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Driftwood’s Dan Forsyth steps out with debut solo album

Dan Forsyth
Dan Forsyth

For more than a decade, Dan Forsyth has been making music with Driftwood, the Americana band that has gained a following far beyond its upstate New York base through relentless touring and an energetic stage show.

As one of the band’s main singer-songwriters, Forsyth has contributed a host of tunes to Driftwood’s seven albums.

And now he’s ready to mine some new musical terrain. On Thursday night at Deep Dive in Ithaca, Forsyth will play a show to mark the release of his debut solo album, “Friday Night Nowhere.” He’ll be accompanied by two of his Driftwood bandmates, drummer Sam Fishman, who played a bit on the new album, and bassist Joey Arcuri.

The Rollin’ Rust, the Cortland-based roots-rock band that recently released its debut album, “Road Rats,” will open the show.

A native of Chenango Forks just outside of Binghamton, Forsyth has lived in the Ithaca area for more than 20 years. But like most musicians, he was forced to change course when the pandemic hit in early 2020. With Driftwood’s touring plans on hold, he hunkered down at home in Dryden, just northeast of Ithaca. After taking a break to enjoy some time with his family, he had the urge to make some music. But initial attempts to record on his computer left him feeling disconnected from the songs he was recording.

Seeking a different approach, he decided to exhume his Tascam Portastudio, a four-track cassette recorder he had owned since the 1990s. “I really just wanted to have it be a much more hands-on process,” he said in a recent phone interview. “And it just felt right at the time.”

But he had to overcome some technical limitations along the way.

“Tape is an awesome medium, but it was hard to get it to sound good,” he said. “There were times when it was really fuzzy, so I got a couple of tools to make it a little clearer. I was really hoping that in the mixing process, the engineer (Pete Hanlon) would find the tracks usable. And when he heard them, he said, ‘I can work with this.’ But the limitations were definitely a big part of the album.”

Working at home, Forsyth also had to take care not to disturb his wife and two young sons.

“There was a lot of late-night recording, so I didn't want to be too loud with things,” he said. “So that's a big part of the sound and the vibe of it, too.”

The cover of Dan Forsyth's debut solo album, "Friday Night Nowhere," released Nov. 8, 2022
The cover of Dan Forsyth's debut solo album, "Friday Night Nowhere," released Nov. 8, 2022

After Driftwood resumed touring in 2021, Forsyth set aside the solo project, but he picked it up again that winter and completed it in April 2022. He sang and played all the parts on the album, save for Fishman’s drumming on two songs. “Friday Night Nowhere” is a bit like Bruce Springsteen’s 1982 solo album, “Nebraska” – also recorded at home on a four-track cassette machine – with an intimate, occasionally haunting feel that veers more toward gothic folk rather than Driftwood’s upbeat mix of country, bluegrass, rock, and old-time influences.

“Part of me thought I should record like Driftwood would, and add layers of stuff for a bigger feel,” he said. “But I didn’t think about it as a way to advance my career or to have people really love it. I just really wanted to record these songs – they were all part of my process of getting through COVID, and a reflection on my life with my family at the time. So it was really just me expressing myself, and nothing more.”

The opening track, “Never You Mind,” was sparked by Shel Silverstein’s beloved book, “Where the Sidewalk Ends,” which Forsyth had been reading to his sons every night. One poem in particular, "Listen to the Mustn'ts,” inspired the song:

"Listen to the Mustn'ts, child,

Listen to the Don'ts

 Listen to the Shouldn'ts,

 The Impossibles, the Won'ts.

 Listen to the Never Haves,

 Then listen close to me.

 Anything can happen, child,

 Anything can be."

“I had forgotten how much I had loved it as a kid,” Forsyth said of the Silverstein book. “I didn't expect them to really take to it the way they did, but they just loved it. That one poem really stuck out to me, because at the time with COVID, they would constantly ask me if they could go out and do things, and we’d have to keep telling them no and it was so discouraging. This poem was uplifting and conveyed an important message to them at the time.”

Another song, “Just a Little Honda,” was inspired by his youngest son’s love of motorcycles, which echoed his own childhood memories.

“I wrote that when I actually had COVID,” Forsyth said. “The first bike I had when I was a teenager was a little Honda 300. My son would keep asking me to sing him a motorcycle song, so I would make one up; he would get excited every time one drove by the house. After I found myself talking with him about them, I decided I was gonna write a song about one, and it happened quick and easy.”

Speaking of writing songs, Forsyth has been hosting a Songwriter’s Night at Hopshire Farm and Brewing on the first Thursday of each month. After kicking off the night with a couple of his own songs, he invites local musicians to share tunes that they’re working on.

“It's been really amazing to hear the talent in the area,” he said. “There are so many great songwriters with so many different perspectives and styles. I leave every night feeling super inspired, and I hope that everybody else does the same thing.”

As for Driftwood, Forsyth said the band is “just chugging away,” with a few more shows left in 2022 (see below).

“We've been working on an album for about a year and we had to scrap some things and start over, but that's coming together pretty good,” he said. “We’re hoping to finish recording by spring and put it out next fall.”

If you go

Who: Dan Forsyth, with the Rollin’ Rust opening

What: Album release show for “Friday Night Nowhere”

When: 8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 10

Where: Deep Dive, 415 Old Taughannock Blvd, Ithaca

Cost: $15, available online here; $20 at the door

Event Info

Forsyth will play another album release show at Atomic Tom’s in Binghamton on Dec. 16, sharing the night with Kid Bess and the Magic Ring, who will also be releasing a new album of their own. And he’s just added a release show in Rochester, at Abilene Bar & Lounge on Jan. 12, 2023.

Driftwood also has a few more dates left in 2022, including:

Nov. 12, Flour City Station, Rochester

Nov. 25-26, Ransom Steele Tavern, Apalachin

Dec. 3, Buffalo Iron Works, Buffalo

Dec. 30-31, The Range, Ithaca

Jim Catalano covers the Finger Lakes music scene for WITH (90.1 FM in Ithaca, and its affiliates.