Evan Nork, a teenager from Bethany, started writing songs when he was four. They stayed in his head until he could figure out what to do with them.
"I wouldn't actually know how to translate them," he says. After learning a few chords on the guitar, "I had this huge bank of stuff to draw from."
Nork kept writing. At 10, he grabbed Hayden and Liam, his younger brothers, and formed a band. "I wanted my brothers to be in this, too, because I always thought being in a band was cool," Evan says.
The Foresters were born. On June 9, they'll release "House Stories," the band's second full-length album — 12 bright-eyed, thoughtful indie pop songs, recorded at home using GarageBand. The music is nostalgic and big-hearted, the work of a wistful young songwriter who'll soon leave home for college.
This week, "House Stories" debuts exclusively on ctnow.com below (if you're on your mobile device, click here.)
It's easy to dismiss the work of young songwriters: Why should we pay attention to them?
"The Foresters are exactly what we believe in and hope for as fans of pop music," says Robert Schneider, of the Apples in Stereo and the Elephant Six Recording Company, "that new bands can be better than the old bands, that the best music may be yet to come. Pop music is like a religion and you have to believe in a future of new classic records, new hits, and new heroes."
"House Stories" comes out on Dord, the Foresters' record label/music collective. Including the Norks and Slomba, there are roughly 10 people involved, "us and our friends doing different projects," Evan says.
Dord was modeled after the Elephant 6 Recording Company, formed in the early 1990s by Schneider, Bill Doss and Will Cullen Hart (The Olivia Tremor Control), Jeff Mangum (Neutral Milk Hotel) and others.
Two years ago, the band struck up a friendship with Schneider; last year, he invited them to be his backing band at the Athens Pop Fest. Other Elephant 6 figureheads — Hart, Elf Power, Julian Koster (The Music Tapes) — are now Foresters fans. (Hart even designed a new Dord logo.)
"These kids are super talented," Schneider says. "Evan writes hit song after hit song, just a whole infinite stream of amazing, catchy, sensitive songs. These are the future heroes."
Evan is now 17; Hayden and Liam are 15 and 14, respectively. Luke Slomba, 15, a multi-instrumentalist from West Haven, joined the Foresters in 2015. The Norks attend Amity High School in Woodbridge; Slomba goes to a magnet school.
For Evan, music lessons began at 18 months. "The fact that he was writing songs at four and playing in bands at 10 is definitely unique," says Jack Nork, the boys' father, "but it was also very curated and supported by us. We felt that it was really important, but it was also totally there for them to take. It wasn't forced."
Growing up, the Norks had access to thousands of CDs, most of which were acquired by Jack as a DJ at the University of Connecticut. The boys talk about '90s artists — Superchunk, Elliott Smith, Built to Spill — like seasoned record-store clerks.
"These guys devoured my CD collection," Jack Nork says. "They absolutely consumed it."
The Space, an all-ages venue in Hamden, was one of the Foresters' first live proving grounds, along with the Amity Teen Center; the Telegraph in New London; Lyric Hall in New Haven; and countless DIY house shows. Some years found them playing 50 or more gigs, alongside notable Connecticut bands like Violent Mae (drummer Floyd Kellogg mixed "House Stories"), Dr. Martino and Quiet Giant.
"We'll meet one person, and then that person will introduce us to this other person," Hayden says. "We meet all these other bands. You just make connections that way."
Evan's influences — "Revolver" and "Pet Sounds," filtered through Elephant 6 Recording Collective bands like the Minders and the Apples in Stereo — bubble up through cracks and crevices of his songs, spilling out across odd phrase lengths, inventive tone colors and twisting chord progressions.
The Foresters released their first album "Sun Songs" in 2015. It's a full-band effort, unlike "House Stories"; on the new album, Hayden plays the drums and some bass, and Evan does most of everything else. (Evan also designed the album covers; in the fall, he'll study graphic design at SUNY Purchase.)
For "House Stories," Evan wrote songs about growing up in Bethany. "I didn't originally intend it, but as I started recording it sort of happened that way," he says.
"When we're making a record, we don't really think of the thematic aspect of it," Hayden adds.
Evan interrupts — typical older sibling. "Once we have enough songs, it's like, 'We have an album'."
Work on "House Stories" started two years ago. Last year, during first period at school, Evan isolated himself in a storage closet off the side of the band room, with a laptop and USB microphone. He wrote a song a day, using only the instruments that were in there: a piano, a guitar, a chair to bash on.
"It was unfiltered: 'I have to write a song, I have to make up something'."
At times, you hear that storage closet; it's in the Brian Wilson alone-but-happy bounce of "Two Fools in the Dark," the intimate swing of "Isolate Yourself." British Invasion rock and power-pop tropes pile up: the chiming, clean guitars and singalong finale of "Letterbox"; "Misterman"'s mono drums and ascending major scales; the gloomy character portraiture of "Mildred Wright III"; the optimistic McCartney vibe of the super-catchy "Nedobity."
And of course, teens will be teens. "Asked her out just yesterday," Evan sings on "Honk If You Feel Fine," "I knew she was gonna say, 'Well, you're not my type.'" "The Tenement Sweep," the extroverted first single, exudes big pianos and guitars, bashed drums and harmony vocals. Evan hasn't left Bethany yet, but he's thinking about it; "Waiting for the plane to take off / my town looks so small," he sings on "From Harrison," "that's OK."
On "A Winter Plead," an accordion-backed miniature, he seeks literal sunlight, and maybe also the enlightenment that only comes from change:
What has it come to now?
I shake my head, I'm not so bright
I might as well take the reins
And take off into the light
"Kiki & Bouba," the final song on "House Stories" (and one of the last to be written), stacks acoustic instruments and vocal harmonies over a triple-meter groove; "Oh, you don't know anything," Evan — less confident now, perhaps — sings, "you don't know anyone." It's the end of one path, and the start of the next.
When Evan goes to college, the band may or may not last. Hayden and Luke Slomba have side projects; Liam, Jack says, has a growing interest in hip-hop. Slomba makes music with friends he met online, sharing files and trading back and forth.
"I'm probably going to keep doing that regardless of whether we keep doing [The Foresters]," Slomba says.
"We can still try to play together on occasion," Evan says. "I definitely want to keep putting out stuff. I do want to keep writing."
Press Play is a column by music writer Michael Hamad exploring the underground musicians of Connecticut. If you have new music to share, send it to him at email@example.com.