By Rick Perez
‘Hey man, I don’t even know you at all, but can I take off my socks to dry them out?’ I humbly asked Trevor Tunison, lead singer of Fort Vine. My socks were drenched from New York City’s post blizzard slush. “Sure, man!’ Trevor replied, ‘Wanna borrow some socks, too?’ This comedic introduction began my afternoon with the band Fort Vine.
I met them at Trevor and Nyna’s apartment on the corner of 149th and Broadway in West Harlem. Yesterday’s blizzard caused the trains to get all out of wack, so my 45 minute commute from Brooklyn to Harlem turned into an hour and a half ordeal. One stop away from my 145th street destination, the train conductor told everyone to get off. I had to walk 12 blocks in the melting snow, slightly hungover, with water seeping into my California-inspired-not-ready-for-winter boots. I was basically walking in puddles that were INSIDE my boots.
Trevor greeted me at the door with a hug and a pair of dry socks. Nyna greeted me with a slice of apple pie she made during the blizzard. Their warmth was super appreciated. I like these guys, I thought, this is gonna be a good afternoon.
Trevor and Nyna, along with Kenny and Luke, shared with me their previous approach to writing, “I usually write the music and then bring it to the band,” explains Trevor, “We all finish the song but the bare bones of it is pretty much done.” For 2016, Fort Vine decided to go in a different direction for writing. Like many musicians before them, they headed into the serenity of the mountains to write and fully collaborate with one another. “We wanted to try a new direction with all of us contributing equally,” says Nyna, “We wanted to find our voices and see what we can do with all four of them.”
Check out BoC‘s photo shoot and interview with Fort Vine, where they talked about their song writing retreat, the struggles of moving to New York City, and their project ‘A Song a Day in the Month of May.’
Who is Fort Vine?
Kenny Johnson: Bass
Trevor Tunison: Vocals/guitar
Nyna Nelson: Vocals/keyboard
Luke Markham: Drums
If you can wake up in someone else’s body and be them for a day, who would you be and why?
Kenny: John Paul Jones, bass player for Led Zeppelin. He had the best gig as a bass player in my opinion. He had got to ride the wave of debauchery in that time of rock and roll without anyone knowing who he was, which I feel is ideal. I would love to be in a famous band where nobody knows who I am. Plus he’s an awesome bass player.
Nyna: I would love to be in the body of Freddie Mercury to see what it would be like to sing like he does. And to be in the band Queen. I think they had an awesome dynamic. We actually watched a short documentary while we were upstate about the making of ‘One Vision’. Just how they worked together was really inspiring. It would be cool to get first hand experience on what that dynamic was like and bring it back to this band.
Trevor: I don’t know if this guy is still in orbit around the earth, but Tim Peake. The guy from Britain who just did the space walk in the International Space Station. I would love to have been there for the launch and to be in space floating around for a day would be really cool.
Luke: Chris Dave, my favorite drummer. I would spend the day writing emails to myself (Luke Markham), about everything I was thinking about as Chris Dave.
How was the song writing retreat?
Trevor: Awesome! We got a lot of work done. We were finding each of our individual voices in the band in terms of writing. I usually write the music and then bring it to the band. We tweak certain things here and there and then come up with rhythm, bass, and drum parts. We all finish the song but the bare bones of it is pretty much done. The song writing retreat was just like a blank slate with all four of us.
Kenny: I think you can start a song as a writer by yourself and have a lot of freedom in terms of what is possible because there is no one to stop you. But if you start with a drum or bass and then build on top of that you don’t have to worry about those elements.
Nyna: We wanted to try a new direction with all of us contributing equally. We wanted to try a new direction with all of us contributing equally.
Kenny: And that’s why we all went up there to see how that would end up working. It’s a different dynamic for the whole band, so we needed to take some time to see what happens. We needed to get used to each other, trying to write from that perspective. You can’t do that in two hours.
Trevor: Hopefully it sounds like more of a cohesive unit this time around.
Where was it?
Trevor: My house upstate in the Catskills.
Nyna: Trevor’s mom was great, she let us ransack the whole house. She made us an apple pie everyday.
Kenny: I’ve watched a lot of documentaries about the great musicians of the 60s and 70s, and a lot of times the record labels gave the musicians a whole lot of money and said “Hey go in the mountains and make a record.” I visited Trevor’s house before and was like “We have to come back up here and write.” I think a lot of signature sounds comes from the environment that the studio was in, there’s a certain mood. This place definitely has that. We had our very own rock and roll fantasy camp.
You are currently working on your sophomore album. Why should we be excited for this?
Trevor: Well we are excited because it will be a true collaboration.
Kenny: Hopefully its a sound that won’t be replicated
What’s one item you usually purchase at the deli?
Luke: Quest Bars cause I always forget to eat breakfast
What is Fort Vine’s strength?
Trevor: Song writing
Nyna: We have the best rhythm section hands down.
Kenny: Our positivity. Honestly, when I write solo stuff I write very dark. I think a lot of people who write by themselves find it easier to pull from negative experiences. You don’t have a lot of people writing “Here Comes the Sun” anymore. This band always has positivity. I don’t have that many experiences playing with people who are that relentlessly positive. That’s one thing that will separates us from the other mass of indie bands.
What’s your favorite hang out spot in the city?
Kenny: Iriving Farm, I’m there like 4 times a week.
Trevor and Nyna: Chipped Cup. It’s our local cafe. We were here when it first opened, we know everyone there, it’s just a cool spot to hang.
Luke: Whiskey Brooklyn in Williamsburg. They have games in the basement. It’s my go-to spot if I don’t know where else to go.
What’s the story behind your latest single “Late at Night”?
Trevor: We do this project called ‘A Song a Day in the Month of May’. It’s a song writing challenge that we put upon ourselves to write an original song everyday in May and make a music video for it.
Nyna: And we release it the following morning. And then do the whole process over again with a brand new song.
Trevor: Last May was the second year we did it so we have about 62 original songs. The last May 2nd we were up at like 11pm and hadn’t even begun to write yet. I started playing the guitar riff, then the vocals, and it kinda just started very organically and quickly. We finished the song at 1am and then started filming the video out on Broadway. We didn’t’ get to bed until 5am.
Nyna: That recording was on the Birp.fm’s playlist for June. We then re-recorded it with the full band and released that version. There are two versions out there.
Did you guys have any struggles in moving to New York City?
Luke: I did a free internship at a mastering studio, and by free I don’t mean that I didn’t have to pay for it, I mean they didn’t pay me. That was cool, but I was making zero money and after that I was ultra unemployed. That really sucked, I hated New York for a long time. It went from really cool, I was in a new city, I was at Master Disc Studios, Kanye’s album was coming through there, all this great stuff. Then to complete zeros in the bank account and no phone calls was kinda crazy. And then it all turned around!
Trevor: I had a similar experience. I had two internships at two different recording studios and I stayed at one of them, which is Magic Shop Recording studio. David Bowie actually recorded his last album there. I was there for about 3 years. It was unpaid, but they had taught me a lot and helped me record my first solo EP. It came out sounding really cool. But I was constantly broke, working for free and catering trying to make ends meet.
Nyna: I came here kind of on a whim. On the day of my graduation I went on tour in Europe with a few different musical theater shows. When I came back to the States we had a layover at JFK before heading the West Coast. That was the first time when I thought “I should be in New York.” When I got home I was kinda twiddling my thumbs and trying to figure out what to do with my life. So I bought a plane ticket with my friend Natalie, who is actually our roommate now, and we came out to New York together. The first day I got here I met Trevor’s brother, who actually lives here too, at my first audition. And the rest is history.
Kenny: I moved here on the insistence of my now ex-wife had because she said I was gonna love it. We were living in LA, and I hated it. She went to school in Manhattan and loved it. We met in LA and she stayed in LA because of me. Ever since then she kept telling me how we should go back to New York. Finally we did, and neither of us really new anyone here. I randomly got a job two weeks in, just me. We weren’t making enough money to really survive. Those two years when we lived in Queens were tough. I wasn’t playing much music at all. I thought I was going to quit. If we were going to have kids I didn’t want to be the dead beat musician Dad. That was basically a slow downward spiral. I feel like since we separated that was really my first move to New York. That was a year and a half ago, and I feel like I have only been here an year a half in many ways. In terms of being a musician anyway. I stopped for 3 years, and I feel like I’m behind but I’m making up for lost time.
What’s next for Fort Vine?
Trevor: Get this album figured out
Nyna: I’m putting a video together of our footage from upstate. Release that video to show people what we were doing up there.
Trevor: We are playing the 27th of February at 11pm at the Rockwood Music Hall. After that we are writing material for new album, selecting tracks and all.