Forest of Tygers Wreak Harrowing Husband-and-Wife Heaviness
Jim Valosik’s name might not come to mind on the topic of artistic polymaths and renaissance men ... yet. The Nashville-based Valosik juggles a full-time advertising industry gig with Forest of Tygers (the blackened sludge duo in which he handles guitar and vocals and his wife Rachel slams drums), Acteon (the not-yet-two-year-old label he formed with a Brooklyn-based partner, which has thus far issued four releases) and Exvrbs (his solo instrumental project described as “dark finger-style acoustic guitar”). Somewhere in between all this, he’s added the role of burgeoning short film / video maker to his growing CV, as he wrote, produced, directed and edited Forest of Tygers’ video “Pay of Pigs." As you might imagine, it took a while for schedules to open up and coordinate, but we finally got Valosik on the horn to discuss his multiple DIY endeavors.
Was Forest of Tygers something you had in mind before you and Rachel got together, or was it a project the two of you spearheaded?
The band is very much a construct of the two of us. We met a long time ago; I’ve known her since I was 19, and I’m 39 now. We played in another band together with some friends from another band I used to play in, and the main thing was that we just got really sick of dealing with other people’s schedules. We were listening to a lot heavier music than the stuff we were playing at the time and constantly trying to push that project heavier, and it just didn’t fit. We didn’t really split up that other band; it just kind of dissolved, and we decided to start our own thing that was just straight-ahead metal, for lack of a better description. We started Forest of Tygers from the ground up, the two of us.
Did the intent of what you wanted to do change after embarking upon a two-piece band with your significant other?
Yeah, in a few ways. We definitely have to try and keep the band kind of “band-ish” and platonic, for lack of a better word, and try not to involve marital issues in the practice space. That was something we learned and a rule we had from the start. We basically started playing together and wrote our first song via jamming, and we really liked it. It wasn’t like, “Hey, let’s do a husband-wife thing!” It sounded really thin and bad at first, but we’ve built it up over time. Like, I play through three rigs now in order to try make it sound like a full band, and if there was an intent, that was it: to make it sound like a full band, but do it as a two-piece and do whatever the hell we wanted without anybody else’s input or interference.
For a lot of people, being in a band is partially an escape from the daily grind — work and home life included. How do you manage when part of the escape — getting away from whatever challenges that home and relationships are presenting — is removed from the equation?
Luckily, before we even dated or anything, we were really good friends. Then, we dated. Then, we didn’t date for a long time, but we maintained a really good friendship based around these core interests, and we’re just both pragmatic about it. As far as the escape part of it, sometimes we have to work things out individually while we’re practicing. Like, I may be upset about something, but don’t want to bring down the overall mood of our relationship, so I work it out privately and internally at practice — sing harder, sweat more, do whatever it takes. To some, it’s an escape — a tour might be an escape from day-to-day life — but we look at a tour as a vacation of sorts. We both love playing music, so it’s like a trip where we get to do what we love to do every day. It’s like a vacation with a purpose that we get to share, which is pretty fun.
Considering the husband-wife dynamic of Forest of Tygers, have there been any discussions about expanding the lineup?
We’ve toyed with the idea, especially being a two-piece and trying to sonically sound like a four- or five-piece. That aspect of it is a bit of a nightmare. I’m setting up three rigs while she’s setting up drums. There are times we would absolutely love to have someone in the band that could help with general band shit like driving on tour or helping load in. It’s really hard to load in with two people, because one person watches the van while the other person humps the stuff. When we go on tour, we try to take somebody as a helper, more or less. I also run some soundscape-y stuff and sonic textures I’ve made through a volume pedal between songs, and it would be really cool to have somebody that could fiddle with that stuff. There are certain songs where it would be cool if there were bass lines here and there. But in the end, we go back to the thesis that we created this and it’s our thing, so we always kind of give up the idea of us expanding it beyond us, because it takes it out of our control. And then there’s the scheduling — we practice almost every single night and it’s what we do together.
As far as the “Pay of Pigs” video goes, do you have a background in film or did your work in advertising contribute to your ability to direct and make the video?
The video was my first proper endeavor. I’ve always worked in some sort of visual art, whether it was a hobby or job, and had sort of a lifelong desire to eventually move into filmmaking, but never really saw a path. But if there’s one thing that’s awesome about advertising, is that even though I’m “just” a graphic designer, I get sent on these shoots for TV and broadcast commercials, so I get to hang out with the crew and learn all about their cameras and ask them endless questions. I’ve absolutely learned a ton of stuff from the crews that I’ve worked with at shoots. And after working on enough shoots and working with some of the stupid low budgets they deal with in advertising, you pull favors, learn what’s possible for certain amounts of money and all that.
Where did the idea for the video come from?
That came from the fascination I have with fringe subcultures; the video is pretty much a literal depiction of the themes of the lyrics in the song. I found out about the concept of financial domination and I was fascinated by it; who would put themselves through that and why anyone would do it? It’s like when you’re a businessman, nothing satisfies you anymore, and you’re basically gambling you’re entire life and reputation for this thrill. I just thought it was insane, so I wrote some lyrics about it from the perspective of the guy doing it, the guy who’s entranced enough by the situation to give away all of his information and possibly lose his credibility and life because of it. The video idea came when we were listening to rough mixes of the song, and the image in the video of when the chair falls and he hangs himself just popped into my head right on that beat. It stuck with me. From there, I started developing ideas for before and after the hanging scene, and it turned into me applying the knowledge I’d learned and using these camera rental companies I know that are super-cheap and actually shooting the idea. It would also kind of be like a proof of work on my end, like showing that I can do this. So, I storyboarded it, which I’m familiar with from advertising, and every frame was boarded, and we just shot directly to the storyboard.
How long have you been doing Acteon and was it originally a vehicle to release your own stuff?
I’ve been doing the label since the beginning of last year, and that is what it was designed for. After Rachel and I did Bruises, we decided to self-release it. I discovered that we needed a label name for some of these weird forms you need to fill out for record pressing plants and stuff. So, I just came up with the name Acteon. I liked it a lot and just stuck it on the back of the EP. After that, I decided I wanted to do a split 7” with somebody else, which ended up being Act of Impalement, and I thought, “This would be cool to turn it into an actual label.” It was at that point I talked to [label partner] Al [Bulmer], developed a logo and started treating it more like a label. Basically, it was to be a home base for Forest of Tygers and to also release some small format and small releases of bands I really like and bands I’m friends with. Hopefully, we’ll eventually do larger releases of smaller bands that people haven’t heard yet. We’ve got some big dreams, but doing a label is an absolute money hole and so is filmmaking; I’ve got all these wells I’m just chucking money down at the moment.
Before Acteon, did you have any label experience?
What would you say has been the most surprising thing you’ve learned about running a label?
Hmmm ... I guess the most surprising thing is how hard it is to get people to listen to your releases and how hard it is to get a response. I understand that these days there are so many bands out there, and I can’t even fathom how obnoxious and annoying it must be for people to get a hundred emails every day saying, “Hey, check out this band, it’ll blow your mind!” Getting people to pay attention to something you have faith in can be frustrating.
Of all the activities you’re engaged in, which of them are you finding yourself most drawn to? Are you finding all this a time management skill test?
As far as time management goes, luckily, advertising has beat the idea of deadlines into my brain. I am equally lazy and hyper-hyper productive; it’s always one of the two strains, and I’m never a constant with that. It does get tricky with time management. We’re shooting a new Forest of Tygers video later this month and, luckily, I have a partner working with me on this one. My favorite of all the activities is a really hard question because I like music and film equally, and I can’t really devote to one or the other. I get into phases where I’ll really be into music and I’ll be hunting for bands and obsessively putting 10 items a day in my Bandcamp cart and reading every blog. During those times, the movie-watching and the film-related stuff falls [by] the wayside. Then, I’ll go through phases where I get really into watching films constantly and writing for them. I really bounce back and forth. I installed a shit-ton of white board and corkboard in my computer room / office, and I just keep things organized into columns, and it helps to see what things I need to work on mapped out visually.
On the flipside of that, has working on so many projects tarnished any of it for you?
The label is something that requires a lot of attention and time. It’s just a lot of contacting and emailing and clicking and all that. I would say right now, I’m letting the label lag behind the fact that we just wrapped up writing our debut full-length, we’re looking to start recording that in the winter, and we’re doing the video shoot in a month. All that will go through until the end of November, and the video will be accompanying the song that’s on the split with Anicon, so it will kind of swing me back around to having to focus back on Acteon once those things are completed. So, I feel I just do things in a rotating order versus doing a bit of each every day. Like when the video and 7” are done, I’ll be glad to get back into label mode in terms of trying to get the word out.
Considering that Acteon was originally designed to release your own material, was it difficult convincing Anicon to release material on your label?
We were good friends with Anicon before any of that. We met them on our first tour and it was their second tour, and we crossed paths at this particularly hellish show in Virginia Beach. It was so bad that we had a bonding experience with them at this redneck beach hellhole. We kept talking, they did a tour with Yellow Eyes, and I set up a show for them in Nashville, and we played in Louisville and a couple other places and talked about doing a tour. So, last September we did a 12-day tour with them. Right before the tour, I had the idea of doing a cassette because they were really cheap and Owen [Rundquist] from Anicon mentioned they had some recordings and the digital version of Aphasia. I asked them straight up if they wanted me to put out a cassette version so they’d have something physical to sell on tour. That’s kind of how it started. That kind of thing is important to me: having some sort of basic friendship and understanding with some really cool folks in order for me to want to put time and money behind it, even if it’s just a tiny amount.
Have you thought about what point you’re going to have to alter that idea as the label grows?
Oh, absolutely. This is the beginning stage, and like the beginning of a lot of things, it’s where you work with your friends on something to get it off the ground, and it grows on its own from there. Al and I have talked about a couple bands we’d like to work with at some point, and after the next 7”, I’m not certain if Acteon will be releasing the next Forest of Tygers LP, if it will be a co-release, or if somebody with better distribution will want to release it. The ultimate goal is to move into full-lengths, do a couple of them a year and a few smaller supplemental releases a year — maybe more if things start to pick up and pay for itself.
Well, I’m exhausted just talking to you about your life. [Laughter] Anything we missed?
I also have a side project that’s just me doing an instrumental, acoustic, cinematic score, finger-style guitar-type thing. That’s called Exvrbs; normally it’s spelled with a "u" and it’s a term to describe the outer suburbs of the outer suburbs. Like in Nashville, you’ll be an hour outside of the city driving on the interstate, and all of a sudden there will be this huge housing development where these people live and drive all the way back and forth to Nashville. I spell it with a "v" because someone else came along and put out a record under that name when I had it spelled with a "u." So, I said fuck it — just be obnoxious like everybody else and use a "v"!