A few years ago, two young boys, Rounak Maiti and Campbell Scott, who were earning themselves a degree from a small liberal arts college in LA which has 18-year-old Barack Obama in its alumni repertoire, stumbled upon each other and became friends. They started watching movies together, they began to play basketball, they began to jam… and I guess when they picked up the instruments to create melodies, one would say there was chemistry, for, a spark was ignited. Eventually, as fate would have it, Michael Stevenson joined the duo, making it a trio, giving the spark of ember sufficient energy to transform itself into fire, due to which ‘Small Forward’, a warm psychedelic band from LA, sang itself into existence.
“We all went to school together in Los Angeles, and Campbell and Rounak had become friends the first week of freshman year.”
Campbell, with a great amount of pride, interjects,
” We saw Ted 2! Freshman year, like, the third day!”
Michael acknowledges, then continues,
” They began playing music together right away. Next year, I began playing music with Rounak because we lived in the same dorm together.”
While Rounak, who spent his childhood in Bombay, added,
” It pretty much started in like the second or third year of college. We started making music in dorm rooms and once we started living in houses, we just started hanging out at each other’s houses writing stuff, so that’s kind of where it started.”
I got an opportunity to speak with the band over a zoom conference and we all joined the meeting from the comfort of our houses...well, all of us besides Campbell. He, on the other hand, joined in while he was out camping in the woods, with a river flowing next to him, as he cooked himself “plain oatmeal and bananas” for breakfast showcasing America’s greatest resource…its connectivity, so yeah, Campbell was Comfortably Camping with a Camera on his Cell Phone, whilst Casually Cooking during a Conference Call, due to great Connectivity!
The first thing I noticed about the three of them was the playful dynamic they radiated. One could easily gauge that these guys were friends first, evolving into band-mates, who released their self-titled debut album ‘Small Forward’ on 20th May 2020 amidst the pandemic. Prior to this, they’ve released a couple of singles and a demo tracks compilation record, however, with the professionally produced sound this album has achieved, it is apparent that a much larger mountain was scaled. “In 2016 [we released] an album of some demos and songs that we were playing in venues around LA, like, at clubs and small bars and things when we were just starting to play, but this was like the first official Album-Album that we released!”, said Rounak.
Recording an album is a long and tiresome process which can be very taxing on one’s creativity, “The period of time between 2018-2020 is encapsulated in that album” , said Rounak, as Michael went on to add, “I do think it was diverse in the sense that it captures allot of the music we were listening to at that time”. And what kind of music they were listening to you ask, well…Rounak answers that by saying, “One of the biggest inspirations on a track [Luxury] at the time was Lana Del Ray…that should give you an idea of the head space we were in”
Their first post on Instagram is a picture of Michael recording bass in a bedroom in 2016, and the recording process for their current album hasn’t changed much over the years. The multi-instrumentalist trio have not involved any fancy studios in their process, just a few mics and a computer, staying true to their DIY roots and even though no studios were involved, it doesn’t feel as though there’s been a compromise in the production of the album.
Rounak briefed us about their recording process behind the album as he says,
“We never really professionalized our recording process, I guess the closest we came was when we were recording drums for our EP in 2015, we recorded drums at Michael’s uncle’s studio which was pretty legit…other than that, for the album we set up drums in Campbell’s garage , we had 6 mics and then we just overdubbed at my house or Campbell’s house. ”
Michael continued this by saying,
“it’s all orchestrated into a laptop, it’s all computers!”
And Campbell, without missing a beat, joked,
“Just as god intended.”
The digitalization of music was a revolutionary move by Steve Job when he introduced the iPod, as we now have the privilege to access millions of songs right through our phones, however, the one important aspect we did lose out on was the tangibility of music. We’ve lost out on the feeling of holding music in our hand, say, in the from of a vinyl record. Small Forward have attempted to bring back this wonderful aesthetic in order to make it a more personalize experienced for the listener by releasing their albums on Cassette tapes! “We worked with a small tape label based in Minneapolis called, forged artefacts. They’re a very small cassette label. It’s been a common thing in the US for the past decade, I would say.”, claims Rounak, as Campbell is quick to add, “It’s definitely more affordable for the band and for the people buying the merchandise. It’s also just kinda nice, as it has its own quality. You know people talk about vinyl having certain characteristics, I think cassette’s do as well, like it has a certain warping compression that I think a CD won’t have. You know, with a CD you won’t get an additional imprinting of sound which you would with a vinyl or a cassette”
Towards the end of our conversation I asked them, ‘what do they love about the dynamic of working with each other?’ which led to a wholesome round of answers that goes a little something like-
*A round of laughter*
Michael: I like that question.
Rounak: I don’t know, I mean, I feel like for me at least its not like there’s a particular dynamic, we were all just friends before we started playing music and I think its about that more than it is about like ‘I really like this one music ability’. I think at the end of the day, you just manage to see things on the same level with someone else and are just naturally are inclined to work with them. So yeah, that’s my two cents.
Michael: yeah, it is is pretty unique in the sense that, we didn’t find anyone from like craigslist to play bass for us or anything. It was literally like; we were all friends and we realised we all play different instruments and It was like whoa…
Rounak: (Laughs) yeah, just put the two together.
Michael: But yeah, it’s been good. It’s fun having multiple people writing songs I think it makes for interesting albums.
Rounak: Yeah, and it’s been so crazy now because it’s been like a year since I’ve been away. The way I’m writing songs has developed a bit, the way Michael has been writing stuff is developing in a different way but like even though we’re not in the same place, we’re still sending each other music. Like now, I’m recording drums on some music that Michael has written. It’s still developing and there’s still some collaboration that’s able to happen remotely but, like, you know, definitely, it’s not an ample replacement for a physical presence, but it’s the best we can do right now.
Michael: I just want to hold you Rounak.
Rounak: Yeah, me too.
Me: So, what about you Campbell?
Campbell: I mean they really nailed it. We have a really long history together and I think there’s just something really fun about playing with your best friends. You know, it feels like we kinda bring other people into the band, kind of like, to help around at shows and those people become kinda close friends as well, even though they’re kind of newer people to us. So yeah, the fact that we can play music together and then go chill in the living room and just kick it after, is kinda awesome!
Rounak: (Laughs) That last sentence was really wholesome.
I really loved their music, it is quite raw, it has youth and it feels like it’s been drawn from real experiences, so, I got really excited when Rounak ended the interview on this particular hopeful note ,“ I’ve been trying to make a Small Forward tour in India happen for years now…It’s gonna happen dude…I’m going to make it happen!”
Here's a link to the music video to their song 'Imagine So' from their new self-titled album.
You can also find their music on every streaming service :)