While most kids would love to make their childhood hobbies into their adult vocations, most pastimes don’t translate well into careers. But Forrest Meyer has found a way to bring his life-long love for tinkering with musical instruments with him into adulthood.
“I would go to thrift stores and yard sales and buy things as cheap as I could find them,” he says, “so I always started with a broken instrument. Before I learned to play it, I would know how it worked, and how to fix it.” Nowadays, his day job finds him working on other people’s instruments, and he spends many evenings as a performing musician.
Learning To Build as Well as To Play
Meyer grew up in Seattle, in a house decorated with his parents’ collection of musical instruments. In fifth grade he chose the violin in his school band but quickly realized reading music was more of a chore than he wanted to undertake. By the end of sixth grade, he’d discovered the freedom he needed in the percussion section.
“I spent the rest of middle and high school in drum line, which was an easy place to go rogue,” he says. “I made my way to section leader for the drum line my senior year in high school, still not knowing how to read music.”
Meyer describes himself as mechanically minded; as a kid, he took a very hands-on approach to his toys and bikes. “My parents would give me a screwdriver, and a VCR or an old computer. I’d take it apart as far as I could, and then sometimes not know how to put it back together, or sometimes reassemble it as something else,” says Meyer. “I get a lot of joy from understanding how things work, how pieces come together to make something, and why instruments sound different from each other because of their mechanics.”
At the end of elementary school, Meyer moved from Seattle to Bellingham, where his grandparents had originally met. Because different family members had been moving between the two cities since before Meyer was born, he was able to feel right at home as he began his next phase, “maturing and expanding” in Whatcom County.
Taking It Seriously
Around the time he moved to Bellingham, Meyer got his first stringed instrument, a baritone ukulele. Because it’s tuned to a lower set of notes than a standard ukulele, it was fairly easy to transition to the guitar, as well as the tenor banjo. Because the tenor has four strings, just like a ukulele, Meter tuned both instruments to the same notes, and began to discover the different voices the two instruments had, even when he played the same chords.
“As far as playing the instruments, I kind of invented my own ways,” he says. “I’d go and see people busking on the street to watch how they played or go on YouTube and follow along with live videos to pick up what I could.” Once Meyer had a guitar, he followed the common 12-year-old path of learning Metallica riffs from written tablature. “But I always found it easier to watch and copy what people did instead of reading music.”
As he began to collect instruments in earnest, Meyer met John Rollins, a local lute maker and one of his first musical mentors. Hanging around Rollins’ shop, he was able to experience an array of instruments under construction and paid for his education by mowing the lawn and helping to build cases for the instruments.
By the time he was 16, Meyer was writing his own music and helped put together a band to take part in the annual Valentine’s Day cover band event at Bellingham’s Make.Shift venue. He and his friends chose to cover the music of Avril Lavigne for the one-night event, then morphed into a band that wrote and performed original songs under the name Girl Teeth. With them, Meyer was able to play local shows, including an under-21 battle of the bands at the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle. Around the same time, he also started fronting a band that focused more on his own songwriting, called Coats Last Longer.
When high school ended, Meyer headed to college in Olympia. While there, he continued to indulge in his love of tinkering with instruments and found his longtime hobby growing into a job.
“During my time In Olympia, I set up a little DIY shop and started doing repairs for friends, then started working at a music shop where I did a lot of student violin repairs,” he says. When rented violins were returned at the end of the school year, he would fix the dings and scratches and install new strings. He eventually began working on guitars and other instruments, slowly building and refining his skill set.
Home Again in Bellingham
When the pandemic arrived, Meyer took a short break from his routine that wound up becoming a whole new direction in his life. He planned a two-month visit to Bellingham in the winter of 2021 to collect himself and spend time with family.
“I was living in a cold trailer by a lake in Olympia, and the winters were a little rough. I brought a couple of instruments to work on, and a friend of mine told me to check out Devin Champlin’s shop, back when it was in the Leopold building,” Meyer recalls. “I went in asking for nylon banjo strings, which is pretty unusual — not a lot of people are looking for those. And I think those were the key words that set this whole trajectory off.”
Since then, Meyer has moved along with Champlin Guitars as it swiftly grew into a much larger shop that offers new and used instruments, amplifiers, and other gear. Banjos, basses, ukuleles, and guitars hang from the walls of the showrooms, and Meyer, Champlin, and a few others can be seen in the repair room, fixing, perfecting, and customizing a mind-boggling array of instruments.
When he’s not working on someone else’s instrument, it’s common to find Meyer in front of an audience, playing his own. He’s currently focused on a project called Sunflecks, which sees him breathing life into his own music with the help of friends. “I consider it a solo project, but it’s still a very communal thing,” he says. “I have a rotating cast of friends that play with me, and a batch of songs that we’ve been working on. We just spent three days in the studio and recorded nine of them.”
That album will soon be available on Bandcamp, where Meyer has already posted the results of some of his other experiments. One release was recorded on a simple mono cassette recorder, in one take, while on a camping trip at Baker Lake.
“I had a series of limitations that I set for myself for the project: I only allowed myself a tape recorder, a looper app on my phone, guitar, and vocals. That was it,” he says. “The other limitation was that I could practice the song a couple times, but once I pressed record, I had to use that take.”
Even while experimenting, the music Meyer produces sounds purposeful, and conveys an earnest and honest feeling that makes sense from a player who learns an instrument’s mechanics before he finds its voice. In addition to his Bandcamp page, music fans can follow Meyer on his Instagram page to find out when and where he is playing live.