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Stranger (Synth) Things: Charlotte Rock Band Fortune Teller Takes Us Back To The 80s

Fortune Teller.jpg
Photo courtesy of the artist
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Fortune Teller's Austin Forbes, Daniel Anderson and Jonathan Hussey bring the '80s feels with their synth-infused indie rock.

The third season premiere of Stranger Things (set in the ‘80s). The upcoming sequel to Wonder Woman (set in 1984). The next iteration of American Horror Story (also set in 1984). There’s just something about the ‘80s that keeps pop culture coming back for more. This also extends to Charlotte rock trio Fortune Teller, whose 80’s-tinged synth music is so stylish, it’s bringing Aqua Net and keyboard neckties back in fashion in the Queen City.

"Now when we’re writing stuff, I definitely have a Fortune Teller vibe in my mind. So I think,’What kind of weird, warbly, spacey thing can we do here?’"
– Fortune Teller lead singer Austin Forbes

Interview Highlights:

On the band coming together:

Austin Forbes: We’ve been friends for a long time… like 15 years or so… we all went to high school together. We’ve always casually written music together and played, and then finally it worked out where we weren’t in different projects at the same time, so we could finally [become Fortune Teller and] put it out. Jon really likes making synthscapes. He has this computer full of synth textures.

On making 80’s-inspired synth music:

Jonathan Hussey: I connect to it. I like being able to create different sounds out of one machine. It’s the easiest way to get out what’s in my head... I’m hearing these weird cool whatevers and turning them into synths. To be honest, my first taste of that music was probably Wham’s “Last Christmas” or my dad (he was a keyboard player). It’s probably just in my blood to like electronic music. So I do. Why fight it?

Austin: I think it’s a natural cycle of any sort of culture. Why fight it? There’s plenty to appreciate about ’50s, ’60s, ’70s and 80’s. The ’80s is just what we’ve chosen for Fortune Teller, to hone in on something and give it some direction.

Jonathan: Me personally, I love '80s sci-fi movies. The synth soundtracks in those. Stranger Things, too. We watched it, we loved it. Half of the time when I write a song, I think, “Would this work on a movie or a show?” That’s a life-long dream of mine. I like that the ‘80s is coming back because my stuff would actually work somewhere and would make sense in time.

On Fortune Teller’s debut single “Birthday Girl:”

Austin: I remember I asked my wife to give me a writing prompt for [a song], and she said cake. And I said, “All right.” So I started writing and painting a picture of waiting in line for a piece of cake and then someone else taking the last one and just how outrageous and mad it would make me feel. Really, it’s nonsense. Which in general is what I do with my songs. It’s easier to write about something that I know is silly, but even when I’m doing that, there’s usually a line or two that I end up really liking or connecting with on an emotional level.

On Fortune Teller being a part-time career:

Austin: When I start talking about the difficulties of working a job and balancing that with my creative career... I’m not the only one, and I know that. It’s silly to think that I’m in this unique position. It is the reality of where things are at, and it is something that everybody has to work through. Each day at a time, we’re figuring out what time we can set aside to get things going. A little bit here, a little bit there... we’ve been trying to get our self-titled debut album out for a bit, and I think we’re finally at a point where it has some momentum. I feel like once we get this album out, it’s a hurdle we’ll get over. So I’m really excited to get it out.

On the band’s musical alter ego as jazz trio The Dreamtones:

Austin: Jazz trios makes money. Indie rock trios do... but not ours right now. Honestly, The Dreamtones end up being a pretty good way to fund various ventures for Fortune Teller. It’s not a super serious thing, but we all really do love jazz and have a great appreciation for it. Actually, on the track “The Buena Vista Lady” from the upcoming album, Daniel Anderson’s solo reminds me of Pat Matheny with a jazz progression. So we slipped a little bit of our jazz alter-egos in there.

Music featured in this #WFAEAmplifier chat:

Fortune Teller - “Hag”
Fortune Teller - “Birthday Girl”
Fortune Teller - “Human Artist”
Fortune Teller - “Cigarettes”
Fortune Teller - “Childhood”
Fortune Teller - “Please Be Cool”
The Dreamtones - “Autumn Leaves”
Fortune Teller - “The Buena Vista Lady”

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Joni Deutsch was the manager for on-demand content and audience engagement, at WFAE, where also hosted the Amplified podcast and helped produce such podcasts as FAQ City, SouthBound, Inside Politics, Work It and the Apple Podcast chart-topping series She Says. Joni also led WFAE's and Charlotte's first podcast festival.