By Christine Leonard
CALGARY – September’s back-to-school regime is a questionably welcome event, but for Calgary students-of-life Mammoth Grove the requisite first essay question of ‘How I spent my summer vacation?’ is one worth crowing about. While others spent their dog days mowing lawns and painting fences, Mammoth Grove has been growing its fuzzy beard, working on its psychedelic moontan and observing the migratory behaviour of the Cowtown concertgoer.
“In my experience music has been one of the most consistent, most enjoyable, most beneficial ways to make a living,” extolls lead singer-guitarist Devan Forster of his summer employment of choice. “I have a pretty hard time sticking through things I don’t care about, don’t believe in and don’t want to be a part of, which how I’ve felt about most jobs in the past. So music has been great, especially recently I’ve been jamming a lot. I’ve been downtown playing gigs, solo shows, open mics and just being out there and it’s working really well.”
Catching the waves of humanity that wash across the core throughout July and August, Forster (who also performs solo under the name Silver Moss) has had ample opportunity to exercise his mind, polish his craft and gain a more fulsome understanding of the relationship between performer and audience.
“I was out a lot for Stampede which is great, of course. Happy, smiley, drunk people everywhere. I was playing outside of the gates of the [Calgary International] Blues Festival as everyone filtered out and middle-aged crowd was having a lot of fun. I’ve never been offered more joints, roaches, doobies, piece of hash, one-hitters. Mom and Dad like to have a good time out! On the train ride home afterwards I had the entire car singing along to “I Won’t Back Down” on the Green Line. What can I say? Tom Petty’s been a gold nugget for me.”
Sure he gets plenty of requests for CCR, Neil Young and Steve Miller, but it’s Petty who’s illuminated Forster’s quest for authenticity and self-awareness. By his estimation, it’s not just looking the part and delivering the goods, but bridging the gap between generations while exuding a signature sound that is entirely unique.
“I play very few covers, I don’t really know many at all,” explains Forster.
“Right now the point of busking for me is to try out all these new songs I’ve been writing. And I’ve been writing lots! Mammoth Grove has this massive back catalog that we want to record and do stuff with, but we’re just kind of relaxing right now. After we went toured out to B.C. in May we figured let’s do our own things and enjoy the summer by soaking it up on the coast and playing on the streets back home.”
Although this post-tour summer hiatus has been the longest of their collaboration, Mammoth Grove has been busily cultivating all of the elements necessary to flourish throughout the dark, cold winter months. Bound with wood, wire and an unquenchable thirst for beauty, Forster’s methods and approach have only grown stronger thanks to weeks spent pounding the pavement during his 21st century troubadour bootcamp.
“The biggest thing for me was just getting over that initial fear of busking. I was scared and I was nervous, but now I’m really into being able to rely on my voice and a guitar. Mammoth Grove is always electric, but this summer I’ve been really only playing acoustic, because it’s lighter to carry around. So, that definitely changes the sound and dynamic and everything about it. I’m really focusing on simple songwriting. I’ve noticed while busking that people connect with your voice way more than your guitar. I’ve been working on my vocal technique and range and it feels great to be confident in just what I am right here and now. ‘Blam!’ Until recently I felt like I had to be the singer, now I feel like I get to be.”
Mammoth Grove performs September 21st with Yawning Man and Alex Perrez & The Rising Tide at The Palomino Smokehouse & Bar (Calgary).Alex Perrez & The Rising Tide, Blues Festival, Calgary Beat, Calgary International, Mammoth Grove, The Palomino Smokehouse & Bar, Yawning Man