Forest Magic Redefines Music in Chattanooga

By Xan Gwaltney

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (UTC/The Loop) — A group of UTC graduates has been entertaining and engaging audiences like no other local act as it enters it fourth year performing as Forest Magic.

Forest Magic (L to R): Joel White, Nick Turner, Joshua Bennett, Allie Stafford, and Allen Hartley.

Forest Magic (L to R): Joel White, Nick Turner, Joshua Bennett, Allie Stafford, and Allen Hartley. Photo by Julia Davis.

The band formed in the fall of 2006 including members of established bands Suomi, Tremont Beauty Salon, and Brokedown DeLorean.  While Forest Magic has at times included as many as nine members, the current core group consists of guitarist and lead vocalist Joshua Bennett, bass player Allen Hartley, violinist and keyboardist Allie Stafford, guitarist Nick Turner, and drummer Joel White.

They have taken a communal approach to making music, focusing less on songwriting and more on the creation of an environment through their music.  Stafford, a 2007 graduate, recalls her introduction to the group as an opportunity to share musical ideas and “create something positive.”  Bennett, a 2006 graduate, says that Forest Magic was actually “a concept before there was a single note played.”

Bennett describes the band’s approach as a redefinition of folk music that is less concerned with a specific sound, but with the idea of detachment from popular music and a rediscovering and reinvention of music through communal learning and collaboration.

Turner, a 2009 graduate, says having the concept before the music helped give them direction.  He says there was never an effort to commercialize the group.  Instead, he says, they made music for themselves, and committed to having “a positive impact on each other.”

The result is an organic experience in which Turner says music is “a form of meditation or a religion of sorts.”  In a sense, it’s gospel music, just not like you’ve ever heard it before.

The band’s first album was released in the fall of 2009 and reflected the group’s eclectic and conceptual nature.  Turner says even the title, Is Energy, refers to the band’s music being “more of an emotional thing rather than just writing songs.”

Forest Magic's Is Energy

Forest Magic's Debut LP - Is Energy

Listen to Is Energy on Muxtape

More often than not, comparisons are based on the concept and experience of Forest Magic, rather than on its sound.  Admittedly, that sound can be hard to pinpoint, as the group regularly crosses genres and defies classification.  The closest comparisons would be to Animal Collective’s layered rhythmic and melodic blend of neo-folk, noise rock, and psychedelia; however, Forest Magic’s sound often includes elements of the chiming, atmospheric textures of Sigur Ros and the ambient post-rock of Godspeed, You Black Emperor!, as well as aspects of various types of world music.

Although the concept is rooted in the folk tradition, the band is more often found nodding along to Wu-Tang than Woody Guthrie.  And their wide range of influences is reflected in an eclectic sonic mixture.

Visit Forest Magic’s Myspace page

Forest Magic now boasts a catalog of close to 50 songs, and fans can expect to see another album plus individual EPs from group members in the coming months.  Fans can also expect more performances at JJ’s Bohemia where Forest Magic gained notoriety during a resurgent period for the Chattanooga music scene that saw the rise of such local staples as Moonlight Bride, Coral Castles, and Night of the Wolf.

Discover more local music at JJ’s Bohemia

While the band members do not expect to always stay together in their current form, Turner says “we’ll always be personally and musically connected.”

Listening to Forest Magic and experiencing a live show, audiences can expect to feel the same way.

Top Photo by Julia Davis