Stefan Doke's pandemic solo project becomes new band Forever Strange

The former Garbage Greek and Comrade Question guitarist hunkered down to home-record a psych-pop solo album, then realized he wanted and needed a band

Joel Oliphint
Columbus Alive
Stefan Doke of Forever Strange

After years of playing in local rock bands like Garbage Greek and Comrade Question, guitarist and singer Stefan Doke was ready to experiment with something new, something where he had more creative control. 

“There was a lot of group effort in both of those projects, but there was also a lot of figuring out, ‘Is everybody OK with this? Is everybody OK with that?’ And I was like, well, if I record everything at home and I write everything and I make all the art, then I guess I can decide what I want to do with it,” Doke said. “I just wanted to see if I could do it.”  

So Doke applied for and received a grant from the Greater Columbus Arts Council and used the funds to begin setting up a home studio, where he recorded demos for a new batch of songs. Soon, he lined up a rehearsal space and found friends to help him play the songs live, but a week later everything shut down due to the pandemic. All live shows were canceled for the foreseeable future.  

Not knowing how long the shutdown would last, Doke released some of his home-recorded material and began working on more demos, but in the process, he came to a realization. “I wanted to go back to what I was walking away from,” he said. “I wanted other people's input on this and other people's help. I wanted to do this with somebody.” 

More:Locals: Garbage Greek record release show at Ace of Cups

Doke recruited Marko Skugor to play bass and Mike Ortiz to play drums, and as restrictions began to relax, the three musicians masked up and began rehearsing songs for a new psych-rock band, Forever Strange, which released its self-titled album last month. On Saturday, Aug. 21, at 8 p.m., the trio will perform at Spacebar alongside former Alive Band to Watch Nothin’ (proof of vaccination required), followed by more shows in the coming weeks: Aug. 28 at the Vanderelli Room and Sept. 9 at Natalie’s Grandview.

Rather than record everything on his own again, Doke took the opportunity to work with Relay Recording’s Jon Fintel, an engineer and producer with whom he’d always wanted to record. “I felt like [Fintel] really got what I was doing and just kind of nailed it,” Doke said. “I wanted something that sounded really big, with some pop elements to it, but also a lot more warbly weirdness and fuzzy sounds. … I wanted a better version of what I had done before.” 

For Doke, the musical ideas on the album came pretty easily during his pandemic isolation, but lyrical inspiration proved more difficult. “One of my friends from Garbage Greek, [Lee Mason], we were talking about it because he also was doing a solo record at the same time. We were talking about what it was like writing songs after being trapped in the house so much,” Doke said, referencing the "Saturday Night Live" sketch in which Will Ferrell portrays a frustrated Lucifer trying to write a hit song. “I can buy synths and record stuff at my house, but then I'm [writing stuff] like, ‘I hang out with my dogs and my wife. I really wish I was doing stuff.’”

In the end, though, Doke’s Forever Strange bandmates became a good sounding board for all manner of ideas, proving especially helpful when Doke got stuck on specific parts. “When I'm on my own time at my house, I'll be looking at my project files and it’ll be like, ‘Take 70,’" he said, laughing. “I could re-record guitars 50 times and probably think they were just OK and could be better. I had to get a lot better at knowing when to say, ‘This is done. I need to move on.’” 

The pandemic also gave Doke perspective on his time playing in bands — something he realized he took for granted once it was gone. “I was looking back saying, ‘Maybe the fact that I was driving around and getting to see the country with my best friends and playing music all the time was a success in itself,’” he said. “It put so many things in perspective. You're not really owed anything just because you've played music for a long time, and it can all go away really fast.”