Producer a driving force in local music scene

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Marco Forcone, a Whitefish musician and music producer who plays for numerous acts including the New Wave Time Trippers, stands at Renegade Ridge Studios, the fully equipped music studio Forcone built in his garage. (Colin Gaiser/Daily Inter Lake)

Marco Forcone may not be a household name in the Flathead Valley, but he has become an integral part of the local music scene since his arrival nine years ago.

While he loves live music and playing drums for local acts, including the popular New Wave Time Trippers, Forcone’s real love is in music production and mixing.

“It’s like … you’re taking on somebody else’s baby,” Forcone said about the mixing process, speaking from the control room of his studio. “Taking on that is a responsibility, and you have to emotionally attach yourself to it. You can’t just push buttons and move faders around.

“To get the vibe of the song, you have to surrender to the song.”

Forcone records, produces and mixes from the studio he built in his garage in the foothills outside Whitefish — Renegade Ridge Studios, he calls it. Friday morning he was mixing an album for Bozeman-based band The Hawthorne Roots.

“I love working with artists and developing songs … I feel like I have something to offer” he said. “Especially when I’m working on tracks with bands. I beat the song up, I hate it, I’m always wanting it to be better.”

With a lifetime of professional music experience behind him, local artists that thrive in a live setting trust Forcone with their studio product. Forcone has worked with Jameson and the Sordid Seeds – he produced and recorded their 2012 album — and Whitefish-based punk band The Lucitones. He is also finishing a record for local live staple 20 Grand.

“Recording and playing live are two completely different animals, and you have to approach it that way,” Forcone explained. “You can’t limit yourself to what you can perform live, when you’re making a record.”

He said because people tend to “stiffen up a bit” when the recording light is on, he will sometimes let artists play without telling them he is actually recording.

“You find yourself getting a lot of cool stuff like that.”

Forcone grew up in Southern California and was born into a family of musicians; his grandfather was a “favorite musician” in his mother’s native Sicily, and his two older brothers are also musicians. But growing up he was not as keen to play the “classic Italian thing” — the accordion.

“My parents wanted me to do it. Once I started I didn’t really like it, so I acted like I didn’t know how to do it … I really wanted to just play drums,” Forcone said.

When he was 13, Forcone said he “started playing drums like crazy and just didn’t stop.” He put a band together in high school, and by high school was playing clubs in Hollywood and Orange County.

Forcone experienced the highs and lows of the music industry while honing his craft in Southern California. He was in a heavy metal band called Leatherwolf in the early ’90s, but the band broke up despite having a major-label record deal, so Forcone moved on to play with the industrial metal band Drown.

“We got a deal with Elektra records, and we made two records under that label,” Forcone said. “It was really fun, really heavy. Definitely something I wouldn’t let my kids listen to.”

In the late ’90s, Forcone met Michael Medlin. The two were in a band called Society’s Engine, but after that band broke up, Forcone joined Medlin in a new band called HumanLab.

“Michael had come to me with these songs he had written, and I was really touched by them. I thought, ‘Oh this is really good, we should do a demo and see what happens to it,” Forcone said.

The demo attracted the attention of Atlantic Records, and before too long, Forcone and the band found themselves in a “dream scenario.” The band traveled to New York to meet presidents of various labels, and in 2000 ended up signing a multi-million dollar record deal with Atlantic Records.

“We had never played a show or anything. But Michael had this real unique approach to his songwriting and his singing, and people could really feel it,” Forcone said.

“It was really crazy, getting a record deal and only having three songs, and then realizing you have to make a record that’s gonna come out on Atlantic Records. I mean talk about pressure.”

HumanLab spent a year and a half writing and recording the songs in Los Angeles and mixing them in London, but by the time the record was finished, the band found itself a victim of sweeping changes in the music industry.

“The label decided they weren’t going to put the record out because the business had been changing so much, and we had spent so much money already. This was when pirating CDs started happening like crazy, so the record business was going down so fast,” Forcone said.

He said Atlantic considered the band too “high risk” for the label to release the album.

“It was really a bummer for us because you put your heart and soul into something, and somebody looks at a piece of paper and sees numbers and goes, ‘Ah these numbers aren’t working.”

He said it was “pretty devastating to everybody” for the record to not be released, but said he feels like “we made the record that we wanted to make, and I love the record.”

Medlin ended up leading Forcone to Whitefish. Medlin was dating a woman from Northwest Montana and invited Forcone for a trip to the North Fork about nine years ago. Forcone was skeptical at first — “I kind of made jokes about [Montana] … I’m a California boy” — but like so many others, he was floored by the area’s beauty.

At the time, he was living in an apartment in Huntington Beach with his now-wife, Diemkieu, and oldest daughter, and was looking to raise a family somewhere other than Southern California.

“We found this house,” Forcone said, “And it was just the right place at the right time.”

Forcone immediately set up shop after moving to his new home in the woods, and quickly integrated himself in the local music scene. Since then, Forcone said he has been “digging into the music scene as hard as I can” while raising three daughters.

“I’ve been doing this my entire life … I’m here for the valley. I’m here for musicians that want to come in and record,” he said. “I’m going to work with your budget all the time. I just want to do music, it’s what I love to do.”

Forcone has no shortage of projects at the moment. He is producing the debut record for his wife’s band, Sapphire Shakedown, and is working on a light show to sync to the Time Trippers’ already intricate live sets.

The Time Trippers have about 70 songs in their catalog for existing sets, and are looking to master “about 15, 20 songs” for their new shows. Forcone was thrilled by a recent song the band just learned, a song called “Eighties” by English rock band Killing Joke.

“I really didn’t know what to expect when I got out here, what I was going to find,” Forcone said. “But there’s a pretty deep music scene here, it’s really cool. There’s not a ton of bands, but the bands are pretty quality out here.”

Reporter Colin Gaiser may be reached at cgaiser@dailyinterlake.com or 758-4439.

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