The Big Refresh | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

The Big Refresh

Bend's Harley Bourbon isn't rewriting the playbook, just executing with new members

Back when the Source first wrote about Bend band Harley Bourbon in 2011, front man John Forrest was 22, chugging orange juice with bourbon—a drink known as an American Screw—around bonfires and rumbling loudly at local venues with his band's take on outlaw-country-inspired punk rock. Three years later and now 25, Forrest still fronts Harley Bourbon and typically sips bourbon straight instead of mixing it; some things stay the same and others change, quite a bit actually.

Harley Bourbon remains a band that turns out frenetic rock shows punctuated by Forrest's ill-tempered bark, but with all new members—save Forrest—they aren't really the same either.

"I wouldn't say that we're duplicating [the old music] and I wouldn't necessarily say it's better either," explained Forrest in an interview with the Source. "The original lineup with those guys was great while it lasted. Everyone then was really talented and everyone now is talented. The new guys all have their own ideas about song structure."

And who are those new guys? Well, for the most part they should look pretty familiar to anyone who even semi-regularly attends shows around town. Joining Forrest these days is Avery James—of Avery James and The Hillandales—on drums as well as Kylan Johnson on guitar and Nolan Thompson on upright bass. All carving out local success in their own right, this sort of super group of Bend talents is, according to Forrest, not just a quick fix to keep Harley Bourbon concerts happening around town.

"I can't see the future so I can't say for sure, but it feels permanent," said Forrest. "It seems like Kylan and Avery and Nolan really love playing in this band and doing these songs. I think we're gonna continue to do shows where we play with Avery's band or have Kylan open the show. Everyone's side project will still be a part of it."

With the member changes and the maturation of Forrest, Harley Bourbon is perhaps becoming a grownup band more concerned with the professionalism of turning out precision rock songs and less with getting messed up on stage and thumping a crowd with rowdy shows. Just don't mistake that to mean they won't melt your face; they most certainly still will. But Forrest's cohorts have families, they have day jobs—even Forrest himself goes to school—and though they haven't released new material yet, Forrest says he is taking steps toward a new approach to songwriting.

"I'm learning how to read music," explained Forrest. "I taught myself how to play guitar but I've never read sheet music. So at [Central Oregon Community College] I'm doing some summer stuff right now I'm in music classes and a few different writing classes."

And even though Forrest acknowledges the newness of Harley Bourbon, he does notice some familiar dynamics as the new members learn how to play with each other; ones that make him think about when the last version of the band was just starting out and played a show at Bend's M&J Tavern.

"I feel like our first show went really well even though I can't remember all of it," said Forrest. "It was definitely a handful of friends and coworkers there that first time and we just drank a lot of beer and played our songs the best that we could. Over those next years the sets just got better and better as we got to know each other. I see kind of the same thing happening now because I have to go back and teach a new group of people my songs. The first show I played with the new guys was great even though we only had maybe five or six practices before that show. Every show we are getting more comfortable with the songs."

And that includes the new songs Forrest is penning—some as the result of prose poetry he writes—tunes that will still be just as rambunctious but lyrically a little more upbeat.

"Most of [the old songs] are about people and times and things you regret and stuff you wish you could fix," said Forrest. "I'd say the new music is definitely in the same vein; it has the same tone, but it's maybe a little more fun. It's like I'm trying to keep from writing songs that are too depressing, trying to put together stuff that is more rock and roll. As far as the lyrical content, I'd say a lot of it is still about love and the kinds of things that you don't want to forget."

Harley Bourbon

7 pm. Sat., Aug. 16

Parilla Grill, 635 N.W. 14th Ave.


About The Author

Ethan Maffey

Both a writer and a fan of vinyl records since age 5, it wasn't until nearly three decades later that Oregon Native Ethan Maffey derived a plan to marry the two passions by writing about music. From blogging on MySpace in 2007 and then Blogspot, to launching his own website, 83Music, and eventually freelancing...
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