Livvie Forbes will celebrate the release of her new CD on Sept. 29 at World Cafe Live.
Livvie Forbes always felt so at ease at open-mike nights. Being surrounded by like-minded music fans and supportive fellow performers was, in a word, comforting. This past February, the Berwyn native finally broke out of her comfort zone, accepting an invitation from Hooters frontman Eric Bazilian to sing at the inaugural Cavalcade of Stars at the Sellersville Theater. Forbes found herself on a diverse bill alongside established regional artists like Ben Arnold and ZouZou Mansour.
While her larger-than-life voice is impressive, something else made Forbes stand out that night. At 17 years old, she was still a senior at Conestoga High School. Her age, however, didn’t deter her from mesmerizing the crowd with her rendition of Nate Rylan’s “Until the Bitter End.” The performance kicked off what would become the most memorable year in her young career. “I’ve wanted to be a singer my whole life,” says Forbes. “Things this year really took off, and it’s super-terrifying and so exciting.”
Her junior year at Conestoga, Forbes connected with Bazilian’s Hooters bandmate, David Uosikkinen, whose attorney had slipped him her demo. “People constantly are telling me about the next best singer or someone I have to hear,” says Uosikkinen. “That CD sat in my car for a long time before I finally listened to it.”
Stuck in a major traffic jam one day, Uosikkinen popped it in. “I nearly drove off the road when I heard her sing,” he recalls. “It wasn’t the song she was singing, it was her voice.”
Uosikkinen likens Forbes’ vocals to those of critically acclaimed singer/songwriter Regina Spektor and someone else a bit better known. “She has a big voice like Adele,” he says. “It has a lot of natural power. You can’t teach that. That’s what got me. It’s so natural and pure. She’s
a great singer who will become a greater singer.”
Uosikkinen’s enthusiasm infected Bazilian, and, within weeks, Forbes was in the studio with both of them. “We just started recording, with no end goal in mind,” says Forbes. “Before we knew it, we had enough songs for an EP—and then we had enough for an album.”
By the time she graduated from Conestoga in June, her debut release, Chronic, was complete, with Smash Palace’s Steve Butler also producing alongside Bazilian and Uosikkinen. The album combines bracing originals like “Small” and “Addict” with surprising covers of Stevie Nicks’ “Edge of Seventeen” and Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise.” “We’re really happy with it,” says Uosikkinen. “This is only the beginning.”
Forbes’ whirlwind year saw its fair share of redemption for a teenager who’s struggled. In second grade, Forbes suffered several seizures related to a fever, touching off a downward spiral. Her parents took her to more than 50 specialists in an effort to pinpoint an exact diagnosis. Three conditions were identified: Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, amplified musculoskeletal pain syndrome, and polycystic ovary syndrome. EDS causes the patient to develop ligaments that are too long for the body, causing joints to regularly dislocate. In Forbes’ case, it’s her hips, neck and ribs. She’s susceptible to concussions because she’s easily whiplashed. She sometimes has to use a walker.
When she broke an ankle at age 6, doctors discovered that Forbes suffered from AMPS, a condition that leads the brain to perceive emotion as pain. Participating in a dedicated program at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia helped Forbes learn how to manage her emotions by keeping them balanced—a tall order for a young girl. On top of it, PCOS was the culprit for both her hypothyroidism and diabetes.
And if that weren’t enough, some classmates were more than happy to point out her issues. “I was bullied my entire school career,” she says. “It really wears on you. There were times that I didn’t know if I could make it.”
As her physical problems increased, so did the depression and anxiety. At 9, Forbes discovered that writing and singing provided an escape. As a teen, she began taking guitar lessons with Matt McAndrew, who would be a finalist on the seventh season of The Voice. The two became fast friends, with McAndrew even including her in a video shown on the hit show. Forbes also credits vocal coach Susan Dash with building her voice. “Both helped me so much,” she says.
Before she met Uosikkinen, Forbes recorded a few originals with Dan Michael, who’d produced songs for Will Smith and DJ Jazzy Jeff.
This month, Forbes formally launches her debut with a solo performance on Sept. 29 upstairs at World Cafe Live in Philadelphia. “This will be my first official concert, and I’m nervous—but really excited, too,” she says.
Forbes’ second CD is already in the works, and she’s now looking for an agent. As the good news continues to overshadow the bad, her motivation remains the same. “Music helped me through the most difficult times in my life,” she says. “I’m hoping young people who are also struggling in life see that, although I have physical disabilities, I’m still able to work through it and continue with my life.”
To learn more about Livvie Forbes’ CD release party, visit phillyworldcafe.com.