Fiawna Forté can be frantic. Not necessarily when one sits down to converse with the songwriter; she's well spoken and direct in person. But when you see her performing or listen to her debut album, Transitus, the kineticism that inhabits her being is undeniable.
On stage, Forté swirls her lengthy dark hair about and gazes wide-eyed over the audience, as if staring down a demon at the back of the room determined to cast it out. Her words are fire, her chords brimstone.
Forté admitted she used to be shy and hide on stage: She would duck behind her mane and turn up her guitar amplifier so loud that no one could hear her sing. But those days have passed.
Now, the first thing one notices during a Fiawna Forté performance is that voice (quickly followed by the ferocity of the backing band comprised of her fiancé Phillip Hanewinkel on bass, her cousin Lance Howell on guitar and Hank Hanewinkel III on drums).
Musicians have all types of terms for a scheduled performance: a gig, show, concert, a jam session, etc. For Forté, it is her "release." It's a purging of emotion for her, a very necessary surge of adrenaline.
"I get really antsy now if we go awhile without playing a show," Forté said. It's her addiction.
Those following Fiawna Forté (and her Beautiful Boys as the backing band has become to be known) during the past year might have noticed that she has not gotten her fix all too often. The reasons for this are plenty.
Forté said the desire to not saturate the local scene by playing too often, as some local bands are known to do. But more importantly since October of 2008, the band has been behind the curtain crafting Transitus, and they did not want performance scheduling to get in the way.
Now with the album carefully tucked under her arm, a proper CD release show is schedule for Forté at The Marquee, 222 N. Main St., on Friday, May 14 with The Panda Resistance and Bruder also set to perform. The Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma will be at the venue accepting canned good donations in exchange for a discount on the $5 ticket price.
Over its 50-minute playing time, Transitus (Tran-si-toos) is many things. The central sound of the quartet is raw and intimidating with the assaulting croon of Forté and the maddened helter-skelter rhythms of Hanewinkel III. Imagine a Led Zeppelin approved heavy blues riff with a twist of Riot Grrrl vocals à la Corin Tucker and that's a start.
But the moment the listener becomes accustomed to the one-two punch of songs like "Too Far" and "Livin' High," Transitus delivers "Boat Song." The track largely wipes away every trick in the group's playbook and replaces them with intimate vocals, minimal guitar melodies, muted yet dynamic cascading percussion and ethereal ambiance.
The track begins, "Had a boat, had a boat/ But the ocean sunk her down/ The world laughed at me." It is at this point in the album that Transitus becomes a journey.
The album title is Latin for "change" or "transition."
Forté studied the language for two years and thought the titled reflected "how big an influence that language is in my life," she said.
The meaning of the word itself also appealed to the songwriter. "Transitus" said something to her about where she was when she started the album and when it was completed, she said. Originally, the album contained no title track but as the theme grew, Forté decided to write one.
She returned to where Transitus began, that is she went back to where she had written much of the material for the album; a large closet in her mother's house.
Understand that some of the songs on Transitus are more than four-years-old reaching back to Forté's teenage years and often-debuted on acoustic guitar at coffee shops around Tulsa. And that might be one of the fallibilities of the album: Some of the lyric writing sounds very much like a teenage girl still learning her craft.
Forté recounts the age of 19 or 20 as a particular dark time in her life and makes allusions to substance abuse and "hitting rock bottom," but she didn't give specifics.
"One day I woke up and realized I hadn't touched my guitar in four months," she said. "It scared me."
She was frightened because music was what she always did. While other children were painting pictures or writing stories, Forté was making up songs.
Determined to get out of her slump, she threw herself back into songwriting again. The details of her darkness are not important, but her ascension back to the creative realm is. It laid much of the groundwork for Transitus.
Surprisingly, the band has rarely ventured out of Tulsa to perform during the past two years. A well-received performance at the Norman Music Festival is the most significant to date.
Bassist Hanewinkel said of the hesitation, it's hard to justify traveling to play when you do not have a proper CD to sell. The absence of physical merchandise leaves little for the audience to remember you by.
So, the band played locally every four to six weeks -- for almost 18 months.
Two primary roadblocks prolonged the process. As it happens, the band ran out of money halfway through the recording process. They scrambled for funding in every way they could conceive including garage sales, finding outside investors, and offering fans a pre-order of the album.
Also to blame for the delay was Forté's focus and clarity of vision: She would not settle for anything less than exactly what she wanted.
"Fiawna is a perfectionist, as much as you can be when trying to get your vision out of your head and in to someone else's," Hanewinkel said. "It may have taken longer, but it was worth it."
Fiawna Forté performs Friday, May 14 at the Marquee with The Panda Resistance and Bruder supporting.
Share this article: