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Down With the Hugeness 

by JOEL HARTSE & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & I & lt;/span & n rock music, hugeness -- as an idea -- can mean a couple of different things. A band can be huge as in widely popular, huge as in the Polyphonic Spree. A band's music can also be huge, seeming to occupy an enormous acoustic, emotional or spiritual space.





Last time we checked, Spokane had not yet produced a Huge Band in the popular, or too-many-members sense (feel free to fact-check us on this). But the Spokane band the JonnyForest, a relative newcomer to the local music scene, is the last kind of huge. It's clear from the first few seconds of the song "Get the Fitness" from their debut EP. Jay Beal's plaintive, unaccompanied voice asks "Are you healthy?" And he's answered by Peter Froese's robust guitar -- full, expansive, and well, huge. Add shimmering cymbal fills and before the song even properly starts, the band has already staked out a wide sonic territory.





The JonnyForest, led by longtime friends Froese and Beal and joined by George Collar on drums and Jonathan "Joff" Williams on bass, has only been playing shows since March of this year, but the group's off to a vigorous start, playing shows almost every weekend and putting out an impressive demo.





Williams, drinking a suspiciously green Odwalla outside the downtown Starbucks, was modest about the demo: "We've got quite a lot of material now we'd like to put on a full-length recording, and really try to capture that JonnyForest sound that's much more evident live than on our MySpace page."





On the question of "the JonnyForest sound," it's obvious that Froese, with his fat guitar tone, is a big Jeff Buckley fan. But the band members are split in their influences.





"Jay and Peter grew up in the Inland Northwest, so they're really into the indie scene -- all the stuff that's come out of the Northwest in the past 20 years or so," says Williams. "George grew up listening to gospel music, and obviously ... there's a lot of influence in the rhythmic stuff. I grew up in England, where there was a huge funk revival scene in the early '90s which kind of got me into playing bass -- and then I moved to Africa, and that totally changed my musical influences and experiences.





"So when you're looking at the Northwest indie rock scene and you've got kind of gospel stuff, soul stuff coming in and the international African and funk stuff, I don't know what we end up with."





This all makes sense, really -- it's not uncommon that a JonnyForest song starts with a straight-ahead rock vibe but then meanders its way into a funky, jammy bridge, all the while maintaining the band's big sound.





The band's name was Beal's idea. "You know the name John Doe?" said Williams. "John Doe is kind of a faceless, nameless person. And a lot of times, people don't really know their identity, don't know who they are. A forest of John Does."





A huge forest.





The JonnyForest at Caterina Winery on Friday, Aug. 24, at 8 pm. $3. Call 328-5069 or visit www.myspace.com/thejonnyforest.
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