If you were alive and listening to music in 2006, you most likely know Hellogoodbye. Their song “Here (In Your Arms)” was a smash hit, going platinum in the US, and you’ve probably heard snippets of the tune playing on the radio, between bands at a show, or being hummed by your sister. But they didn’t stop there: 2010’s folk-rock Would It Kill You and 2013’s dancey Everything Is Debatable were quick to climb the indie rock charts.
During Hellogoodbye’s headlining tour with Vacationer, I sat down with front man Forrest Kline to discuss burritos, ukuleles, and the band’s electro-pop origins.
Could you give me a brief history of the band?
Well, I started in high school. It started as a recording project—I had just learned how to record things on a computer, so I started making songs and recruiting friends to play shows. And then I kept on doing that until we got signed, and went on tour for the first time, and then, ten years of that and here I am!
How long have you known that you wanted to be a musician?
It was a slow transition, I guess. I didn’t really know it at the time. I started playing music when I was in sixth grade, and when I started playing music, I started writing songs, so I was always the songwriter in the bands. I didn’t per say know that I wanted to be a musician, but it is something I’d do with my time, and only later in hindsight did I look back and think, “Yeah, this is what I like to do”.
Growing up in Huntington Beach, California, were you influenced by any of the bands that came out of that area?
Well, out of the LA area in general, for sure! I really loved a band called Ozma, from Pasadena. They were a big influence.
Whereas Would It Kill You was more organic, energetic folk, and Zombies! Aliens! Vampires! Dinosaurs! had more electronic elements, Everything is Debatable seems like a cool mix of the two. Compared to your other albums, how was the writing/recording process different on Everything is Debatable?
Yeah, it was like that. It was a mix of everything that I had learned up to that point. On the first record, I was just stumbling my way through it on a laptop, and on the second record I kind of threw it all out and got new tools and learned a new way of recording, so that’s part of the reason that it came out more… straightforward. And then this time around, I was able to see all of it and bring in elements of both.
So what caused you to veer away from the more electronic vibe of “Zombies! Aliens! Vampires! Dinosaurs!”?
Well, mostly I just got sick of programming, cause when you make music like that, you just sit there and you click a lot of buttons and it’s not musical at all—it’s visual. And I got pretty deep into that, where everything was totally visual. You built songs, you didn’t play them. So I just got kind of exhausted with doing that. I wanted to play things.
What inspired you to go in a different direction from Would It Kill You on this album?
I think most people, and I definitely, go through phases with music and the stuff you’re diggin’ on. I’m always going through different phases. Influences are coming and going. I’m always just keeping it fresh.
So what is your usual songwriting process like? You said you usually use your computer to record demos?
Yeah, I’ll have a loose period of kind of taking notes, or recording a little snippet or writing a melody. Then I let those things float around for a little while, and then I put it through a machine and start building, fleshing it out and seeing where it goes. But that’s a process of a couple months, usually.
So how does it usually start? With a lyric, or a melody…?
It’s always different. Sometimes, it’s just a beat or a rhythm. Sometimes it’s a lyric with no melody, sometimes it’s a melody with no lyric, sometimes it’s a chord, sometimes it’s a sound… pretty much every time, it’s a different thing.
What would you say is your favorite song off of your most recent album?
Um… that’s tough. I like them all, seeing as I put my stamp of approval on them [laughs]. “(Everything is) Debatable” is one that I think is really great and sums the whole thing up. The recording stuff was especially cool on “Summer of the Lily Pond”—the horns and the drums on that song were really fun to do. The strings on “A Near Death Experience” were really fun too, it’s always fun to get orchestra people in there.
What’s your favorite song to play live?
It’s always different—whatever you’re adding in most recently is always kind of the favorite. “(Everything is) Debatable” is really fun to play. Also “Oh, It is Love” is fun cause it’s the loosest… you get some freedom to take it here, take it there.
Is there a certain artist or band that you listen to a lot while you’re on tour? Or does that constantly change?
The Beach Boys always pop in, and I can go through basically the whole Beach Boys catalog on every tour.
Would you say that you enjoy playing big, loud, energetic shows, or smaller intimate acoustic shows better?
I like both. I like small intimate big loud shows the best. Acoustic shows are cool, they’re like a special thing on their own, but it always feels a little out of my wheelhouse… it’s not necessarily what I do.
So, you put out an EP called Ukulele Recordings. How long have you been playing the ukulele?
I bought it right around the time when we put that out, which was… 2008, I’d like to say? And that was when I bought my first ukulele. But it’s just like a guitar, just smaller. It just took me a couple hours to learn some of the chords, I just looked them up on the internet. It’s totally the same thing.
Do you ever play ukulele onstage?
Mhmm! When we play “The Thoughts That Give Me the Creeps” or something like that, we’ll play it.
I always think it’s really cool when people play electric ukuleles onstage because it’s such a different vibe for such a tiny little instrument.
[laughs] Yeah! You hear that big at the festivals.
Definitely. So, honestly, your song “Here (In Your Arms)” was my jam in the late 2000’s. Did you ever expect it to go platinum or to reach that level of success?
No, when we were writing it we didn’t know what it was gonna be. We were barely a band, and we had only toured a couple of times, so who could have had expectations of any kind?
Was that a turning point for the band, after that song took off?
Yeah, for sure! I think before that song took off, the record was doing pretty well, and we had a few opportunities, but yeah, that whole period was a turning point.
In 2009, you produced and recorded Never Shout Never’s “The Summer EP”. Was that your first time producing and recording someone else’s music?
It was the first time I’d done it for a stranger, sort of. Not that he was a stranger, but I’d recorded things for local buddies of mine. But yeah, it was the first kind of professional gig.
So how was that experience?
Oh, it was great! I love making records and I love making records at my house, which is where we did it.
Do you plan on doing anything like that again?
Mhmm, yeah. Honestly, I think that [Never Shout Never’s] music is real cool. If an opportunity came my way with something that I dug personally, then I’d love to do it.
So what are your overall goals as a musician?
Overall goals? I just want to express myself, clearly and properly.
Okay, if you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Uhh, maybe burritos? Cause you can put a lot of things in burritos, you can make all different kinds of burritos.
But if you had to choose one kind of burrito?
One kind of burrito? See, that would be disgusting.
I’m talking, one food for the rest of your life.
That would be disgusting, okay, then straight-up… a salad. For the rest of my life.
Okay… but you’d get so tired of it.
Nooo, I think you’d get tired of everything else.
But just lettuce?
What would you say then?
Definitely grilled cheese.
See, you would get sooo tired of grilled cheese! [laughs]
I know, but lettuce is just like water!
[laughs] Well I’m thinking more like spinach and kale, with some garbanzo beans and cucumbers, like everything. I’m talking the works salad. All the vegetables in a bowl. That’s what I’d eat every day.
Okay, I guess so. With all grilled cheese I’d get really fat, anyway, so…
Yeah. It wouldn’t be good. You’d be on TLC.
So a few days ago, it was Record Store Day. Do you still buy records on vinyl?
Do you do that more than buying physical CDs or digital music?
I do [online radio] for most of the music that I listen to, and then I just buy the record when it’s something that I think is gonna be let into my echelon of favorite records of all time. I don’t just check things out on record. I just buy the faves.
Okay, this is just kind of a tidbit, but did you know that this wizard rock band covered “Here (In Your Arms)”?
As Harry Potter? Yeah! I was really psyched about it, it was cool. What were they called…? Maybe they were “Harry and the Potters”.
Yeah, I think that’s the most popular wizard rock band.
Yeah, yeah. Have you ever heard the alternate telling of Harry Potter, by Brad Neely? He renarrates it. You watch the movie and you mute it and you listen to his narration. It’s really funny.
That’s so cool, I’ll definitely check it out. So any final words?
Just thank you for taking the time to talk to me!