Ben Herndon/Contributed photo
Forrest Van Tuyl hasn’t lived in Wallowa for a long time, but he’s already making an impact on the music scene. Known for his cowboy garb, music and exhaustive knowledge of folk tunes, he is a force to be reckoned with.
Van Tuyl, 29, who performs under the name “An American Forrest,” recently released a collection of songs, “Ol’ Yonder,” in both digital and cassette tape formats.
Van Tuyl moved to the area in January 2015. He began his music career in several rock bands before beginning what he called his “solo country songwriter project.”
Van Tuyl bummed around for several years and said he kept a home base in Moscow, Idaho, on the couch of local musician Bart Budwig, who lived in Moscow at the time. Budwig’s move to Wallowa County precipitated Van Tuyl’s move to the area.
“When Bart moved down here, I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll come down here and make a record,’ and I’ve been down here ever since,” he said.
Four songs on Ol’ Yonder are Van Tuyl originals while four are covers, and two are in the public domain.
“It was an accidental record,” Van Tuyl said. “I recorded part of it on this old (cassette) tape machine with all the motors out of whack that gives it a really weird warbly tone, and you can overdrive it really hard.”
Van Tuyl said he’d been in a writing slump and sang every idea he had, finished or not, into the machine and promptly forgot about it.
Shortly after relocating to Enterprise, he came across a four-track Yamaha cassette recorder and tried to record one or two songs per night into it, sometimes immediately after he’d written a song. Those sessions, along with a reel-to-reel recording session, make up the album, which he mixed and mastered himself.
Van Tuyl is the only musician on the recording. He played four or five different guitars and a banjo. One of his favorite guitars used for the record was a ‘60s three-quarter size Stella he rescued from under a friend’s bed.
“It’s a terrible guitar in terrible shape, but it’s got this weird vibe to it, and it’s tiny,” he said.
It was truly a “do-it-yourself” project.
“No one else was even in the room when I was recording,” he said. “It was almost done secretly. I never even thought of putting it out.”
The thought of not having released a recording in some time combined with the fact he was working on a new album was the impetus for the release of “Ol’ Yonder.”
Van Tuyl said that the album doesn’t have a particular theme. He described it as a “dark winter album.”
“Last winter was pretty bad while I was writing and recording it,” he said.
It’s bookended by two different versions of “Alberta.” The opening cut features Bob Dylan’s take on the song, while the closer feature’s the artist’s version called “Alberta, Oregon,” complete with new lyrics.
“I named it that just because it didn’t make any sense,” he said with a laugh.
He added that part of the title is a pun, since performer Ian Tyson, one of his influences, sings many songs about Alberta, Canada.
“There’s an Ontario, Oregon, and I thought there should be an Alberta, Oregon, too,” he said.
In keeping with his day job working for Wallowa outfitter Barry Cox, owner of Del Sol Wilderness Adventures, the album includes the cowboy standard “Diamond Joe” and his own composition, “Burning Starlight,” about his experiences packing into the Eagle Cap Wilderness.
“I spend so much time around horses, talking about horses and thinking about horses, that they come into everything at his point,” he said.
His favorite song on the album is the Woody Guthrie staple “Pastures of Plenty,” a tune about migrant workers during the Great Depression. “It’s the right time to be playing that song.”
Van Tuyl is currently barnstorming the west on a tour that takes him through Montana, California and the west side of Oregon.
The album is available on Spotify and on bandcamp.com. A cassette version was made available on April 14 for $10. The digital album is $6 on Spotify and Bandcamp.