Dan Forke is not only a multifaceted creative, but a Wake magazine alumnus hailing from the art department. The Eau Claire, WI native, in addition to being a visual artist, is also a local rapper under the moniker Wealthy Relative. We discussed his latest, experimental project: a 6-track EP that is experienced through a video game. Read on to get a glimpse into Forke’s 3D world of art, music, and a whole lot of feelings.
The Wake: Tell me a little bit about your background.
DF: I went to school for graphic design here. I graduated in 2015. I was doing the music thing that whole time—kind of on and off as far as like how hard I was focusing on it or considering it. So, outside of music I’m an artist—a visual artist and designer. Professionally, I am a designer for my job right now. I’m from Eau Claire, Wisconsin. So, I came here for school and have lived here since then. Yeah, it’s cool to be from Eau Claire. There’s a good music scene there, on like a smaller level. I like Eau Claire and being from there because people are hungry for music. There’s not like a million artists like there are in Minneapolis where everyone’s like trying to do their band or whatever. So, like house shows in Eau Claire, everyone will go and like actually listen and they’re into it. And that happens here too, but… I feel like the DIY music scene has been lacking here. There haven’t been a lot of spaces for it to happen. That’s why I kind of came up with my music, which is for house shows, DIY venues and stuff. Whether it’s like people moving on who run those venues or they get shut down ‘cause they’re illegal… There’s just not a lot of good DIY spaces that I know of, anyways, here in the cities, right now. And, it is thankless work, so I understand. It’s a lot of work and not a lot of people realize that—like running a venue in your basement or whatever. But, I appreciate that very much.
The Wake: Is music something you do on the side or is it your main focus?
DF: I would call it a main focus, but it’s not currently what’s like paying my bills. Outside of work, my music and art are really like the only things that I care about. I think, realistically, I didn’t really consider it that way until recently—maybe like the past few years—because some things changed… I changed my goals and intentions. You know, I’ve been doing it for a long time, but not really on a level where I’m considering it as a potential means to support myself. Like, that’s kind of my end goal right now, is like, if I can get to a place where I’m only making music and making art—animating, or whatever—and can support myself financially. That’s all I really want.
The Wake: Why did you choose the name “Wealthy Relative”?
DF: Yeah… That’s a question people ask me. I don’t know… To be honest, it was kind of just like an arbitrary decision. I thought phonetically it sounds good and it’s like loosely relatable for a large amount of people. I was at a show a while ago and I was just talking to someone about music and how I make music and he was just like, “Oh, that’s the whitest rap name I’ve ever heard.” I thought that was funny and appropriate. Yeah, I mean, it doesn’t have some secret story behind it or some meaning. It was kind of one of those things where I was like “I’m going to make music,” and I like changed it from some other ones that I’m not going to tell you because they’re embarrassing.
The Wake: No, please!
DF: No… It’s cool. That doesn’t need to happen [laughing].
The Wake: I was thinking like, “Stuck-up Cousin” or something.
DF: No, they weren’t similar at all! It’s just kind of one of those things where you can prescribe meaning to it later. But yeah, I think phonetically it sounds really good and it’s really memorable and it has great SEO [search engine optimization]. If you just type in “Wealthy Relative” on Google, my stuff shows up first, so that’s cool. That’s something I think a lot of artists don’t think about. It’s not necessary, but it’s helpful. I just wanted to pick a name where like, you hear it and you remember it.
The Wake: How would you define your style of music?
DF: It’s rap, first and foremost. Yeah, this is something I ask myself a lot. I’ve been trying to define it in a way that’s like… digestible. My intentions with music are to make things that I want to hear that I don’t hear, and that I haven’t heard, you know? So, it’s rap. I mean, it has influences. I’ve heard other people describe it as like a journal, like journal rap, if you want to call it that. A lot of artists that I appreciate—a lot of other rappers I appreciate—have like coined the term art rap… and some have since rejected that. And, I don’t want to put myself into that. It’s left field. It’s softer than what a lot of other people think of when they think about rap music, or hip-hop. It’s honest. I have a lot of electronic, like digital culture influences, like video games influence me a lot. The music in video games influenced me. That’s a big thing. Jazz has its influence. Ultimately, it’s just kind of like me making music that I want to hear based on my experience and things that I care about and things that I like.
The Wake: Tell me the story of how you discovered you could rap.
DF: I don’t know if there’s a specific story there, or like one specific moment.
The Wake: So, has it been something that you’ve been working on and toying with since you were in middle school or high school?
DF: Yeah, definitely high school. So, yeah… When was I in high school? Like, 2007ish—something like that. I downloaded Fruity Loops, a program you can make music on like Logic or Ableton. I’ve always loved music. It’s always been a huge fiend, so I just started doing it. I don’t know… I’m trying to pull back to those early experiences with rap that influenced me. And, I was talking about video games a minute ago. There’s this game called “ToeJam & Earl in Panic on Funkotron”—it’s from the Second Genesis. There’s like this mini game in there that presents you with this hip-hop beat. You like mimic it back, in the game. It’s like “Boom boom clap,” and you hit the buttons that correspond to the sounds, and then you’re like making a beat on your little controller. And, that game is just very funky and hip-hop influenced. There’s just these two weird little alien characters going around trying to catch these hooligan earthlings that landed on planets and send them back to earth. So, that was an early thing where I was like, “Oh, this is cool, and I love how that sounds.” Yeah… There’s this album, “Raw Material,” by Mars Il. It’s like a Christian hip-hop duo from the early 2000s. And, I got it from my dad—or from my dad’s church. He’s a Lutheran pastor. And I was like, “Woah, I’ve never heard anything like this before.” The production there is really cool and the writing is really well done—like, the flows are cool.
The Wake: How were they able to make it about religion, but also super cool and appealing to you at that age?
DF: It’s not like every song was like, “I love God. Jesus saved me.”
The Wake: Honestly, I’m not experienced with Christian rap.
DF: Oh, there’s not a lot of it that’s good. But this album—Mars Il, “Raw Material”—is fucking dope. It’s really good. They’re just really good at rapping and the beats are really cool. It was very late 90s, early 2000s kind of style. And, the DJ that produces everything has these really good instrumental sections—like these experimental things. And, you can tell that he is actually producing on vinyl. He’s like scratching and stuff. That doesn’t happen anymore, very often. Rap’s changing… as music does.
The Wake: So, do you think your music is more nostalgic or more forward thinking, or a combination?
DF: Both. I guess I’ve just realized that a lot of it is just like me talking to myself about my emotions. It’s just me talking about my experiences, and me processing things. And in that sense, it’s therapeutic. I’m actually trying to avoid that, recently, just because a lot of song’s I’ve written in the recent past are essentially like, “I’m sad and that’s not great. Why am I this way? What’s happening in my life that I can change to make it better?” And, that’s kinda like what every song is about that I’ve written—not every song, but I feel like that’s a common theme. I’m just trying to explore new places. Yeah, at its core, it’s poetry and it’s self-expression. A main goal is just for me to be like as vulnerable and honest with my own experience, and if people can relate to that, that’s fantastic. But, it’s for me, more than anything. It’s for me to process existing more than anything.
The Wake: What do you think is the best atmosphere for someone to listen to your music?
DF: Like, in a dark basement at a house show with your friends that you care about. Or, just like at home alone with some nice headphones, and maybe it’s raining outside. You’ve got a scarf on… you’ve got some coffee if you like coffee and if you don’t like coffee then no coffee.
The Wake: What’s the process you go through to write a song? How long does it take, usually?
DF: It’s different every time. I never really write to the instrumental that it ends up on. I write a lot in my car. I write mostly in my car. I write in the parking lot when I’m grocery shopping. I’ll just listen to songs while I drive and sort of half freestyle to them and be like writing it down on my phone and when I have a good moment I’ll do the thing where I talk to my phone and it records my voice and go back later and edit it. Just kind of whatever! I never have an intention to sit down and write music. It just kind of happens—especially the writing side of it, the words. It’s really spontaneous, and in that sense, it’s compulsory. It’s just sometimes I need to write. And, sometimes it’s bad, and I don’t do anything with it. But, that needs to happen for any creative process, I think. A lot of bad things come out before a good one does. Yeah, a lot of time it’s just me in my car doing errands and then I stop and I sit there for like an hour, just rapping to myself—talking to myself, essentially. Then, the other side of it, instrumentally… It’s kind of the same but maybe there’s a little more intention there. I don’t know, all the time I just try to sit down and make beats. I try to just do that all the time. A lot of them don’t have to do with the Wealthy Relative project. I have a lot of beats that don’t go anywhere that I probably should put somewhere, because I think they’re good. There’s no real process, though, it just kind of happens. It’s like a habit I’ve developed, which is better than most other habits I have.
The Wake: Who are your biggest influences?
DF: As far as rap goes, Milo. Open Mike Eagle. Serengeti I think is like the best rapper ever. Sage Francis was hugely formative for me. I’m trying to think back about who has influenced me. I have been listening to a lot of chiptune music. I don’t know if that’s an influence or just something I like… But, it definitely influences like the synths I use and stuff like that. I like Bill Evans. This question is really tough because I listen to so many things and process different stuff at all times. There’s so many people!
The Wake: Do you feel like there are any really clear influences for your Wealthy Relative project? Who are the musicians that you’ve listened to and really latched onto, where really like their sound makes you think “Oh yeah, I want to do something similar to this”?
DF: Hmm… I don’t like to say that, because it’s like, I’m my own entity. But, yeah, Milo has influenced me a great deal. I think he is doing the DIY thing better than anyone, as far as his drive and writing. He lived in Wisconsin for a while and then LA for a while. I opened for him at the Whole in October. That was great. That was very good. Early Atmosphere, also, is a big influence on me. I think like a big reason of why I wanted to come here was when I was in high school like Rhymesayers was really going on in the mid to late 2000s… like the 2010s. What do you call the first decade? The 2000s? The first decade of the millennium? The aughts? Yeah… I love BATHS very much. He’s a producer. Huge influence. WHY? also, the band. Like, Yoni Wolf [of WHY]’s writing… He writes like no one else can. Like, Alopecia is probably my favorite record. Him and Serengeti kinda show the same quality where they can present a story that seems like they lived it or it’s a real experience they’ve had. I don’t know, it seems so genuine, but there’s like no way the person living out the story. But, at the same time, it’s like the writing and imagery they present is so vivid and rich. Like Serengeti and Yoni Wolf from WHY? are both some of the most talented writers, in that sort of sphere—like the greater sphere of hip-hop writing. And, Shlohmo, production-wise is a huge influence as well. “Bad Vibes” was like very formative for me as a producer, for sure.
The Wake: What do you like or dislike the most about being a part of the local Minneapolis music scene?
DF: I don’t know. I feel like everyone is kind of posturing constantly. And, I don’t want to call out the scene that I exist in. I feel like most people don’t actually care. It seems like everyone is kinda just like trying to help themselves, which is understandable as an artist. Like, it sucks to try and like grow as an artist, or grow in a way that you can sustain yourself if that’s your goal. It just kind of feels like everyone is acting as if they’ll help each other and form a community but no one ever truly does. That might also just be my position, being a reclusive person who goes to work and then just like sits at home and makes art in his apartment all day—’cause I’m not like a social person and I’m not very outgoing. That’s just part of it. But, yeah. There’s pockets of art and music communities here that are like really supportive and feel like an actual community. But, a lot of the time, it doesn’t really feel genuine. And, you know, it just seems like a lot of image-based appeals. Everyone just wants to look cool rather than like going to a show and enjoying it, ‘cause it’s good music. And that’s a blanket statement, but… maybe it’ll ring true for some people. At the same time though, I mean, if you get to the right place or build the right space, there’s passion. There’s a lot of passion here—a lot of people making cool things, a lot of people who are working really hard. And, that’s cool. I don’t feel like I have a lot of peers that are doing, in the sense, what I’m trying to do with art and music. That’s a frustration. But, I think part of that is because I’m not an outgoing person. It’s a frustration with myself. It’s an added bonus.
The Wake: Some of your album artwork on Bandcamp you made is really funny and creative. How did you learn how to make digital art?
DF: I started off in Blender and then started using some other things, too. I saw it and I was like “I love this.” I love Pixar and stuff and other 3D things, and I thought, “I bet I could pick this up.” I grew up on Pixar, and was like, “Wow, you can just make a 3D character and have it exist in a space.” You can just build a world and live in it. So, I started doing that while I was still in college, and slowly learned it on my own. It’s really easy to learn because the internet is rich with tutorials if you want to put the time in to learn. And, it just gets better and better, too. Technology gets better so you can build a faster computer for cheaper and make more 3D work, and that’s great. But yeah, all of that coincided. So, my next project is a 6-song EP. With my friend Max Coleman, I’m building a video game to release the songs in. And, that sort of was a result of me being creative in all of these different mediums, like making music and painting, and design, and drawing, and then making 3D art, too. That was my solution to being able to present it all in one space. I do all of these things and most people only know one of them. People who know I make music don’t necessarily know that I’m also an artist. I have too many creative outlets and not enough time to pursue them all to the fullest extent. But, that’s okay. It’s a good problem.
The Wake: So, how is the video game going to work? Will people have to unlock levels to get to each song?
DF: Essentially, it’s like one level. There’s kind of like an extra bonus thing at the end, which is basically just meant to encourage you to do the whole thing. So, you are this character and you drop into this 3D word and you’re walking up… So, it’s a 6-song EP, and each song has a music video. There’s a wide variety and each [music video] is definitely its own little thing.
The Wake: What’s the aim of the game?
DF: At its core, it’s just a way to experience this album, but you’re actually inside of it. Its first goal is to present an album in a virtual space that you can explore and experience. There’s all the music of the record, but then there are all of these other things around it. Like, there are virtual art galleries in the same space. There are six different rooms, and each one is tailored to the video.
The Wake: So, in these virtual art galleries, is it all your art?
DF: Yeah. There are collages, paintings, some 3D work… illustrations and stuff. There are a lot of different things. So, it’s called “Not Heaven,” and it’s the title of the game but also the record. And I guess, at its core, I’ve been figuring out how to present why I called it that in a digestible way.
The Wake: Does it have anything to do with the fact that your dad is a Lutheran pastor?
DF: Sort of. That’s not necessarily the goal of it, though. That will always influence me. It’s who I am and where I came from and it’ll always be a huge part of my life. I think it’s more so just about the experience as a creator, as an artist, through whatever mediums you have as an outlet, trying to achieve an ideal of perfection. In the game, I kind of want to present the character as an abstract, fantasy representation of me. It’s presenting your ego as an artist trying to create this perfect utopia inside this world of your art, and ultimately never being able to perfectly achieve your vision. For me at least, and maybe a lot of others, that discontent is what drives you… this ultimate pursuit and that resulting dissatisfaction. Through this game, you’re exploring this world that’s all around you, but ultimately, you’re alone the whole time.
The Wake: So, it’s like a first-person game. If you’re playing it, do you see yourself as the character? How does that work?
DF: You see your arms, and you have this little flower that’s a sword that you can paint with, in the world. You can take pictures with it, too. It’s the rose blade—that’s what we’ve been calling it. It’s a wand, and you point it at stuff and you can paint with it in the game.
The Wake: You’re walking around through this virtual space, going into different rooms. Do you get to decide your path or is it already created for you?
DF: You can go into any room in any order. Well, the first five. You have to experience the first five before getting to the sixth one.
The Wake: When you were creating your EP then, you weren’t really thinking about someone going through it, starting at track one, going to six.
DF: No, there’s not really a narrative arc or anything. It’s more open-ended than that. The songs stand alone and they live alone. They’re all songs that I wrote a long time ago, because I’ve been working on this game for so long. I haven’t been releasing other music in the meantime.
The Wake: When did you begin working on the video game project?
DF: Like a year ago. And, I’d had the songs written since before then. It hasn’t been super long, but since then I’ve written a lot, just because I’ve been trying to focus more. So, after I put this out, I’ll have a lot more stuff to release afterwards.
The Wake: Tell me about what equipment you use when making music. Do you use loopers, vocal pedal boards or vocal harmonizers?
DF: I perform with Ableton, the software. And, I have MIDI controller for a lot of effects and stuff. It’s an MPD26. I have a little vocal pedal that I use, so I can be a little more expressive with my voice when I want to be… it adds a little reverb or echo. I want my performances to be performative, so interesting. I want to do more than just stand a rap a song—not that there’s anything wrong with that if you’re rapping and that’s what you want to do. I like to be able to interact with the sound a little more than that. And, I’m constantly trying to change that and if there’s more that I can do within the constraints that I have as someone who is just performing by myself.
The Wake: Do you think you are moving in the direction of making music that is more electronic?
DF: I’m trying to be more analog. I have this synth that I use now, too. I’m trying to play more actual instruments, with my recordings and stuff, too. I still sample a lot but I’ve been playing notes. That’s the thing too… I don’t have any musical background, like I don’t play any instruments. I think that’s why it’s so freeing to be able to produce on a computer. I can make songs that sound good without knowing what notes I’m using, which, you know, musicians may frown upon. I would like to be able to play an instrument, but I just don’t have the time to learn an instrument. I’m doing too much already. I’ve gotta keep my mental health good, and like sleep and do things, and I already have too many creative hobbies. But, someday.
The Wake: What creative direction is Wealthy Relative going in?
DF: I guess a big goal of mine is longevity, regardless of its reception or anything, because I need to. At the same time, everything I make is very much based on my current moment—or very recent moment—that I’ve experienced. I would like to—in the future—be creating with more confidence… Not like self-confidence on like a social-personal level, but just confidence with what I’m doing. I’m probably going to keep making games, to be honest, whether those are Wealthy Relative specific projects or otherwise. I’m working on a graphic novel with my friend that will probably exist in the Wealthy Relative universe. Basically, with Wealthy Relative, I’m building this world with characters and experiences and I’m just going to keep expanding on that forever. Hopefully the world that is built will be cohesive.