Vancouver producer iamforest goes his own way

The artist pursued solo electronic sounds after failing to find like-minded musicians

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      Local boy iamforest—or Luke Forest Hartle, to his mom—came to electronic music for the same reason that many have been trading their guitars for laptops. Flash back to the ’70s, and every kid on the block spent their evenings strumming a hand-me-down Gibson in the garage. Nowadays, it’s decidedly trickier to line up a guitarist, bassist, drummer, and singer, and find a rehearsal spot with better soundproofing than a glass condo.

      “Growing up in North Van, I found it really hard to locate an indie-rock scene,” the producer tells the Straight over an afternoon coffee. “For some reason, people didn’t seem to play instruments, and if they did, they were very secretive about it. I felt like I was the only one who wanted to pursue music as a career, and I couldn’t find the right people to work with. That’s when I started figuring out that I could do it on my own with just a computer.”

      Dedicated to entering the industry, Hartle put himself through school to become an audio engineer—but after working for a short period in Bryan Adams’s Gastown recording studio, he decided to call it quits. Recognizing that he’d rather make his own music than put others’ down on wax, the budding artist made a pivot to focus entirely on his iamforest project. Hartle has no hard feelings about exiting the industry, though, crediting his school’s teaching for his ability to weave sounds into rich tapes­tries of noise.

      “Electronic music allows a person the most freedom to manipulate sound waves,” he says. “You can take control of the whole project, so if you’re an introverted person like I am, you can sit in your room and create these whole soundscapes that would otherwise take 50 musicians. Electronic music is just thousands of tiny decisions. Moving a slider or a knob by a tiny degree changes everything. In an instant you might mess everything up entirely, or create a whole new kind of music.”

      Given the thought that goes into every composition—the producer’s soon-to-be-released four-track EP, Bridges, for instance, took a year and a half to complete—it’s little surprise that Hartle’s songs boast a complex arrangement of parts. Broadly working in the chillwave genre, the artist breaks from tradition by injecting elements of indie rock into his tracks, mixing downtempo grooves with lively guitar lines and deep, ethereal vocals. For Hartle, that blend of textures defines his sound.

      “I like bridging the gap between the inhuman perfection that you can get from technology, and the human imperfections that come from playing guitar or singing,” he says. “I started putting my vocals on tracks when I realized that the instrumentals I wrote were not as unique as I wanted them to be. When you’re working in that style, you’re competing with prolific composers who spend a lot of time making incredible beats. You have to have something very unique in the grain of your synths or your writing processes to make people recognize your music—like Ratatat or Tycho. Deciding to incorporate vocals really opens people up to fall in love with your music more strongly—but it also allows the possibility that people might hate it more. I’ve been told my voice is quite similar to Ben Gibbard from Death Cab for Cutie, which definitely polarizes people. Ultimately, you have to keep doing the things that you like in your music. Everyone is so dialled in to what they enjoy these days that making songs that you like yourself needs to come first.”

      Unlike most producers, who thrive on the possibility that their latest track will be the next summer banger, Hartle isn’t a fan of the club scene. Finding it frustrating that electronic music is so tightly tied up with bars and festivals—and, by extension, drinking and partying—the musician has made a point of making Bridges a record for quieter hours, catering to an audience of listeners rather than dancers.

      “I wanted the EP to sound like it was made in the late ’70s, but with all the technology we have today,” he says. “It needed to be a little dirty and kind of gritty—but also very warm. The idea is that it has a really earthy sound to it, and you can put it on without it being too intrusive. I really like the vibe of Tame Impala and Washed Out and Toro y Moi, and I’ve put elements of their sound in there while adding noise to make it sound older.

      “The line between inspiration and discouragement is very fine when you listen to other producers,” he continues. “You can either be inspired by it or you can get down and think, ‘Why do I even try when their stuff is so good?’ Most of the time I get inspired—especially when I’ve met or know the person. I get stoked on that, because when you talk to each other you realize that they’re exactly like you are, and they feel the same way about inspiration or discouragement. And a lot of the time you’re both thinking the same thing: ‘How did you do that?’ ”

      iamforest plays a release party for Bridges at the Biltmore Cabaret next Friday (August 25).

      Follow Kate Wilson on Twitter @KateWilsonSays