If you listen to a Forest Ray record, the band’s lineup seems stacked. The huge, lush sounds on songs like “Black Pine” and “Run to the Night” hint at a band that with multiple guitarists, keyboard and synth players, a steady rhythm section and a vocalist.

In reality … even though Forest Ray has toured with as many as seven members, you’re listening to a four-piece band.

Forest Ray is all about rhythmic soundscapes of indie rock meets blues, coated with psychedelic flavor. Since 2016’s Musical Witchcraft, the Seattle band has been experimenting with indie-twang, and is now preparing to release Always, their fourth album. The group is touring the U.S. after releasing singles “Always,” “Make Some Time” and “Close Your Eyes”—and is making a stop at the Matador Lounge on Wednesday, July 6.

During a recent phone interview with frontman Peter Sumic and drummer Nate Louis, they talked about the history of the band.

“The band originally started in 2015, and at that time, it was really a recording project for myself,” said Sumic. “The recent iteration of the band has come from playing in Seattle really nonstop over the last three years. Nate and I, our current drummer, are native, and we’ve crossed paths so many times in the last year or so. We’d go to each other’s shows and support each other, and it ended up making sense to start doing music together. We both have a big drive for touring and recording. It’s really gone a long way from what it was originally—just sort of a bedroom recording project.”

The group is carrying seven years of off-and-on experience into this upcoming run of dates.

“I’ve learned a lot just through trying to take Forest Ray on the road over the last seven years,” Sumic said. “Our last two-week-plus tour was probably March 2019, and I learned a lot then just in terms of where you can trim the fat on a touring group, how to prioritize core elements, and what really makes sense to tour with. I think originally, I was a bit overzealous, and I was trying to bring eight people out on the road—bringing every possible piece of gear into a massive RV and doing, like, 20 dates. Looking back, I was like, ‘All right, let’s try to simplify that,’ so now we’re doing a much more simplified version, with three or four people in a sprinter van. We’re keeping things simple. My old boss used to say, ‘Keep your overhead low and your revenue high.’”

Added Louis: “If there’s anything I’ve learned in the last two years with the pandemic, it’s the social side of music. When live shows go away, and you’ve kind of lost the people, you see just how crucial of an element that is to live music, and how it really makes or breaks the show.”

One reason for Forest Ray’s grand sound is their utilization of analog recording. Sumic used the pandemic to improve and organize his recording studio.

“Being someone who’s always loved recording my own songs, the pandemic was a big opportunity to look inward at my own recording setup, and optimize the space, so that we can be writing and recording super-efficiently—and everything’s basically ready to go at any time,” Sumic said. “If I wanted to set up mics, press record on the tape machine and track a new song, we can get that up and going in 10 minutes.

“There was a lot of focus on keeping the space and recording studio in top operating form, but I also spending a lot of time writing. I honestly spent way more time on lyrics than I have in the past, which was nice. It was really a good time to grow and look inward and work on other aspects that sometimes fall by the wayside when you’re just thinking about the next gig or trying to get to the next place, which we’re excited to do again.”

The pandemic also brought a new instrument into the Forest Ray fold.

Forest Ray.

“Actually, Always was really our first album to feature a Rhodes piano,” said Sumic. “You can hear that a lot on some of the singles we’ve released from the album so far. ‘Always,’ for example, the four track is on a Rhodes piano with a double slide guitar and acoustic guitar. We definitely leaned a little bit more toward the organic elements. There’s electric piano on ‘Make Some Time’ as well, so that was a gear acquisition that definitely influenced some of the writing over the last year.”

Louis credited Sumic’s work on his recording studio when talking about the band’s productivity.

“I definitely think that Forest Ray being able to take as much control with the recording process is a big part of our recorded output,” said Louis. “Over the last few years, we’ve been able to maintain our release schedule in order to put out as much music as we have. Not just having a recording studio, but having one with the amount of analog gear that we have, is a really big component to the sound.”

When it comes to analog versus digital recording, musicians could debate all day. While Forest Ray prefers the former, Louis said: “I actually don’t think they’re that different. One of the beautiful things about analog recording is it really forces you to record exactly what you’re doing live.”

Added Sumic: “There’s no editing. I can’t move the drum hit to put it perfectly in place. That’s the beauty of analog. It preserves a human element. There’s also no bullshit; you literally hear exactly what our band sounds like.”

Added Louis: “I think a lot of times, analog forces you to be more concise in a musical statement, whereas sometimes with digital, it’s very easy to get in your own head, and want to go back over things again and again.”

As the band looked ahead to the upcoming tour, the members said COVID-19 and varying restrictions remain on their minds.

“We’ve been playing shows since August nonstop, and we definitely experienced that during the Omicron surge,” Sumic said. “Playing in Seattle, it was all masks—it was really tight again—and then you go 30 miles north and play in Everett, and no one mentioned the masks. Even when we toured through Texas, it was like that.”

Added Louis: “I would say fortunately for both of us and everyone in the band, none of us are immunocompromised. We’re all vaccinated, too, so we do the best we can on the road, and I think overall, we’re pretty lucky in that way. I think the bottom line with all this is really just adapting as much as possible, and kind of being able to roll with the punches.”

Sumic said the band is cautious on the road, and keeps a tight-knit social circle.

“We might be talking to people, but we’re not necessarily the band that’s going to be at the party until 5 a.m. finishing leftover beers and hanging out with every person in town,” Sumic said. “That’s just in Seattle. When we’re touring, it’s show after show after show, so as soon as we’re done and say our goodbyes, we’re on our way. We have a pretty tight operation, so there hasn’t been any COVID contracted.”

Sumic said attendees of the Matador Lounge show can expect a four-piece band that sounds like seven.

“We just put a lot of work in,” he said. “There are a lot of multi-instrumental things, Nate’s put in a lot of work in particular to accurately replicate the orchestration on the album. It’s going to be a really full sound, even though it’ll be a relatively small group. I feel like music fans from all walks of life will be able to find a song in our set that they really enjoy.”

Forest Ray will perform at 8 p.m., Wednesday, July 6, at the Matador Lounge 445 N. California Ave., in Reno. Admission is $8. For more information, visit matadorloungereno.com.

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