Deirdre Forrest has been performing for nearly a decade throughout the tri-state area. She grew up in South Amboy and is best known for her work with the bands Beannacht and May Darlings along with her solo career. You could say she’s a modern day artist - one raised on social media to the point where her life is truly an open book.
She has shown happy moments (her playful pin-up side and performing) and has revealed personal feelings as well. When she mentioned some of the struggles she has faced throughout her life, I thought the challenges were ones many artists face. She explains how she has found ways to cope and thrive.
On Facebook, you’ve been very open about your own problems. Do you ever worry about revealing too much about yourself?
I’ve been through a lot of things in my life that I think quite a few people can relate to. In the past, I was closed off and it made things worse for me. I find that being open and honest helps me to be the best version of myself. There are times that I worry that perhaps I’m “too much” for some people. But, I’m sharing what’s in my heart. I have to trust that there’s nothing wrong with that. I hope that anyone that can relate to my story finds some comfort in realizing they are not alone.
One of the things that caught my eye is when you brought up childhood emotional abuse. Would you mind talking about that?
I’m very open about my difficult childhood, because I know that it shaped me, but it does not define me. My parents divorced when I was very young and I was jostled around from place to place. Things were chaotic, but when you’re young, you don’t realize there’s something wrong in your house. You think everyone gets things thrown at them and punched and their houses are all filled with trash too. My Mother and I never had a good relationship. She was abusive and neglected my brothers andme. The house was disgusting. I received a black eye on my tenth birthday for nothing. There were constant manic episodes. Dramatic highs and lows that we had to ride on the waves of. Nightmarish stuff. I know that she is mentally ill, and I have forgiven her, but I don’t need the drama in my life. I wish her well and hope she can one day forgive herself as well. I made my peace with all of it quite some time ago.
Luckily, I have always had a great relationship with my Dad. He’s one of my best friends. And my Nana who passed two years ago made a huge positive impact on my life.
I cherish the people in my life because of what I’ve been through. I don’t want anyone to ever feel worthless or left out. I love intensely. I think I wouldn’t be who I am now; sensitive and in tune with others, if I had grown up in a normal environment. I’ve been through the ringer, but I am not a victim. I learned long ago to turn my feelings into art and to hope that my story empowers and inspires others.
One post said, “learning to take care of myself when things are stressful has been a struggle my whole life.” How have you been working on this?
I have been meditating and taking the time to decompress. It makes a big difference in how I feel. It can be hard to focus on meditating when you’re on edge and stressed out. I work on listening to my breath and try my best to ignore the clutter of thoughts. It helps to use a guided meditation to keep my focus. The greatest form of meditation for me is singing, though. A song or a whole set can become a total emotional release when I’m locked in and belting something out.
Does the song writing process help as well?
Yes. Songwriting does help with stress. The songs I write are taken right out of my journals. I pour my heart out onto a page, and then I am able to get on with my life. There have been times when I had severe writer’s block and I didn’t feel like myself. I was bogged down and heavy.
I read that you were a bit of a punky/goth teenager. Did that cause issues growing up?
I was a total goth from the ages of about 12-16, and I definitely did not fit into the small catholic schools that I attended. I lived the majority of my life with my Dad in the mile-square town of South Amboy. Middle school was especially rough for me, but I’m sure it’s pretty torturous for most tweens. I stuck out like a sore thumb and was teased relentlessly for my “dress down day” fashion choices. I loved black nail polish and safety pins! The majority of my close friends didn’t go to my school, so, although I was friendly with most people, I was a bit of a loner.
High school was better. I went to an all-girl school, which I hated the idea of when I was hopeless romantic 14 year old, but it was actually kind of fun. I met some great friends during those years. I was in a goth/garage/Evanescence-style band when I was 15. We ended up just hanging out and never playing any gigs, but that was first time I was a “lead singer”.
My style has always gone hand-in-hand with my love of music. I was into punk and hard rock and goth pop as a teen, and I liked my wardrobe to reflect that.
What goes through your mind when someone you grew up listening to like Chester Bennington of Linkin Park commits suicide?
When any artist commits suicide, I feel like the wind has been knocked out of me. It’s heartbreaking because I understand that feeling of hopelessness. I understand despair. Sadness can overwhelm anyone. Even a talented, shining star. Even someone who has everything. If you’ve felt that misery, it is kind of always with you. It’s in your bones. It can be so hard to continue on when it is weighing so heavy on your heart. You can’t let it overpower you and win.
Why do you think so many artists struggle with issues that lead them to that point?
The most creative and brilliant minds I have ever known, have also been some of the people I have seen wrestling with loneliness and anxiety and beating back depression. I think artists are sensitive and see the world with a different view. We notice details. We’re intuitive and observant. Things get under our skin very easily. We let things consume us because we really care. To top it off, a lot of people don’t respect our career paths. Many artists will work several side jobs so that they are able to fund their true dreams. They bust their asses doing things that mainstream people in society turn their noses up at. You feel like the odd man out from the moment you start out on your journey. You feel misunderstood. And you’re just being your authentic self.
What would you say was the most personal song you’ve written about these issues?
My song “Anchors Aweigh” is about fighting with anxiety. I wrote it a few months ago when I was feeling stuck and everything seemed to be going wrong all at once. It’s about the sinking feeling and giving into the negative self talk. I introduce that song at shows sometimes by briefly describing my own issues and why it felt good to write it out. I’ve had a few people tell me that they related to that song in particular and shared their own experiences with me.
You’ve also mentioned issues like stage fright and panic attacks; do you still get both?
I’m a perfectionist. I’ve always been very hard on myself. I don’t want anyone to ever walk away from a show disappointed. I throw every once of passion and energy into performing and writing and singing, but it must meet the ridiculous standards I have set in my own head.
What’s funny is that, over the years, I’ve grown immensely and I have faith in my abilities, and, yet, I still get nervous when I have to rehearse. I’ve had moments where my body tenses up; my chest is tight, my knees wobble when I’m working with new people or on material I’m not familiar with. I want to have a song down before I ever sing it front of anyone.
I do struggle with the occasional panic attack. I have terrible anxiety at times. I’m an over-thinker. I luckily have never had a panic attack on stage. I’m lost in the feeling, even if I have a negative thought or two.
Do you find that the pin-up side of you has helped your confidence issues?
The pinup or vintage style has always called to me because it is both alluring and adorable. It celebrates a woman’s figure. I love fashion and clothes. I’m a dress and shoe hoarder! But, when I grew up, in the 90s, there were no models and actress and pop stars that looked like anyone I knew. They all seemed to come from the same mold. I didn’t connect with the style or the “look.” And I still feel that way, though the fashion and entertainment industries have finally started to become more inclusive.
I was drawn to Old Hollywood stars from a young age: Rita Hayworth, Jane Mansfield, Bettie Page. None of them were photoshopped beyond recognition. That era was all about the gorgeous shape of a natural figure.
I’m not afraid of my curves, that’s for sure. I don’t think we should be hiding what makes us feel beautiful. My thrift store wiggle dresses and 5 inch heels are an outward expression of how I feel inside: glamorous and body positive.
It’s so cool to me the kids that are growing up in this generation are seeing actors and musicians of every shape, size, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation. Real people they identify with and connect with. It’s amazing how much the world has changed in 20 years and we have to keep progressing. We should all feel good about expressing ourselves and being exactly who we are.
Throughout the last decade, you’ve performed with your uncle (Beannacht) and with Michael Brett (May Darlings) as well as solo. Do you prefer performing solo or with someone else on stage with you?
I have to admit that I don’t like to perform on my own very much. I prefer to have someone backing me. Singing in mainly acoustic acts means that the vocals have to be on point and the sparse instrumentation has to be fitting and interesting. Michael is a great guitar player. He has a distinct style. I loved writing and singing with my uncle, Thomas Johnston when we played out as Beannacht. He’s another great writer. I enjoy having at least one other person on stage with me to communicate with and joke around. It adds more to the whole show. Michael and I are in sync with each other and enjoy playing together.
This seems to be a pretty good time for you artistically with plenty of new solo and May Darlings songs. Does creativity come in waves for you?
As I said before, I do have bouts of writer’s block. I go through some dry spells and find it difficult to churn out songs. I’ve found that utilizing various methods of creating, (I enjoy sketching & painting when I can find the time), can dislodge a hidden gem that’s been stuck in the back of my brain somewhere.
Another thing that motivates me is collaborating. I just started working with a wonderful producer Steve Greenwell. We’ve been working together on some of my newest material. He’s incredibly talented and accomplished, and he also happens to be very kind hearted and down-to-earth. His vast knowledge and warmth have inspired me and I’ve written several new songs since starting pre-production for this new solo record. I’m so grateful and excited to share these songs. Having a fresh perspective and guidance opened up the writing floodgates.
Do you and Michael actually write songs together? Or do you each contribute songs that work for the duo?
When it comes to the May Darlings, Michael and I are able to compose songs rather easily. We both write songs separately, but our best songs start with an M. Brett riff and come together with my poetry.
Michael is a brilliant writer in his own right. A fantastic storyteller. His songs are structured perfectly. I need that order and balance. I need solid framework. Mike also happens to be a harmony machine. I think our harmonies set us apart as a duo.
When can people expect to hear the new songs (May Darlings and solo work)?
The May Darlings are beginning to record some completely acoustic tracks. The new solo record that I’ve started pre-production on with Steve should hopefully be out by the end of this year/the start of next year.
Let’s end on a happy note. Tell me about your cat, Riordan. Seems like he keeps you centered in a way.
Riordan (whose name is the Irish Gaelic word for “poet”) is the cutest, sweetest ray of sunshine in my world. My friends Joe and Mallory found him and his brother and sister. I jumped at the chance to adopt him. Joe and Mallory do so much for strays. They’re great people. Riordan has enhanced my life. I have always been an animal lover, and outspoken about animal rights. They are amazing little beings and deserve to be treated with compassion.
Riordan is a music lover. Since day one he’s been around guitars and ukuleles while Mike and I practice at my place on the farm where I live. He strums the strings of our instruments with his paws and loves singing. He’ll cuddle up with me while we’re rehearsing and just listen. It’s so cool! I think he needs to be in a photo shoot or a music video soon. He’s our mascot.
Gary Wien has been covering the arts since 2001 and has had work published with Jersey Arts, Elmore Magazine, Princeton Magazine, Backstreets and other publications. He is a three-time winner of the Asbury Music Award for Top Music Journalist and the author of Beyond the Palace (the first book on the history of rock and roll in Asbury Park) and Are You Listening? The Top 100 Albums of 2001-2010 by New Jersey Artists. In addition, he runs New Jersey Stage and the online radio station The Penguin Rocks. He can be contacted at email@example.com.