John Forrest’s Love of B-Movies Fuels His Songwriting in Metal Act Sunwyrm

John Forrest and Zack Broeker form the core of psychedelic metal/punk band Sunwyrm.
John Forrest and Zack Broeker form the core of psychedelic metal/punk band Sunwyrm. VIA THE BAND

John Forrest is a self-confessed movie addict. Since he was eleven, maybe even before, he has consumed them voraciously and always hungered for more, enjoying a wide variety of genres — Westerns, the classics, foreign films and, especially, horror movies.

"I love all kinds of films," he enthuses. "I would say that my always go-to is gore films, like the films where it's just some over-the-top, gruesome, nasty stuff, but it's all fake, and you can look into Tom Savini and Rick Baker and these guys and see how they did it, you know? Like The Thing and Society."

Forrest, now 24, is up to a lot more nowadays than just taking in timeless cinematography, although he still makes plenty of time for that (he's turned down at least one gig because he had to catch a flick instead). He's a guitarist, drummer, songwriter, singer and sometimes producer involved in a number of projects; most notably, he plays guitar, shares writing duties and sings as frontman of the heavy metal/punk outfit Sunwyrm. He met bandmates Zack Broeker and Zac Strickland in 2013 while the three were still in high school. (Strickland has since left the band; Jason Huffman is now Sunwyrm's drummer.)

"I think that subconsciously we were like, 'OK, what we need to be is the Midwestern, mutant cousin of the Grateful Dead,'" Forrest offers about the band's inception. "'We need to be this epic, evil psychedelic band that just ruins lives and makes men, women and children weep.' And that's, like, literally what we became."

If that statement of intent sounds lifted straight from one of the horror flicks Forrest so enthusiastically enjoys, there's a reason for it. Sunwyrm has played many dramatic, theatrical shows in the years since, including opening for the Pack A.D. at the Ready Room last spring, when the band had a friend of theirs play rhythm guitar dressed as a demon, ornamented head to foot in black leather, black lipstick, black nail polish and red body paint. But the band's true stomping grounds are gritty, down-to-earth DIY house venues.

One such basement spot is the Void in the north-county area, home base to Broeker's other band, Voidgazer. Sunwyrm, in fact, played the first show at that subterranean venue just over a year ago.

"I had this Miller High Life Stratocaster, and it was the guitar I learned to play on. And I figured like it's time for me to destroy this thing — we're opening this new venue, it's gonna be a big show. It was a free show, and the whole place was packed," Forrest says. "So I went to Walmart and got myself this KISS T-shirt, tie-dye; I got myself the biggest case of Miller High Life, and I'm like, 'Alright, we're gonna do this.' Then I kicked the whole case at the whole crowd, and then when they opened it, I was kicking it around so much, it all like fizzled all over the place, you know. So then finally during our big, noisy outro, I take the [guitar], while it's still plugged in and everything, and like, 'BAM, BAM, BAM,' destroyed that thing, and everybody was like, 'Whoa, what's happening now?' It was one of the best experiences — just total karma."

Influenced by the Stooges, the MC5, Black Sabbath, the Pixies, Little Richard and even snatches of groups such as Parliament and Funkadelic, Forrest wields a zonked-out, psychedelic heavy-metal guitar with Sunwyrm, his voice slashing recklessly through the muscular layers of bass, drums and guitar like a rusty meat hook.

His songwriting themes are at times conventional (love, psychology, psychedelia), but are also frequently drawn from the silver screen and its deliciously spine-tingling underbelly of horror. "The Great Went," for example, is an abrasive, raging cut off Sunwyrm's first official release, 2016's aptly named The First Cycle, that takes inspiration from David Lynch's cult classic Twin Peaks. "Death of the Sun God," "After Dark" and "Trip Into the Witch's Eye," all off of Sunwyrm's latest album, 2018's Doomshine, fall comfortably into this vein. Many of the songs on that same album are bookended by sonic samples from famous films. Another song from that LP, "Charlton Heston (Damn Dirty Apes)" is a hysterical take on Planet of the Apes, which ironically comments on alienation and intolerance in modern times.

"That song came to me like a vision," Forrest muses. "Sometimes I look back on that song and think, 'Is that song really messed up? Is this song just all about racist white guys with guns?' But then I think about it, and it's more about literally just the movie Planet of the Apes and just the feeling of being some lost space traveler who has crash-landed on your own planet, but it's just all different. And that's how I feel sometimes: the feeling of being lost in your own world."

Forrest's world has been expanding recently. He is tinkering with various side projects, including the noise-rock H. Smokeskull, and, inspired by the smash success of Lil Nas X's "Old Town Road," a country-trap project to be christened Huckleberry Yeller. Perhaps most excitingly, Sunwyrm is laboring tirelessly on both a split LP with a prominent local punk-rock band as well as the band's third official LP, titled The Dark Cycle.

The twelve songs of this aural archipelago will delve even deeper into the dark, cinema-inspired horror that so fascinates him. The title of one song, "You Will Never Again Feel Safe In the Dark," is the tagline from the 1977 film Suspiria. "Dark Skies," another track, is based on Spielberg's E.T. The whole album has Exorcist undertones. Tickets to this show will be mandatory for anyone who loves B-movie magic.

"The Dark Cycle is going to be an album that's all about those alien feelings," Forrest says. "That feeling of otherness, that feeling of being a maniac, that feeling of being a monster, that feeling of being possessed by demons.

"This is what that album's all about," he adds. "It's all about Pazuzu; it's all about the demon that Robert Johnson met at the crossroads."

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