by Antone's' contract, but it does point to a happy ending. Those albums are his again; he's free to sell them at shows and receive royalties on store sales. "There's a certain satisfaction in seeing the good guys win one every now and then," he says.
Forsyth beat on through the saga. He and his band toured regularly through Europe and across the States. he started his own record label, Small and Nimble Records, and it wasn’t long before he had recorded and released a new studio album. Love Songs: For and Against considered to be his best work to dateand a record that heralded the arrival of an artist that could no longer be easily pigeon-holed as a blues artist.
"Most people have a second act in the music business," he said. "Most people have stories like this. I think that music is, at its best, something that acts as a power source for us in difficult times. It's something that we do to keep us alive and keep us going when things are really, really bad.
"The reason why I do this is because music has always been such an inspiration to me, a thing that has provided a level of ecstasy more than any other distraction or entertainment."
That energy has also proved the basis for his audience's ecstasy. Guy Forsyth is a dynamic personality on record, but like so many before him, it’s on stage where the truth comes, and here the truth is that Guy lives to play. The thrill is in the show.You can sense it when you see him in the clubs or on the festival stage; you can hear it on 2007's Unrepentant Schizophrenic Americana, his double disc live compilation, and on Calico Girl, his Small and Nimble re- recording of the then-bottled up Can You Live Without sessions; you can see it on 300 Miles from Here to There, the live concert CD/DVD he released in early 2011.
The records are the hook – the live shows are what get you in the boat, cleaned up and plopped onto the frying pan. "I'm a ham," he said. "I just love performing. In many ways, I'm more comfortable on stage than I am off it, and I think that comes from being exposed to good performers. I saw John Hammond play when I was 18. He was so passionate and gave himself over so completely to his performance. It wasn't like he was indicating anything or representing what the blues should be. He got out of the way and let the song run. It was so immediate, and it was so close to life or death."
It's with that sense of immediacy that Forsyth releases The Freedom to Fail, his seventh album and first written after the birth of his daughter, Mary Mae.
"This record is different from the last couple projects that I worked on, because I specifically set out to make a studio record, not something that was immediately a representation of something that I was already doing live," Forsyth said. The album represents an articulation of the change in perspective that Forsyth's had since starting his own family.
"There's a level of care that can go into something that speaks to a love and an interest and engagement in life. You try to make something that reflects the world as you want it to be. I just want to make songs that are worth people's time to listen to. I'd hate it if I were wasting anybody's time, because time is the most precious thing we have. If somebody's going to give you their attention, you need to make it worth their while."
Mine your craft such that it's worthy of a stranger's time. It's a lesson he learned at the fairs in Kansas City, Missouri. It's a lesson he refined on the stages of Austin, Texas. With The Freedom to Fail, it's a lesson he's taking to the world.
David Alan Ramont was born in Illinois one muggy, August Tuesday with a song stuck in his head. The doctors couldn’t get it out. (He was also left-handed but they couldn’t fix that either.) He grew into a little kid and began listening to lots of vinyl- Simon & Garfunkel, Stones, Guess Who, Dylan, Gary Puckett. Soundtracks from “The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly” & “Jesus Christ Superstar”. Other hobbies included ruminating and kicking stuff down the street. Then he growed up more, or at least he got taller…
He picked up guitar early on (11?), perhaps to get that damn song out of his head, and whacked away in various bands through high school. Not long after that he started teaching guitar and bass at a little music school outside of Chicago, where he taught hundreds of people “Stairway To Heaven” and what an Aeolian minor scale was for. He began writing songs and playing gigs around the Chicago area –solo, full band, and everything in between. Through the years he also played in the pit for theatre productions, did recording session work, hid out in cover bands, and did plenty of ditch digging, paint scraping and weed pulling.
After releasing his first CD “Toaster Reflection” he moved to Austin, TX for a time and soaked up the thriving indy music scene –playing open mics, songwriter showcases, and driving a bakery truck. His songs began receiving some airplay. The Austin Chronicle said “The world could always use another quality singer-songwriter with meaty lyrics, gritty vocals and a tight back-up band.”
Dave returned North with a tad more twang (and a helluva hangover) and recorded the rootsy, darker “Scofflaws”. The Illinois Entertainer said “…unlike many simplistic roots-revivalists, Ramont isn’t afraid to mix things up…gorgeously unexpected accordions and cellos pop up on this wonderfully produced CD.” He continued playing gigs and teaching. And digging ditches.
In 2000 he released “Scrawny” and began receiving more widespread airplay in the US (mostly on public and college radio) and Europe. Richard Milne of WXRT in Chicago called it “a delicious collection of distinctly American music.” Mark Guarino of Chicago’s Daily Herald said it was “…the finest collection of songwriting I’ve heard in a long time.” Once again the guitar, bass & drums core was surrounded by accordion, cello, piano, Dobro, mandolin, dulcimer, crowbar, lap steel, horns, etc. He toured more extensively- Midwest, East, South, Southeast- and became, well, sleepier…
He borrowed a banjo and co-founded the swamp-billy band Dick Smith with some musical pals. They recorded 4 CDs and developed a hardcore little following, playing around the Chicago regions and the Midwest. Acoustic Guitar Magazine picked their record “Smoke Damage” (2002) as one of the top 3 indy releases of the year. Dave then stepped away from music for a few years. But a feller never stops thinking about new songs, nope –even if he wants to…
At the end of 2009 -flying in the face of recession- Ramont released a sprawling double CD called “Taw”, polished his 1967 Gibson J-50 and started playing out again. His (old) song “I Wanna Marry A Waitress” was chosen to appear on “Blooming-Tunes 2010?, a songwriter compilation released out of Bloomington, IN. He had 2 songs featured on the 2011 record “Made In Aurora”, a compilation of Chicago area songwriters/bands (1st pressing sold out).
And now in 2012 he’s writing songs for a new record, gigging, and working with Dick Smith again. And when no one’s looking, he still enjoys kicking stuff down the street now and again, yep.