Just three days before playing a Sunday set at the Sasquatch! Music Festival last month, The Lonely Forest announced, via Facebook, that the show would be one of its last.
“It is with sadness that we announce to the world that The Lonely Forest is going on an indefinite hiatus,” the note read. “We’ve been playing together for nearly a decade, released four full length records and played hundreds of shows. We’ve done many amazing things and met even more amazing people. The memories that we share with each other and our fans will never be forgotten.”
The note was signed by “Anthony, Braydn, Eric and John,” the four members who over the course of that near-decade had earned a local and national following with a bright, hopeful, anthemic kind of indie rock that had, at its core, conflict and a kind of darkness unique to the Pacific Northwest. The band’s high-energy performances had helped it win the Sound Off! under-21 band battle at the EMP in 2006. Not long after that the Lonely Forest was signed to a major label and taken under the wing of Death Cab for Cutie guitarist and noted producer Chris Walla. These two developments, along with the support from KEXP, and a deafening buzz in the Seattle music industry, signaled good things to come for the band.
But something went wrong along the way. The title of the band’s fourth full-length, released on an independent label last October, signaled a kind of distress for a workhorse outfit: Adding Up the Wasted Hours. The songs revealed a band struggling, vacillating between resignation and strident defiance. The nature of the struggle was never made clear, but the result has become unequivocal.
The Lonely Forest’s performance at Bumbershoot later this summer will be its final show. But the band played another, perhaps more important, final show this past Saturday as part of the Catapult Music Series. This performance, staged in an old cavernous warehouse on a dock at the end of the main drag in the small island town of Anacortes on Fidalgo Island, was the band’s hometown farewell.
Check out the slideshow from the Catapult Music Series, featuring The Lonely Forest's final Anacortes performance.
All four members of the Lonely Forest still live in Anacortes, and the band has honored its island home numerous times in song. It was little surprise, then, that the show attracted a sold out crowd. The performance itself was lackluster, the weary band pushing through a set of demanding songs with the ease of seasoned professionals, emitting only a few charged moments. But in a strange way, the band’s performance didn’t really matter. The feeling in the room wasn’t that the crowd was there to be entertained by the band, but that they were there to support the bandmembers in their trying hour.
Anacortes has a rich musical culture, evident by the rest of the evening’s entertainment, which included three other bands with origins in Anacortes, including ascendant pop act Cumulus. That culture is anchored to the Pacific Northwest indie movement, Anacortes having played a major role in the story of K Records, and by extension Sub Pop, and, a bit further out, Nirvana. Most of that history is contained in The Business, a record shop that brought independent music to the town of 15,000.
Lead singer John Van Deusen paid tribute to the shop by wearing a T-Shirt from the store during the band’s performance. In the sold out crowd of nearly 1000 were regional music heavyweights Phil Elverum, who as Mount Eerie plays experimental music that could not be more different from the indie rock that the Lonely Forest creates, and Bret Lunsford, whose time as guitarist in the seminal Olympia band Beat Happening and one-time ownership of The Business, has made him something of a town musical guru and historian. Both men have been instrumental roles in the musicianship of the guys on stage.
There were also family members and friends there, the very old at the periphery and very young on the shoulders of their parents. A core of teenagers occupied the area immediately in front of the stage, but they weren’t like you’d find at one of the many shows in large markets that the band has played over the last few years of its career. Here were music geeks, sure, but there were also jocks, dropouts, crewcuts, preppies, and partiers, all of whom came to say farewell to a band that they had known for a decade.
But this was no happy homecoming. There was no clear anger, or frustration on stage, just a palpable exhaustion that hung over a band that once crackled with so much energy, a group of young musicians that embodied the idea of potential. These were the young men that this community sent out to conquer the world; and now here they were, back from a harrowing journey into the savage world of major record labels, discombobulated. And the community was here too, at the end of the main drag, with the brilliant sunset outside, watching a band it loves tear itself apart.
“This is obviously bitter sweet,” said lead singer John Van Deusen a few songs into the set, “but there’s no other way I know how to do this.”
By the end of the show, he was without words. “I don’t know what to say,” he said. “Usually I have a lot to say, but I just don’t know what to say.”
There really wasn’t anything he could say that would make the end of the band feel okay. Instead, the band let its fans, friends, and family have the final say. After re-emerging for a single-song encore, the band tore into “We Sing In Time,” the song that years ago launched the Lonely Forest on its journey. For the final chorus of the evening, Van Deusen turned the microphone to the crowd and let them sing it out. “In Time the trees die and light will fade. But I hope for a new breath, a new life to take me away. In time.”