Bloomington based Sherwood Forest is one of many bands scheduled to play the "Make Music Normal" music festival June 18. Sherwood Forest was initially a solo vehicle for founder Clifford Close to express his love of indie-alternative music. The 21-year-old now leads an iteration of the band that includes Matt Powers, Mitchell Owens, Kirk Lundeen, and new member C.J. Edwards. As you might guess, Close said the band’s name comes from his fascination with the folkloric man who stole from the rich and gave to the poor.
"Growing up I was always a fan of Robin Hood. From a young age, my parents introduced me to him. They would put on the old Errol Flynn 'Adventures of Robin Hood' movie. He became my hero, and since then it's stuck with me. It's sort of a guilty pleasure … except I don't feel guilty."
Close said when he began brainstorming with his friend Matt Martin about Sherwood Forest, they decided to join forces and form a duo, and eventually added a third player: Matt Powers. As he was about to leave for college in Nebraska, Close realized he wanted to make the band a serious part of his life, and said the three made a pact to give it a go when he returned from his studies.
"I grew up musical; it's a real passion of mine. As I grew up it became more apparent this was going to be my main thing. So I'm really committed to making a living out it, because it's something I love doing, so why wouldn't I make a living out of what I'm doing?"
American Christian artists including Keith Green and The Imperials were pre-teen influences. Later, Close was drawn to alternative, indie, and folk.
"It all started with this strategy P.C. game called 'Stronghold.' I fell in love with the game, but I also fell in love with the soundtrack, because it had Celtic and folk-like music. So I got into very traditional sounds like The Chieftains and Andy Irvine, and that branched into folk-rock when it became a thing. "
The lead track on Sherwood Forest's just released 3-song EP is titled "Learning To Let Go." The indie-rock melodicism sounds like something heard on Chicago indie-rock radio. Close talked about the meaning of "the rope" in the lyrics:
I cried, I can’t breathe
And I’m going to drown
You said, “Let go!
Let go of the rope that’s holding you down
"I guess the mental picture is something that I'm trying to pull up. There's something in the water I'm trying to pull out but it's too heavy and it's pulling me down. The past few years I've struggled with trying to manage life. There are a lot of things I really wanted to hold on to because I thought I could handle it. But I realized I just needed to let go."
Close grew up in a Christian household, and said his faith is still an important part of who he is. But the lyrics on the 3-song EP aren't overtly religious. No mention of Jesus, salvation, the cross or other Christian symbols or references. Close said it was a conscience decision, and came from wanting to not be boxed in by the Christian genre.
"I want to write about whatever is on my heart. If that means my relationship with God, sure I'll write about it like I did with 'Learning To Let Go.' But if I want to write about relationships and life in general like 'Awake in Downtown," I'll go ahead and do that. I guess it's just creating art for art sake, because I want to be able to express myself, and because my faith in God isn't the only part of my life."
In the song "Awake in Downtown" referenced by Close, you can hear the 21-year old already savoring his youth:
This is another song
About the night and reckless youth
And how the lights lit up the street
Let’s make another vow
Of how we’ll never grow old
We were rebels of the night"
"I was hanging with my friends in Nebraska and we were doing basically what the song was describing. I guess the ecstasy is just what that song was describing. That moment really inspired me and I went home and wrote about it."
Close also doesn't shy away from being characterized as optimistic. He said though he has troubles and bad days like anyone else, he tries to stay positive. He said he hopes to infuse his songs with that optimism whenever possible.
"I go through a lot of crap in my life, and sometimes I express that in my songwriting. But I hope to leave ending the song on a hopeful note. Kind of like the song 'In Finem,' I'm telling the story of this soldier dying in battle, but by the end of the song, he's hopeful to see his wife again in the afterlife. That seems to be a theme in a lot of my music. Starting with the negative, but ending on the positive, on a more hopeful note."