Buddie's Dan Forrest Isn't Here to Give You a Science Lecture (But He Could If He Wanted To)

The Philly band's frontman talks about writing music in Equatorial Guinea while doing conservation work, balancing the right and left brain in songs, finding magic in trial and error, and more.

(Photo by Ashley Cordoba via Facebook)

I haven’t gotten to write about Philly bands as much as I used to. After spending much of the last ten years profiling and interviewing bands for JUMP Magazine, those days are behind me. But there have been so many good Philly artists popping up and putting out music lately. I missed not only catching them at local shows, but getting to know them more through interviews and profiles.

A couple of weeks ago, my friend passed along the song “Seeker” by Buddie, and I was immediately all about it (and featured it in my last post here). It’s very much my shit. It’s a lot of the things I loved about the first Yuck album, but with much more power-pop reminiscent (and American) vocals. While I listened to the rest of the album, Diving, I looked up more about the band, since they were new to me (well, they’re still pretty new to everyone. The album just came out on Aug. 4). As it turned out, they’re from Philly! This excited me, because despite not growing up here, I’ve lived here long enough to be biased and think everything that happens within the city limits is better than anything else on Earth.

I’ve been recommending the album to basically anyone who will listen to me. It starts with the Hum/Smashing Pumpkins-esque drone of “Boiler,” but moves through so many other color palettes throughout, like the upbeat pop rock snap of “In Aquamarine” to the sort of Midwest shimmer of “Garden Glow.”

Excited to learn more about them, I got in touch with vocalist/guitarist/primary songwriter Dan Forrest last week, and it turns out he has a pretty interesting story himself. Forrest works full-time as an environmental scientist. Like every artist’s day-to-day life, some of that side of his life comes through lyrically, like the critiques of the oil industry in “Heartbeat.” He also spent some time doing conservation work in Equatorial Guinea, during which he did some writing for the band, and felt uniquely isolated from the new music of home, relying on what he had downloaded already.

We got into how his scientific mind influences the way he writes songs and what he writes about, but how he does it with real nuance and a graceful touch. It’s not all yelling at you Zack De La Rocha-style about how the planet is dying (it is) or empty, smarmy U2 rhetoric. We also got into how that’s not the only thing he wants to convey in his music—he also sings about the power of friendship, the normal emotional heavy lifting that comes with existing in the world in your 20s, and throwing seltzers back. Normal shit, you know?

Basically, when it comes to writing songs with a powerful and thought-provoking message and catchy melody, Forrest has that shit DOWN TO A SCIENCE.

[Editor’s note: It is at this point where I must remind you that unsubscribing to this newsletter is illegal.]

The band is donating all of its proceeds to Philly Urban Creators, an organization that focuses on environmental education, sustainable living, urban farming, as well as artistic expression and social activism in the Philadelphia community, so if you feel inclined after reading this interview and listening to the songs, I highly recommend throwing a few bucks that way.

Without any more shitty jokes, here’s my conversation with Dan Forrest, vocalist/guitarist of Buddie.

Brendan: OK, to start off, tell me a bit about Buddie. How did this project get started, and how did it get to where we are now, a little over a month into the first album’s life?

Dan Forrest: I think we started recording some time early last summer with my friend Tim McMonigle. Tim’s really busy, so we were kind of doing things whenever we got a spare couple hours with him. Usually at night after he’s done work. We started kind of tracking some stuff there, so four of the songs that ended up on the album were with Tim. That was a really slow process, but it was really fun. We got to take our time with things and think about a lot. The other four songs on the album we didn’t record until almost the end of last year. Actually I think “Vines” we recorded right at the start of 2020 I think. I’m trying to remember if that’s right. And we’re mixing with Keith Abrams [of fellow Philadelphians Pine Barons] after that. He has this cool space in the Olde Kensington area. We did that in early 2020, and then everything went off to masters in March, and we got them all back.

When did you start the band itself?

Ah, ah, OK. I see what you’re saying. Sorry about that!

Well I wanted both!

In like 2016-ish, I was playing with some friends—my really close friend Andy and another friend Jake. Andy and I were in a band called Twin together, and that had just kind of broken up. I played drums in that band. And I was kind of writing songs here and there while I was playing in Twin. And then just decided, All right, we’re not doing anything else, and I have so many songs. Let’s try to get something together. I talked to Jake, he had some songs, and we were thinking maybe I play drums for him. Then we jammed a few times and decided, you know, actually Jake will try playing drums, Andy will play bass. We demoed a bunch of songs out, we recorded a demo album and played like two shows before I went to work in Equatorial Guinea as a conservation biologist for this program called the Bioko Biodiversity Protection Program. I spent about a year there. It was just an amazing experience.

Once I came home, I was like, OK, I’ve got all these songs I was writing while I was there. I had this demo album before we left. Let’s try to get the band back together. […] Basically, we went through a couple iterations of the band before I decided, You know what, I’m going to try to find a bunch of new people, and found Brian. He’s a friend of my partner Dana. They went to school together. He plays bass. Brian’s partner Danielle plays lead guitar. I had heard she was awesome at guitar and everything, but was living in West Chester at the time, and we weren’t sure we could make it work. Danielle ended up moving in with Brian, so it really worked out. And David I met, [when] we were auditioning a bunch of drummers through Facebook and Craigslist, all that. It just wound up working so well. I listed some influences on the Craigslist ad that he identified with, and he totally fit in right away.

You read a lot of band bios from the ‘80s and ‘90s and they say they met someone through ads like that. I feel like that doesn’t happen too often anymore.

I feel like a lot of bands do that sort of thing, but it’s hard to make it work because you rarely find someone. There’s so much that goes into making a band work. You have to relate on so many levels I feel like. 

It’s auditioning a friend, too.

Yeah, exactly! There were several awkward weeks of meeting up with people at our practice space, playing for a half hour, and being like, “Alright cool, so, yeah, we’ll talk later.”

So let’s not gloss over something you mentioned before. You said you wrote a lot while you were in Equatorial Guinea. What was that like, and what did you come back with material-wise that made it to the album?

The experience was incredible. It’s basically a conservation program, but it’s coupled with a study abroad program through Drexel. That’s kind of how I fell into it. I went to Drexel. They have these long-term monitoring projects going on of primates on the island. There’s like seven different species of primates on the island that are super cool to see. Sea turtles and birds. Everything you can imagine. They work with mostly local people. I worked completely in Spanish and met a bunch of amazing people, became close friends with a bunch of them, and managed these field teams. It was kind of a mixed bag job. I was doing a lot of different things day-to-day. Driving around either providing supplies for our field camps or working with study abroad students helping with their projects, or driving to the north—Malabo, it’s called. We had these alternative livelihood programs because a lot of people there were hunting for their own, it was a way they could make money, unfortunately one of the side effects was that they were killing a lot of these primates and sea turtles. But they needed the money, and we needed to provide an alternative to that job if they were going to be able to make it. There were some cool programs like that, as far as ecotourism was concerned. We had programs on the southern beaches where some of the people that maybe formerly were doing some of this trapping and other sorts of hunting could go and guide people like tourists either on the island or outside the area to these beach camps that were remote and this really wonderful resource, and turn this wildlife into a source of income as far as tourism is concerned instead of hunting.

How did this influence the music then? How did it influence your writing while you’re doing this incredible and important work away from home?

I felt pretty isolated from the music scene I was used to. I was so far away and I wasn’t, like, hearing about any local bands anymore, which was something that used to be a source of inspiration for me. So, I was kind of listening to whatever I found on Spotify and whatever I found on the internet and Bandcamp and stuff like that. A lot of it was more major artists I guess. Well, not major, but major as far as indie rock is concerned I guess. I think I found Car Seat Headrest while I was there. And then fell back on things that I was used to. Lyrically, I was super inspired by my surroundings and what I was doing and all of these problems as far as all these environmental issues that were on my mind day-to-day. And the ecology and all the socioeconomic problems that a place like that has. All of that was on my mind lyrically, but musically I was kind of in this place of having less outside influence and more of just whatever was already in my brain from listening to old pop rock from the ‘90s and stuff like that. I ended up probably writing, I don’t know, like 10 songs that I felt like were worthwhile and brought them back with me. I started recording stuff with my friend Tim. This actually all ended up on the EP that we had before this album. It’s called Change of Scenery, and we put it out in 2019. And so,  I think three of the five songs that were on that album I wrote in Bioko. Trying to remember which ones. “Angsty,” “Selva” and … what else is on that EP? Anyway. A couple of songs from that ended up on there. I recorded it with my friends here. At the time I was kind of playing in flux with other friends that were playing with me. Tim was playing drums at the time and recorded everything. My friend Jake played bass on a track or two, and my friend Lauren played guitar on one of the songs, “Privileged Youth.”

Did you go to school for environmental science or did you go for something music-related?

I went for environmental science actually at Drexel.

So science is your first love?

[Laughs] I wouldn’t say it’s my first love. It’s what I fell into for school. I think, you know, if I felt like going to music school would’ve, I don’t know, would’ve brought me to a better place as a musical artist and I knew for a fact that that would help the music, then maybe I would’ve done it. But there’s something useful and helpful, and I might be wrong about this, but I feel like it helps me be creative by being somewhat ignorant in terms of the higher level music theory. I have a solid enough background in music theory that I can talk about the music with my band, and David who currently plays drums, he went to school for music and has a pretty solid background in music theory. And I have enough that I can communicate with him and he might go and analyze what we’re doing and suggest something different. But I feel like it lets me just listen to the music for what it is instead of … I’m just playing what I hear, not what is “right” according to the rules.

It definitely seems like, lyrically, there are a few environmental touches on songs like “Heartbeat” that has that environmental theme to it. The same thing goes for writing political songs, where I’ve heard from people saying how hard it is to do it without coming off as ham handed or hokey, but still getting the point across. How challenging is it for someone who is, you know, not just a spectator in this. You’re in the environmental field. You know the problems facing it better than most. How do you translate that into a poignant and well done and balanced song?

I appreciate you saying that it’s not hokey and all that, because that’s definitely a concern. It could sound like we’re all singing “Kumbaya” or something. I guess the approach that I have is just like, this is what I do day-to-day. It’s what I’m thinking about. So I’m just going to write it down. For a while, I was like treading lightly on the subject and being less direct about the lyrics. I think I write about some of the environmental topics that are a little more straightforward I guess, especially in a song like “Heartbeat.” I’m not, like, giving a science talk when I’m talking about the oil and petroleum industry. I’m just saying I feel like, can’t we all agree that this is something messed up that we need to talk about and address it? I think that’s what I’ve been trying to do a lot lately—if it’s on my mind, I’m going to write it down. If it feels like it didn’t come out right, then I’ll scrap the idea. But if it feels like it was honest and true and made a point that I agree with or how that’s how I really felt and that’s how it was supposed to come out, then that’s how it should be. The lyrics still need to sound like a song. I pay a lot of attention to the sound of the words and all of that. The rhyme scheme and all that. Beyond that, I think I just try to write what I’m thinking.

It’s a real testament to what you can do. I think a lot of people try to write a political song, just to use that as an example, and they write something very vague about how politicians are bad. Or, conversely, they get way too specific and the message is just lost on everyone. I think you hit a sweet spot of hitting the topic, but you don’t go into too much of the nitty gritty that comes with your life as a professional or, as you said, giving a science talk.

I think I’ve tried in the past. There was one song that we had as a band that we were thinking of making into something and maybe recording, and it was kind of more on that, stating a lot of interesting facts or something. In the end, it just felt like it didn’t really work. I hope I kind of found a good balance. Day-to-day stuff shows up in my songs, too. Friendships and all of that. I think the mixture of topics in this album and whatever songs we wind up putting out in the future are reflective of, generally speaking, how much time I spend thinking about this stuff.

Environmentalism is part of your life. But it’s not your entire life.  

Yeah, yeah. Exactly.

And, I mean, plenty of bands with guys who are in science, like The Offspring or Descendents, they don’t just sing about virology or chemistry.

[Laughs] Yup.

Maybe they should for one album. So, to bring this back to Philadelphia, as everyone from here does, since this album came out during the pandemic when no one could go to shows, how challenging was it to get people’s attention around here when you can’t hop on a show at a venue? 

Yeah. I don’t know. It’s been weird. I don’t know that we’ve figured it out necessarily. I’m grateful for everything that we can do as a band still. Considering everything going on, we’re doing about as much as we can and we’re somehow making the best of a horrible situation. There are so many people that were affected in all of these horrible ways, that it just dwarfs the band in comparison to everything else going on. It isn’t the same as before, obviously. We would’ve wanted to play a release show, we would’ve wanted to tour on this. We had plans to tour this summer and all of that. I think now we’re just trying to take the time to write as much as we can. We’re going to take more time to demo these songs out before we go to formally record them in more of a studio setting. And then, I don’t know. We’re trying to get more creative about stuff. We’re trying to figure out better ways to livestream shows. I’ve never done that before this.

I don’t think anyone really did.

Right? We’re trying to get some cameras and recorders. I’ve done live streams just by myself, but it’d be nice to have some solid sound quality and video quality for a band recording. And I’ve seen some bands do it pretty well. Hoping to figure that out soon. And make some art, T-shirts, stickers and all that good stuff.

Make things as normal as physically possible without the whole playing live things.

Yeah, I guess so.

So what else do you want to tell people about the band and current plans?

We recorded the other four songs with Sean Reilly at Studio North, album art by Nora E. Luks, and promo photos by Ashley Cordoba, and big thanks to Connor Murray at Crafted Sounds for putting the tape out and all the work on the release. We’re still donating all of our proceeds to Urban Creators, who are a really cool organization in Philly that has this farm in North Philly that’s just super cool. They’re offering either really low-cost or free produce to the neighborhood. In normal times, they’d have arts and music and culture events on the farm. They’re working with catering companies to make low-cost meals for the community, and they’re distributing goods that are relevant to the time right now, like masks. Anything that was difficult to get in the stores, they have I think. Just so people know that’s where the money is going.

How did you get hooked up with them?

I was just looking around. I think I saw some kind of Facebook event or something that was shared on Instagram that was like someone adjacent to them saying that Urban Creators is having this market on Wednesdays during the pandemic so that people can still come out and get food. I saw one of those events and looked into them more, and in my mind they’re one of the few organizations that kind of checks all of my boxes. They’re helping their local community, there’s environmental implications when it comes to having a farm in the middle of the city, being a green space for stormwater runoff and all that, and also being a green space psychologically for people in the area. There aren’t that many beautiful green spaces in the heart of North Philly. It’s just a really cool thing.

Check out Diving and the rest of Buddie’s catalog here, and learn more about Urban Creators here.

Today’s Snakes and Sparklers musical guest is Faye Webster.