Drum and Art Mentor
Forrest Young is a 30-year veteran musician/composer, and an award-winning illustrator. His first drawings were of “choo choo” trains and dinosaurs when he was three. That youthful excitement for visual expression has increased ever since. Forrest graduated magna cum laude in 2002 from Virginia Commonwealth University’s school of Communication Arts & Design, and then went on to study at The Illustration Academy. His work has been featured in The Society of Illustrators, Spectrum Fantasy Art, CMYK Magazine, National Education Association, and many other publications. Many of Forrest’s skills were honed by working with the master muralist, Happy The Artist, on countless large-scale projects, using pre-digital, hands-on methods. Over the past decade, he has taught art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Art, The Visual Arts Center of Richmond, Fairfax, Lynchburg and Henrico County public school systems, and almost every library in the state. Some examples of Forrest’s custom artwork can be viewed at ArtThruZ.
Not long after picking up crayons, Forrest picked up drum sticks and found pure magic in percussive expression. This passion for music led him to learning to play the drums and piano. His first public performance was a talent show at age 13, performing Led Zeppelin’s Rock & Roll and Stairway To Heaven on drum set. While at VCU, Forrest studied Jazz & Classical Performance in their prestigious music program. Since the mid-90s, Forrest has cultivated a multi-faceted career in the studio and the concert scene as, The Emergency Drummer. He has filled in the “missing” beats with an incredibly diverse list of musicians to include: Dane Alderson (Yellowjackets bassist), DJ Williams (Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe), René Marie (Jazz Legend), and Butch Taylor (The Dave Mathews Band). His drumming and percussion work can be heard on several Emmy winning PBS documentary soundtracks, such as The Sailor Bob Story and The Kennedy Half Century. Being able to improvise in any style has also allowed him to connect with the world of dance as an accompanist, performing for classes at The Richmond Ballet, VCU’s Modern Dance department, and University of Richmond since 2002. Forrest has also composed pieces for choreography, which have been performed at Richmond’s Grace Street Theater.
Forrest is constantly curious and inspired by the music and visual art he learns of through his students and peers. Believing that there is and has always been a vast connection between people through how they express their creative spirit drives his passion to share knowledge, wisdom, and skills with young artists each day.
Tell us a little bit about your musical background; when you first started, the first experience that made you want to become a musician.
There was always great music playing in the house when I was growing up. Mom and I would clean the house together on Saturdays and listen to records by The Beatles, Billy Joel, Kenny Rogers, Three Dog Night, Blood Sweat and Tears, The Band, Helen Ready, and musicals like My Fair Lady, Fiddler On The Roof, and Camelot. My dad turned my on to the world of jazz, sharing his love for Chuck Mangione, Dave Brubeck, Ahmad Jamal, and classical guitarists like, Andres Segovia. All of this got absorbed into my being and became part of who I am, musically.
Who are some of your favorite artists?
Some of my favorite illustrators are NC Wyeth, Michael Whelan, Jean Henri Gaston Giraud (Meobius), and Gary Kelley, the latter of which I was lucky enough to study with at The Illustration Academy. As for drummers, that would have to start (when I was a teen) with John Bonham of Led Zeppelin and Neal Peart of Rush, and then graduating to Dave Weckl when I heard Chick Corea’s Akoustic Band album for the first time (which I purchased on vinyl at a thrift store, my first LP).
Today, I love most anything new and adventurous. Esperanza Spalding has broken new ground with her, “Emily’s D-Evolution,” album. And, a recent student at Passion Academy introduced me to Joywave for the first time. Great grooves! Really, I find that when people create music with true love for it in their hearts, it’s always a joy to hear.
Who are some of your biggest inspirations, musical, and non-musical?
The night sky. Shadows and reflections of light. Clouds. Silence. Quietly playing the piano in the dark. Walks in the woods. Watching my wife, Holly, laugh and dance.
If you could follow in any artist’s footsteps, who would it be?
That’s a tough one, since I believe that inspiration gained from other artists is best used as motivation to find your own unique artistic voice. Not to take anything away from the people I look up to and who have given me such an immense wealth of knowledge to draw from in both the visual arts and music. What’s great today is how easily we can find information about any art form and how it is created, giving us the ability to try more new things and learn more about ourselves in the process!
If you had the ability to pick anybody to collaborate with, who would it be?
Well, it would have to be Kit Watkins. He’s a multi-instrumentalist with over 27 solo albums under his belt and has been writing/recording in his home studio since the late 70s. Once the keyboardist for Happy The Man, Kit is regarded as one of the best in ambient and progressive music today. Not a day goes by that I am not listening to some of his music! I highly recommend for everyone check him out.
I am honored to say that two other amazing musicians on my list, guitarist Brian Mesko, and bassist Dane Alderson, have just finished recording an album with me of all original instrumental material. It’s due to be released on iTunes and the usual suspects later this year. Dane, who hails from Perth, Australia, has been holding down the bass chair for the Grammy Winning jazz group, The Yellowjackets, since March of last year and is simply blowing everyone away with his unique voice on the instrument. Brian, who teaches at The Jefferson Center Music Lab in Roanoke, captivated my ears with his melodic and rhythmic command when he used to play with The Rootdowns. He and Dane are both kindred spirits for me when it comes to playing live and finding chemistry in the moment.
What are your plans for the future of your music/art?
I have always wanted to host a radio program devoted to sharing all of the amazing music I have heard over the years with folks who maybe have not been exposed to it yet. I love making connections with artists, songs, genres and expressive styles, which might not be apparent at first. It’s partially an organizational thing for me too because I tend to be a little nutty when it comes to drawing parallels through observation.