LIVING IN AN INFERNO, LIVING IN AN OVEN
A CONVERSATION WITH ROBERT FORSTER
In 1976, while attending the University of Queensland, Robert Forster meets Grant McLennan in a drama class. Within two years they have formed a band, The Go-Betweens, and in 1978 they released their debut single “Lee Remick” b/w “Karen”. A lot has happened since 1978. The Australian-based band has had many member changes throughout the years, but Forster and McLennan are the mainstays and the core of the band — until 2006, sadly, when Grant McLennan passed away.
Although difficult at times, Forster continued with his solo career, and by 2015 was ready to write and speak about McLennan in his brilliant book Grant and I. Fast forward to 2019, and not only has Forster released a stunning new album, Inferno, he is also embarking on a fairly extensive world tour which includes an upcoming stop in Toronto.
“I had an album’s worth of material that I really liked and I had been working and living a lot in Brisbane, which is my hometown, I recorded my last album here, I wrote a book, Grant And I, and I wrote that here. I felt like I wanted to get out of town, basically. And I spent a lot of time in Europe, touring Grant and I, and I thought I would like to go over and make a record there. I had become reacquainted with a guy called Victor Van Vugt. He had moved to Berlin and opened up a studio and it all fell into place, really. I had the songs and Victor had the studio.”
The resulting album, Inferno, is an incredible work of art highlighting all that Forster does well. He even takes a turn at collaborating with W.B. Yeats, such as on “Crazy Jane On The Day of Judgement”.
“Those words are not from me. I was asked to go over and perform Dublin and perform on the 150th anniversary of his birth. And I had just written the melody of that song and they sent me some poems of Yeats and this song fits perfectly. It just really worked, in terms of its mood, its length, everything. Just happened to have the music, and I was very, very lucky. That’s how it came about.”
And as usual, titles and themes are always well thought out and allow the listener to read into the meaning and create their own sense of the overall ideas.
“That just came from the lyric “Inferno (Brisbane In Summer)”. Back in 2015, late night, really really hot. From frustration, midnight and 28 degrees. I just wrote ‘living in an inferno, living in an oven’. Just complaining a lot, your house being eaten up by vegetation. A few weeks later I wrote the melody. The whole inferno idea of being trapped in a house and reacting to the change in climate, the heat, and what people are going through to put up with this heat. That came to me, and I wrote that song very quickly.”
For Forster, writing is not a formula. Songs come to him in different ways and the listener has benefited from this as his music never fails to surprise.
“I have a couple lyric ideas going, and I write a piece of music and maybe one of those lyrics will fit one of those lyric ideas. I am always glad that what I write people are interested in and want to talk about it.”
Getting out of Brisbane is not an issue given the extensive tour Forster is currently on, which includes dates with a band, solo dates, and some dates with violinist Karin Bäumler.
“I like the variety. I enjoy playing by myself as much as with a band. I see them all equal. I am happy. Being a songwriter means I can do that, I can bring people on stage and keep building throughout or now I can walk up to the mic and be solo. I can put on an acoustic guitar and feel totally in my element. I present myself the way I want to be presented. I can throw in numbers and you are a little more ‘in the moment’ when you are on the stage. It opens up just a little bit more.”
New music and a chance to see Robert Forster live are both reasons to celebrate. He continues to write from deep within his soul and the end result is poetry and short stories set to music. As an artist, he continues to grow and develop. He does not rest on past laurels but rather continues to set new heights for himself. I, for one, am very grateful he needed a break from Brisbane. Inferno is available now at all good record stores and it is an album well worth your attention.