Josh Fortenbery records a song from his debut album “No Such Thing as Forever” while sitting in an improvised sound isolation booth at the KTOO studios in early 2023. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Josh Fortenbery records a song from his debut album “No Such Thing as Forever” while sitting in an improvised sound isolation booth at the KTOO studios in early 2023. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Struggles of isolation and support of community come together for launch of debut album

Josh Fortenbery’s “No Such Thing As Forever” available Friday, with two-show release party Saturday.

While most people are eagerly leaving the miseries of the COVID-19 pandemic behind, Josh Fortenbery is wallowing in them.

Like a romantic breakup or other traumatic event, it seems the pandemic and general turmoil of a few years ago is a good motivator for creating heartfelt music. And while the lyrics aren’t viral, so to speak, titles like “Bored to Death” are pretty clear indicators of the tale within.

Fortenbery, 36, is sharing those musical mementos in his debut album “No Such Thing As Forever,” which is being released Friday and showcased during a two-show album release party on Saturday night at McPhetres Hall.

The cover from Josh Fortenbery’s debut album “No Such Thing as Forever.”

The cover from Josh Fortenbery’s debut album “No Such Thing as Forever.”

“A lot of stuff was about sort of being alone, and being online too much, and people passing away, and trying to figure out how to come to terms with all that from living alone in my apartment,” he said in an interview this week.

But there’s also a communal element to the project for Fortenbery, who moved to Juneau seven years ago from Portland, Oregon (he’s also lived in North Carolina, Wisconsin, Thailand, Mexico and – briefly — Washington, D.C.). He’s also a member of local groups such as Muskeg Collective and Taking Care of Bluegrass, and his album features numerous musicians he’s collaborated with during his years here.

“The last four or five years especially all of the local musicians have been so welcoming and really kind of showed me a path that I didn’t even know is here,” he said. “And I wouldn’t have recorded this album, honestly, probably if I hadn’t moved to Juneau because the other Juneau artists helped me figure out how to get grant funding, how to find (recording producer Justin Smith), how to get studio time.”

One of the local contributions — literally — that helped launch the album was a $2,500 artist award Fortenbery received from the Juneau Community Foundation in 2022. A description of the album in the award announcement wasn’t exactly upbeat.

“The album will be a self-absorbed, neurotic appraisal of isolation, misinformation, family, and death. An existential crisis set to music,” the announcement noted.

Fortenbery said the finished project lives up — or perhaps down — to expectations.

“I feel like pretty I pretty much nailed it in that description,” he said. “At least I was trying to keep pretty close to it. A number of the songs were already written so I kind of had a pretty good idea of the subject matter. But yeah, that’s basically where the headspace was when we were all alone for a few years and those are the songs that came out of it.”

Fortenbery said both of his parents were musicians, so he learned music at an early age, and did some small-scale recording projects with others in high school and college. But the urge to make a full-length album in Juneau came as the collection of songs he composed while here kept growing, with about 30 to choose from shortly by the time he entered the KTOO studios where the album was recorded beginning in early 2023.

The challenge at that point, he said, was picking out which ones would fit best into an LP with 22 minutes of playing time on each side.

“Just because regardless of whether you’re going to put it on a vinyl record or not, that’s the way I grew up listening to music,” he said. “So I sort of think of albums in terms of sides of vinyl.”

Fortenbery said he tried to keep a consistent theme with songs selected, and generally favored newer compositions to older ones, with one exception he didn’t anticipate when he started. That’s the song “New Fallen Snow,” composed by longtime local musician Buddy Tabor, who died about five years before Fortenbery moved to Juneau.

“I had been pretty set on not having any cover songs on my first record, because I have so many original ones,” he said. “But you know (fellow musician) Annie Bartholomew has gotten advice from industry folks to have a cover song on there, because then maybe someone in the industry finds you through that cover. Of course, I chose the cover of someone who doesn’t have any music really out there in the public sphere so that’s not gonna help people find me. But Justin was really kind of pushing me to think about doing one of Buddy’s songs because he’s got such a great catalog, and when I listened to ‘New Fallen Snow’ it really just kind of knocked me out and fit in with the theme of the album.”

Besides Fortenbery on guitar and vocals — and Smith on slide guitar in addition to recording and mixing the album — musicians on “No Such Thing As Forever” include Andrew Heist and mandolin and vocals; Lindsay Clark on fiddle, James Cheng on bass; Erin Heist and Taylor Vidic on vocals; and Steve Nelson on organ.

The release party is scheduled to feature performances at 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. with most of those musicians.

“The plan is to play the whole album and I’m going to play it in order with most of the people who actually were on the record,” Fortenbery said, adding “it’s probably a one-time-only deal where I’m going to play the album straight through two times in a row for two different audiences and I have everyone who helped make the record with me.”

Initial reviews by a couple of national music publications, while delving deep into the moodiness of his compositions, offer optimistic assessments. The aptly named No Depression (“The Journal of Roots Music”) touts the “humor and humility” of the album, while KLOF Mag does a line-by-line analysis of both the surface and subtle meanings of his lyrics, concluding at the final song by noting “as he finds the deck stacked in favour of nihilism, it heads to the end appropriately enough with another sack of self-castigation on Nothing.”

“Deceptively philosophical and sneaking shafts of light between the curtains of darkness, there may be no such thing as forever, but for now, this album promises Josh Fortenbery a bright future,” the review states.

Fortenbery said his future plans include performances of his music and with other groups both inside and outside Alaska, including a hoped-for trip with Muskeg Collective to Ireland this fall. Meanwhile, he said he also has thoughts — and some initial material — for his next album.

“I have a few songs left over that I recorded already that we didn’t make in this album, but I really like,” he said. “And then I have the next album mostly written already. So it’s just thinking about doing a tour of this one and finding time to record next year.”

And, yes, the theme for the next album is about a less-isolated existence.

“I’d say it’s more outward-looking than inward-looking,” Fortenbery said. “It’s more kind of assessing what I’m seeing happening in the world around me more than in the world inside me. But other than that, musically it’s going to be similar. It’s kind of a companion because it’s some stuff I wrote around the same time, but again, getting outwards instead of inwards.”

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com or (907) 957-2306.

Know and Go

What: Album release party for “No Such Thing as Forever” by Josh Fortenbery.

When: 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Saturday.

Where: McPhetres Hall, 325 Gold St.

Tickets: $10-$30, available online at www.joshfortenbery.com/shows.

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