It’s a cloudy, dreary December day outside, but the laughter between the three musicians I’m sitting with is making things seem brighter. It’s their first time at theCO, and I had them crash on the couches to create a comfy environment for our interview. Ben Gilbreath, Nathan Megelsh, and Tyler Marberry are meeting with me today to talk about their band, Forked Deer Homeschool Parade. If you’re from around the more southern West Tennessee area, you probably know that it’s pronounced “Fork-ed Deer.” The real-life Forked Deer River system is the “main drainage of the central portion of West Tennessee,” courtesy of Wikipedia. I know the river because I used to drive over it in my daily trek from Medon to my high school in Jackson. It’s this connection with the band’s namesake that makes me particularly interested in their origin story.
I’m curious about how all of you guys know each other. How did you get together and start making music?
Ben: I’ve known Nathan for about five years almost; we’ve been friends pretty much ever since then. We kinda re-joined up as friends [after a geographical separation] in 2016. I was writing some songs at that point, and trying to start my own thing, and I was like, ‘Well, Nathan’s one of the best guitarists that I know—”
Nathan: Well, shucks!
We all laugh.
Ben: “—so, why not see if Nathan wants to join me?”
Tyler: We went to college together. We both served in a worship band . . . When I first heard Forked Deer Homeschool Parade, I thought, “Oh, this is fantastic!” But there was no bassist. So, after a trial of a truly astounding number of rival bassists, I proved myself worthy, a superior specimen.
Everyone chuckles again.
Ben: And we’re thankful.
Tyler: It’s been a riot ever since.
Do you guys think there will be a time in the future when music is all you do?
All three have different jobs and gigs outside of FDHP.
Ben: That’s definitely the goal. Whether that’s gonna happen or not is up to the people to decide. That’s the hope—to commit and throw all my chips in.
Can you tell me how where you’re from or where you currently live has influenced your music? Obviously you have a band name that comes from this area.
Ben: Well, I’m from the Memphis area originally, and the songs that we play are primarily written by me. [The songs] are just kind of life that I’ve experienced, and a lot of it comes from different girls. Sometimes it’ll sound like, “Oh, he’s not writing about a girl,” but it’s probably about something that happened with a girl. I like to write sad songs, I guess. I’m not a sad person, but there are a couple things that make me sad, and those things make me feel a lot more than happiness—because I’m happy a lot.
Nathan: I’m originally from the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, area. My parents were big into all the classic kind of music and stuff, whether it’s Jim Croce or Pink Floyd, and I just learned as much as I could from that and just throw whatever I’ve learned onto Forked Deer.
Tyler: I’m from Medon.
I gasp dramatically because I never meet other people from Medon that I don’t already know.
I’m from Medon! There’s like nobody from Medon so I’m shocked that you’re from there.
Tyler and I talk about different locations in the area, which devolves into a discussion about the Pine Ridge Club, a joint that was featured in the famous 1973 film Walking Tall.
So how has Medon influenced your music?
Tyler: I think growing up in a very—what’s a nice way of saying it?—safe, kind of secluded area makes you wish for a more adventurous life. I tend to gravitate toward things that are very kind of lush, that create heroic sounds and paint big pictures. . . . I love anything with like an orchestra and, [when I was] growing up, game music and things like that. A good reason I switched to using a five-string for the group is just that it makes Forked Deer’s sound absolutely massive.
And where did the band name come from? I know about the Forked Deer River, but how did you choose that?
Ben: I’m glad that you called it “Fork-ed Deer,” because even a lot of people that are from here don’t call it that.
Well, a lot of people from North Jackson don’t go down to that area a whole lot. When I did live in Medon, I went to school in North Jackson, so I had to drive over the Forked Deer every day to get to school.
Ben: I was just trying to think, “What’s the craziest name I could think of?” So, the “Forked Deer River” is [because of here] and then “Homeschool”—I don’t know. I was homeschooled, and it turns out Nathan was as well.
Tyler: I went to private school, so I’m the odd man out.
Ben: And that’s not like a requirement or anything; I don’t think we present ourselves as homeschoolers. It’s just kinda like, a lot of people have a weird opinion about homeschoolers, so I just wanted to put that in the forefront.
Nathan: We’re not some weirdos living in a compound or something.
Ben: We can be hip! And then “Parade” just rolls off the tongue.
So, what so far has been the most rewarding part of making music together, and what’s been the most difficult part?
Ben: That’s a good question. It’s really fun to have a brotherhood-type thing. And maybe that’s cliche, and, like, every band would say that, but just getting to know these guys and just trying to do one thing together—doing shows and making progress with social media or whatever—that’s exciting to experience together. We get to kinda celebrate with that, and that brings us closer.
Nathan: Yeah, when you play a good show or when people buy some of your music—that’s really exciting as a group to celebrate.
Ben: And that’s all that we can say so far. We haven’t played at all these places or had this success, but it’s not really about that. If I wasn’t having fun then I wouldn’t be doing this. It really is fun to get together every time and practice.
Nathan: I can’t really think of a downside.
Ben: It takes money! Finding a job that fits with our music schedule is tough.
Nathan: Yeah, and that’s another thing: venues don’t like to pay musicians. They like to think that music is just a free commodity.
Ben: But we’ve had a lot of friendly acquaintances in this area. We’ve had some coffee shops be really friendly with us. Like in Henderson, Urban House is a really great place.
Nathan: And The Coffee Shop, in Humboldt.
Yeah, I saw you guys play there a few weekends ago. I was really impressed with how open The Coffee Shop is to having musicians play there.
Can you tell me about how you approach writing music, and also songwriting?
Ben: Well, it’s primarily me; I’ve written most of the songs. There’s one song that’s written by Nathan on the album, and that’s some people’s favorite song! Makes me a little jealous sometimes. No, I’m kidding. But yeah, [my songwriting] comes from weird to bad things that have happened in my life. It’s hard to write about the good stuff, I guess . . .
Nathan: . . . without sounding cliche.
Ben: Yeah, there’s a lot of cliches. And that’s kind of the thing with our personalities, too. We’re kinda cynical, I guess. Hopefully we sound different [in our writing]. We want to provide something that sounds good but also very differently lyrically.
Nathan: I think about the songwriting process like . . . there’s a Simon and Garfunkel line that says “a poet and a one man band.” I think of Ben as the poet and I’m the one man band. . . . He creates this really cool foundation, and I get to put flowers on it.
Tyler: I shoehorn notes in until Nathan tells me I’m stepping on his toes!
You mentioned earlier the album that you have out. Can you tell me more about how it was made?
Ben: Our album is called With All Due Respect . . . Baseball. We came up with the name when we were in Walmart, I think, walking around. I was wearing a Redbirds hat, and a guy said, “Go, Redbirds!” And I said, “Yes, sir. Baseball!” And we laughed at me saying that. The other part comes from the cliche of people on TV saying, “With all due respect, sir,” and stuff like that.
Nathan: We don’t want to take ourselves too seriously. We want to be who we are as people, even if we write serious songs. . . . As far as album production, that was primarily done by Ben. We recorded at his house.
Ben: It was mastered by Colton Hunt, who’s a music producer here in town. Yeah, we’re really happy about it.
Are you planning on another album soon, or are you more focused on traveling around playing shows?
Ben: We’ve primarily been going around doing shows. But even now at our shows we’re playing new songs. We’re always trying to be writing.
Nathan: Probably next year we’ll have another EP.
What would you tell somebody who’s interested in making music as a career or as a hobby? Do you have any advice?
Nathan: Well, it’s a grind. You have to constantly be working on stuff, and you can’t expect to be given anything. You’re not entitled to anything.
Ben: You gotta earn it. And just keep working at it, too, even if there’s a lot of discouraging points in time. . . . It takes a lot of humility.
Nathan: And there aren’t any shortcuts.
Tyler: My advice: invest in your community, build momentum, and just be good.
At this point we chat about how my mom always tells me to “be good” and different mottos that our parents have told us over the years.
It sounds like you guys are really grounded, and it’s definitely good to have that mindset. I just have one more question: what are your goals for the future? And also, how can the community support you?
Nathan: As far as goals go, we’re starting tours next year. We want to get involved in all kinds of different scenes, and that might involve us moving from Jackson to a bigger city . . . we do want to foster a good music scene in Jackson, and we do want things to grow. The best the community can do is come out to shows, give people a chance.
Ben: And also, like, if you’re staying in one town, it’s like a vacuum. You’re going to the same things and seeing the same people. There’s a lot of other places artists need to be going to, to expand their horizons. That’s what we want to do: we want to bring culture and fans from other places to Jackson.
Tyler: From sea to shining sea.
Nathan: I do think there is growing interest—even if it’s slow—to give bands more of a chance here.
I definitely think that. I’ve interviewed different bands throughout the years who could only play in one place here in Jackson, but now there’s more places that are open to having artists play.
Nathan: Yeah, we’re just playing as much as possible, getting our stuff out there.
Olivia Chin is the danger. She is also a writer, music aficionado, barista, and Union University graduate based in Jackson.
Photography provided by Forked Deer Homeschool Parade.