Interview: Alex Ryan of First And Forever

Interview by Chloe Muñoz, photos by Yising Kao

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June 2020 issue:

Arizona’s very own, emo pop-punk band, First and Forever, made up of Alex Ryan (vocals), Marcus Leopard (guitar), David Pratt (drums), goes big time. From Craigslist, to not knowing what would be next, to signing to Adventure Cat Records, First and Forever surely isn’t stopping anytime soon.

First off, congratulations on the signing!

Thank you. Thank you.

How’d that come about? I know there are different stories for each signing.

We were very fortunate after “Chicago” came out, right away we actually had a few interested parties reach out to us like right away after that song came out. We only had 10,000 streams which is crazy because we were a garage band. We didn’t expect anything. I had moved to Chicago, Illinois, the band was in Scottsdale. We thought the band was dead and we put out that song and it was, “Who are you? What is this?” and we had a couple of calls and they were all “Hey, are you doing this for real? What is this?” and we were saying “Uh, no. We don’t even live in the same state. This isn’t a real thing.” After that, those calls initially were really the Genesis for us to move forward as a band. I think that gave us validation that maybe we were onto something and that’s what lead to us to do “A Violet Ending,” “Nothing Left to Burn.” In the case of Adventure Cat, what happened was we went and did the record by ourselves first, we did that out in LA. We were out in LA for two weeks with Courtney Ballard who has done the Waterparks records and Emarosa, you name it and I mean, dude’s a stud and we went out and did this record and we were just so stoked on it, we loved it. Basically, we did this record and we were already talking to a few different groups and I had been talking to the Founder of Adventure Cat, Mike Kaminsky, for a while. He’s the manager of With Confidence and Point North, he’s managed Neck Deep, bands like that. I mean he’s just like super connected to the industry and so I have been in touch with him for a while and I sent him the record and he said “Yeah man, this fucking rocks, let’s do this together, let me help you guys.” And he put together a deal for us that was just like far and way better than any offer that we had. To be honest, better people too and they were stoked on us and we were stoked on them, and it was just really nice how everything turned out.

How were you guys able to enlist Courtney for “In Loving Memory?”

For “In Loving Memory” and he did the whole record too. We have four more songs after this one and he did all of them. It’s funny, I think there is this thought process amongst small and local bands that you can’t work with big producers. You can’t work with the Courtney Ballards, Zakk Cervinis, Howard Benson, all those guys, you can’t do that, Matt Squire, you can’t work with them and that’s just not true. Their job is to work with bands to make their sound as good as it possibly can be. The only real thing that separates working with them from working with a local producer, not to say there is something wrong with a local producer, but from working with someone of a bigger scale, the only gating factors are cost and schedule. So, if you can solve for cost and schedule, you can really work with anyone you want. We were very fortunate, we’d actually been talking with Courtney Ballard for over a year up to this point. He was familiar with the band, I sent him the stuff. I just said, “We’d love to work with you.” I heard that Waterparks Entertainment record, specifically the song “Not Warriors” and I said “Who the fuck produced this? This song rocks. Like, who did this?” Just the sounds, he has this very 80’s, synthy, very pop-y production. And I said, “This is perfect for what we are trying to do.” Which is, we wanted to take the song writing, mid 2000’s emo pop punk music but bring it up to date with 2020 production which we don’t really hear anymore. If you listen to our lyrics and our melodies, they’re very, very The Used, My Chemical Romance-esque. Then, the production sounds more like something that you would hear today and that’s what we thought Courtney brought to the table.

Artwork by Chloe Muñoz:

With my next question, the music style is centered around like early-mid 2000’s emo pop-punk, so how are you able to pull that into not only your past songs but also evolving into your present ones as well?

I think that’s just who we are. A couple years ago when we started this band, I wasn’t listening to any new music because I really, really missed and loved that style and I just didn’t find it, it wasn’t out in the world. People just weren’t doing it anymore, and I think there was still an audience for it. I think people missed it. My whole idea was, I miss it and if I miss this then I have to believe that there’s other people that miss this too. I don’t think I’m the only one in the world who misses this style of music and I said if no one is going to do it, I’m going to create it. So, what you hear in the songs, I think with each song that we do and put out, I think our songwriting is getting better and our production quality is getting better too. As you progress as a band, as songwriters, and you start working with better and better people, your end product comes out a lot better. We’re really blessed in that our guitarist, Marcus, is an incredible songwriter and he is specifically incredible at writing mid-2000’s emo pop punk music. He is an incredibly talented writer. He’ll just show me, “Oh, I wrote this new song” and it’s a full orchestra ensemble and it has nothing to do with pop punk music. He’s just an extremely talented musician. So, the way that it usually works is that he writes basically a full song and then me and Dave will come in over the top and say “Lets change this, lets add an intro here,” we’ll mix it up and then we’ll put lyrics on top of it. To go back to how did we do it in the past and how we do it going forward, that’s just who First and Forever is. That’s who First and Forever is going to continue to be, is that style of music.

Going into your writing process with this new EP, how is it different with “In Loving Memory” in comparison to songs like “A Violet Ending’” and “Chicago?” Was there a distinguished path you were looking to go down in terms of identifying a set theme?

I think there’s a couple of answers to that. The first one is that (“In Loving Memory”) was one the first songs we ever wrote being thousands of miles away from each other. When we wrote the four songs, “Hold You Down,” “Chicago,” “Nothing Left to Burn,” and “A Violet Ending,” we wrote those in a one month’s span while I was living in Scottsdale with the guys. But then I moved away and so suddenly we decided, hey, we want to write this new EP. We want to go into the studio with Courtney and we want to do a full EP and really give our friends some new music. So, we had to write that entire EP from across the country. That was the first challenge - how do you write with someone when you’re used to sitting right next to them with a guitar, you’re working on it together? Now, we’re suddenly working on it far apart so it’s a combination of Skype calls, Zoom calls, sharing ideas with each other. I would just sing shitty melodies into my phone and send them to Marcus and he’d usually get back to say, “Dude this is awful” and then I’d get really sensitive and emo about it. But no, seriously he would send us beautifully written guitar parts and that’s kind of how we did it until we showed up in the studio. We had two or three songs fully written and we had two others that were kind of written and we just basically wrote two new songs in the studio over that two weeks. In terms of “In Loving Memory” specifically, we wanted to be very visual with that song. The whole idea was we wanted to write a song that when you heard the chorus, you could feel it, you could see it. I think the lyrics are very descriptive in that sense like, “My chest, your knife, I know it’s on your mind, cut me open, look inside, tell me what you find.” You can see it as it’s being said; We wanted to give fans of our music that visual and that feeling. I think the one thing about First and Forever that I love is that we love to be very theatrical and dramatic with our lyrics and our songs and I think you can feel that energy in it.

I have two more questions and they’re more on a fan base level. The first one is have you had any moments where people came up to you and they were like “This song did this, this song did that for me,” and especially people you were meeting for the first time?

This is what I’ll say about that, those moments are so special and dear to me and I don’t want to share anyone’s specific moment because it’s not my moment to share. But, I’ll say it’s happened at each of the shows we’ve played. I get Instagram and Twitter messages all the time and there is no better feeling in the world. Let me put it this way, as a band and especially as an up and coming band, you don’t think anything, you don’t think you matter. You don’t think your music matters, you don’t think your band matters, you don’t think anyone is going to care. To think that we sat in Marcus’s living room when we wrote “Chicago” just sitting in his living room, we wrote this song with an acoustic guitar and next thing you know we’re getting messages about how it saved peoples life and how it changed things and gave them a better situation. I mean, that feeling is in incredible. It makes you feel like you’re doing something positive for the world. I mean look, if you can make one person’s life or attitude or feeling better based on a song that you wrote with your friends, what’s a better feeling in the world? To have your work valued by someone, no matter it be a band, or art or whatever, just to have your work, something you created, be valued on that scale by someone, that’s really special.

My last question - the EP is coming out but is there anything that the fans can expect from First and Forever in the future/near-future?

Near future, we’re likely going to do a video for one of the songs, I’m not going to say which one. We just gotta get this COVID thing to stop. That’s going to be our first music video which will be really cool. I’ll say the other thing to expect is that you have not heard this version of First and Forever, ever. It is so far and away, above we’ve done at this point; I know that sounds super cliché but like with the production levels, the songwriting, every song sounds completely different. I think there is some bands that you can play their six songs in a row and literally be confused as to what song you listened to cause they all sound the same. That is not the case, these are all completely different, you’re going to hear things from First and Forever you never heard before. Our next song is the most pop punk song we’ve ever written, the third single is probably like the darkest song we’ve ever written but it’s by far probably my favorite song we’ve ever written. There is a lot to be looking forward to and I think we’re especially excited as a band because no one has seen this side of us, and I think we’re kind of proving ourselves to everyone. We’re a band, we’re for real and I think this EP is us trying to prove to the world that we are for real. We are here to stay, and this is a real thing. So, a lot of things to look forward to.

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