Most people will tell you that music today is getting less artistic and less meaningful. Contemporary pop songs tend to feature intriguing beats over powerful melodies and shock value over lyrical substance. Contemporary songwriting has largely shifted away from the art form that visionaries like Bob Dylan and Pink Floyd built it up to be and back into something that plays as a lost soundtrack to our lives. It’s become more of an escape and less of an answer. One Oregon based musician is reversing this trend however, with his recently released album Brave the Storm.
Last Year’s Man is the creation of Eugene, OR based artist Tyler Fortier. Born in Portland and raised in the small town of Camas WA, Fortier admits he has always been drawn to music. He began writing songs when he was around 11 years old and played in Punk Rock bands throughout high school. This would lead him to Emo music and eventually to Acoustic, transitioning into Americana and the 1970’s singer-songwriters he grew up listening to from his parents collection when he was a kid. Some of Fortier’s influences include Jackson Browne, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, & Leonard Cohen, punk artists like Bad Religion and Pennywise, and contemporary songwriters John Moreland and Jason Isbell. “I’m always looking for new music on Spotify and finding old records and I think it’s all a big melting pot once I sit down to write.”
He would move out to Eugene in 2003 to attend the audio engineering program at the local community college. After school he decided to stay in Eugene, where he now lives with his wife, who sings vocal harmonies on many of the songs off the album, and is currently attending nursing school, as well as their two sons. In 2006 Tyler would begin to put out his original music as Tyler Fortier. Around 2012 however, he decided to transition away from just writing and performing his own material, and instead focused on working with other artists as a producer, co-writer, and mixing engineer. He would work with Dozens of different artists over the following years, helping them develop their sound and reach their potential. Tyler would also begin writing music for film and TV, having his music featured on networks like CBS, Netflix, Showtime and the BBC.
In 2019, while working on a project to pitch to music publishing company Warner Chappell Production Music, he began writing the first couple of songs that would become his latest project- Last Year’s Man. “I just felt too close to the songs” Fortier said, “I didn’t want to sell them, so I kept them and decided to record an album”. Tyler started recording in August of 2019, taking a week off from other projects to work on his own. He would work on the album sporadically, writing and recording at his home studio over most of the year. He worked on the album mostly alone, but it was still a collaborative process. “I involved a lot of players from Nashville to Wisconsin to Connecticut to Portland and Astoria, Oregon” Tyler states, “Ideas evolved, players added their own flare and character from my basic outline and the songs turned out better for it”. The album was originally going to be called No Eye On The Sparrow (after the second track on the album), inspired by the Joan Didion book The Year of Magical Thinking. The name was changed to Brave the Storm when it was cut down to an EP, then stuck when Fortier decided to transition the project back to an Album.
Brave the Storm was finished in August of 2020 and released on November 13th under the artist name Last Year’s Man- a reference to a Leonard Cohen song by the same name.
The album is in many ways a return to the strengths of music from the sixties and seventies. From the opening line of the first song off the album, title track “Brave the Storm”, Fortier immediately shows off his lyrical prowess, singing over the gentle acoustic guitar- “Everything’s been said and done, all you ever hear is just an echo inside a shadow, I know there’s nothing I can say, that you haven’t heard”. Powerful lyrics like these are mirrored throughout the album. On the song Wild, Wild Heart Fortier sings “Like the Night I am Restless, I am the settling at dawn, I am the bird on a wire, I am an unsung song, I’m a dog lost from home, and I am the boy searching, I am color in the dark, and I am the wild, wild wild heart”.
Brave the Storm is 30 min and 45 sec of moving lyrics, powerful melodies, and optimism through longing. Ultimately, it is the culmination of years of work, all coming together to make an incredibly well rounded and captivating album. You can hear the masterful production and the heartfelt songwriting coming together to create something truly incredible and unique, rivaling albums by some of the all time greatest songwriters- something that is becoming increasingly more and more rare, and harder to find.
“Last Year’s Man feels like the culmination of all the work I’ve done as a producer and songwriter. Obviously there is always much more to learn and room to grow but I feel Last Year’s Man showcases my abilities as a producer, mix engineer, composer, and songwriter in a way that I haven’t accomplished before” -Tyler Fortier
As far as long terms goals, Fortier doesn’t have anything specific in mind. “I don’t really have any goals for Last Year’s Man believe it or not. I wanted to put something out into the world that I felt proud of from a songwriting, production, and mixing standpoint. I just want to keep creating and if people listen then that’s great and if not then that’s okay too. I guess I just want to keep getting better and better at everything I do. So maybe that’s the goal. Keep working and keep moving forward.”
You can listen to Brave the Storm by Last Year’s Man here.