Carmaig de Forest (born 9 September 1957) is an American singer-songwriter on the ukulele and guitar. Fascinated with rock 'n' roll from an early age, de Forest first began composing songs on the ukulele in the early 1980s, and has since become a respected underground cult artist. His satirical, political and personal compositions have been covered by other artists, most notably Canadian accordionist Geoff Berner. De Forest is himself a renowned re-interpreter of songs by Bob Dylan, having appeared on several bootleg compilations of covers of Dylan songs.
Carmaig de Forest was born in 1957; as a youth, he attended the University of California in Santa Cruz, studying to become a stage actor and director. In 1978, he attended a directing workshop led by Spalding Gray, which convinced him that his true ambition was not to act, but rather, create theatrical material based on his own life. Enamored with rock 'n' roll as well as the rising punk lifestyle, de Forest aspired instead to become a musician. The only musical instrument available for him at the time was a ukulele that he had bought for his dorm room; inspired by his own personal experiences and political point of view, de Forest began composing songs on the ukulele.
De Forest's began his career as the lead vocalist of Santa Cruz punk group Art and the Paganhearts, founded in 1980; another member of the group was frequent future collaborator Dan Olmsted. The band ultimately dissolved the next year with no released recordings. In 1982, de Forest moved to Los Angeles, California and begun a solo career. Shortly thereafter, de Forest attained some fame as a support act for the Ramones; while initially heckled and taunted by the spectators, his lyrics and musical passion won the crowd over, and he was invited back as the Ramones' support act the very next year. He would continue to play as a support act for punk outfits, at one time being one of only three musicians in the United States in his niche who would be called upon for this purpose.
Carmaig de Forest's first studio album, I Shall Be Released was produced by Alex Chilton and released in 1987. The same year, de Forest released 6 Live Cuts, an EP containing live recordings of six tracks, one of which was a cover version of "You Can't Always Get What You Want" by The Rolling Stones. Around this time, de Forest befriended the Violent Femmes. Inspired by his friendship with the Femmes, de Forest begun composing new material with an aesthetic decidedly closer to rock 'n' roll than his earlier work. As a backing band, Carmaig gathered a loose, interchangeable affiliation of artists known as the "DeathGrooveLoveParty," of which bassist Ned Doherty was the only regular member aside from de Forest.
The group's first release (credited to the DeathGrooveLoveParty rather than de Forest) was the single George Bush Lies (b/w "Love Is Strong"); the A-side was written in protest against George H. W. Bush, the President of the United States of America, who was running for re-election that year. The song became an underground cult hit, often played by politically engaged college radio stations in North America and Canada. De Forest and the DeathGrooveLoveParty released the self-titled Death Groove Love Party in 1994. The material consisted of songs recorded between 1988 and 1993, among them "Million Dollar Bash", a cover of the Bob Dylan song, and "I Saw Her Standing There/Julie Among the Redwoods" a "California Love Medley" of the song by The Beatles and an original composition. Notably, the album contained only one song on which de Forest played his trademark ukulele.
In 1997, de Forest released his third studio album, El Camino Real on the St. Francis label. Returning to a musical approach similar to I Shall Be Released, but for the most part foregoing the scathing political commentary of his debut, El Camino Real featured songs written about California. The songs on the album frequently delved into vocal and instrumental experimentation, and invoked a multitude of different genres of music. The album artwork and liner notes were conceptualized and drawn by de Forest himself. From this point on, de Forest began to involve minimalistic theater concepts in his live performances.
In 2003, de Forest participated in Rock That Uke, a documentary about the ukulele as a form of expression in underground post-punk. In addition to appearing in interviews regarding his career and artistic viewpoints, performance footage of de Forest was included on the home video release of the documentary. In 2004, de Forest rewrote and re-recorded "George Bush Lies" as a protest against George W. Bush, the son of George H. W. Bush, who was running for presidential re-election. It featured altered lyrics pertaining to the Iraq conflict rather than the Gulf War. The song was released as a free digital download on de Forest's website, bundled with lyrics and a chord chart for the ukulele. That year, de Forest also participated in a performance held by the group Ukuleles for Sanity; an all-ukulele bill serving as a "Farewell Party" for George W. Bush, although he was ultimately re-elected.
In 2007, de Forest released his fourth studio album, Idiot Strings. Songs included on the album had been composed at various stages of de Forest's career, some dating back to the 1980's. The album was released on Serious Records, a label owned by de Forest's wife, Diana Froley. De Forest and Froley had first met in 1987, and they were married in 2003.
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