Local band dishes on rockstar existence
They’ve slept on the beach, in the backyards of strangers, in the parking lots of Wal-Marts and in the parks of Northern California.
No, they’re not bums; they’re the members of Volifonix, one of Eugene’s best funkadelic rock bands, and they’re up for adventure.
The stories of people in bands — garage and internationally renowned alike — have become a sort of American staple in this day and age. The mere mention of being in a band conjures ideas of crazy, drunken debauchery, and many wonder if musicians are in it for the music or the madness.
But Volifonix is genuine. The band members have their stories, but the music is clearly more important than anything else. They’ve played Bumbershoot, opened for Everclear and gone on a successful and extensive tour, all in about four years. Looking tired but happy on overstuffed couches, the five band members deliver a
casual and friendly interview on very little sleep, after returning home at 3:30 a.m. from a show in Roseburg. Smiling and joking along the way, Volifonix tells the story of what it’s like to take on the adventure of being a successful band.
The adventure starts like this: two brothers, drummer/vocalist Blake Forbess, 26, and guitarist/vocalist Trevor Forbess, 23, grew up in a musical family in Oakland, Ore., even playing in a family band called Descendent when they were in middle and high schools. Around that time, the brothers met, befriended and jammed with bassist Elijah Medina, 21, from nearby Sutherlin, and the three formed a band called Rukkus in 2005. They ended up in Eugene in the spring of 2006, meeting guitarist Joe McClain, 22, in the freshman dorms, and they morphed into Volifonix.
Their first show was the 2006 Battle of the Bands on the University’s Humpy Lumpy lawn, and it went surprisingly well.
“We won it,” Trevor Forbess said, the rest of the band laughing, “Two years in a row, actually.”
“We got $100 to the bookstore,” McClain said.
A couple more years and dozens of shows later, the band started working on an album, “Oregonisms,” and they added on saxophonist and Japanese rapper Tomo Tsurumi, 33, in early 2009. That’s when they became the Volifonix they are today, consisting of “two
brothers, two others and a samurai.”
“Oregonisms” went on to win Eugene Weekly’s “Best Album of 2009,” and Volifonix continues to impress audiences of all ages and backgrounds across the region.
“Our moms like to dance at the shows,” Blake Forbess said.
Their music is inspired by various artists, including Led Zeppelin, Stevie Wonder, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Earth Wind and Fire, Michael Jackson and Pink Floyd, but their influences are hard to pigeonhole because their music is extremely accessible and has roots in funk, rock, jazz and blues tones.
A hardworking band that seems to go nonstop, along with road manager Kinich Barcelo, 23, all five of the band members attend either Lane Community College or the University, in addition to practicing during the week and performing almost every Friday and Saturday night around the state.
“In 2009 alone we played 105 shows, and we’re well on our way to beating that record right now,” Medina said. He guessed the band has played at least 300 shows in the last four years.
Last summer was the first time the band was able to go on tour, and it spent two months traveling and performing 41 gigs across California, Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Washington
Volifonix actually made money on the tour, which is pretty unusual for a band on its first tour. The members also made many memories — some good, some downright strange.
“Every day is a whole new thing. We never planned a whole day. There were just such crazy and interesting scenarios that we’d find ourselves in randomly,” Barcelo said.
Tsurumi smirked. “We’ve been attacked by wild hogs,” he said.
While camping near Gilroy, Calif., the band had its food storage raided by wild boars.
“They were going for our food, and the first thing they went for was the can of pork and beans,” Trevor Forbess said, incredulous. The rest of the band erupted into laughter, nearly choking.
They even saw a truck explode in Utah.
“That was crazy,” Tsurumi said.
The band took a shower in a homeless shelter in Santa Cruz.
“It was the cleanest homeless shelter I’ve ever been in,” Blake Forbess said.
They also took Medina to an emergency room in a strip mall that was nestled between a nail salon and a boot store.
“At least the nurse was hot,” Medina said.
Adding to its success, Volifonix was met with great support from family and strangers alike during the tour, including random people who would let the band stay at their houses, shower, eat and sometimes even leave huge tips.
“One night in Reno, this guy had just won a bunch of money on the blackjack table, and he just gave us 200 bucks,” Trevor Forbess said.
“Some days definitely surprise you,” Medina added.
And, as is to be expected, the shows were just as much of an adventure as the tour itself.
“San Diego was quite a highlight. We were at the Kava Lounge. They basically kept it open way past hours until 4 in the morning,” McClain said over the guffaws of the other band members. “They had most of the doors locked and were pretty much selling alcohol illegally. It was absolutely a blast.”
The tour ended with Bumbershoot in Seattle, where the band got a taste of the sweet life: not having to lug their own gear on and off stage, instead being able to sign autographs and take in their success.
“At the end of the show, we were getting ready to load off and they said we had to go to the CD signing booth, and when we finished with that, by the time we got back, all our stuff had been packed up. It was pretty nice,” Blake Forbess said, the rest of the band nodding
Despite the band’s growing success, Volifonix is extremely proud of its Eugenean roots and always enjoys doing shows in town and hearing people honk when the Volifonix van drives by, even if that means lugging its own equipment around.
“I always like playing at the WOW Hall downtown. It’s always fun having a hometown crowd,” Trevor Forbess said.
With Trevor Forbess and McClain graduating with degrees in music from the University this June, Blake Forbess graduating from Lane with a degree in hospitality management, and Medina continuing his jazz studies at the University, the band is planning to work even harder to become bigger and better and give audiences a more enjoyable concert experience. They’re planning for another tour this summer in “Ninkasi-land:” Northern California, Oregon, Washington and Idaho, and they’re enjoying the adventure.
“It’s a huge commitment, and luckily, we really enjoy it. Our goal is to just always put on a good show and hopefully, eventually pay the bills with it,” Trevor Forbess said.
“And save for your retirement,” Tsurumi joked.
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