Her debut CD features members of local rock royalty The Hooters. The release party this month is at top indie concert venue World Cafe Life. Anyone hearing that Livvie Forbes is just 18 years old might be tempted to think a singer/songwriter that young couldn’t possibly have paid her dues.
But despite her age, Forbes has already paid more than her fair share.
For most of her life, the Wayne teen suffered from several debilitating medical conditions that resulted in merciless bullying from her peers, disbelief from adults unable to diagnose her conditions, and severe bouts of anxiety and depression.
Instead of succumbing, the recent Conestoga High grad turned to music. She discovered a powerful voice and an outlet for personal expression, and that she could use it as relief from her physical and mental pain.
“I had heard people talk about how music had helped them so much, so I decided to give it a try,” Forbes says. “It gave me a way to distract myself from the pain, and eventually helped it go away.”
A childhood of broken bones
Forbes lived a normal, happy childhood until the second grade, when she suddenly began to grow taller and rapidly put on weight, changes that didn’t go unnoticed by her classmates. Teasing and name-calling became intense, and followed her throughout her life at school.
If the bullying wasn’t bad enough, Forbes began suffering attacks of chronic pain, often brought on by the stress of her experiences at school. Through the years she also experienced what she was sure was a high frequency of broken bones.
“I was in casts for more than half of my life,” she recalls. “It was awful.”
It took nearly a decade to discern the roots of Forbes’ problems, a process exacerbated by the fact that she was afflicted by multiple conditions:
- Amplified Musculoskeletal Pain Syndrome (AMPS) which causes her brain to perceive emotion as pain, leading to panic attacks that manifest as physical suffering rather than anxiety;
- Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS), which entails having ligaments that are too long for one’s body, resulting in constant joint dislocations (the reason for all those supposed broken bones); and
- Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), which causes hyperthyroid and diabetes, the cause of her weight gain.
Coolio to the rescue
Finally being able to give a name to her problems, Forbes has learned to manage the pain — if not completely treat it.
“I went through a pain program [at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia],” she says. “It helped a lot until I went back to school and all of the pain came back because all of the anxieties came back. Since I graduated I’ve been in a lot less pain, but it’s still constant.”
She also found a measure of relief when she sang onstage for the first time at a high school talent show in her junior year. Her voiced grabbed the young audience’s attention, and not just because of her unlikely choice of material: Coolio’s 1995 hit “Gangsta’s Paradise,” which she reprises on her new album, Chronic. A smile is audible as she explains, “It’s my absolute favorite song to perform and it always catches people off guard.”
Forbes got involved in an after school music program and studied with voice coach Susan Dash and guitar instructor Matt McAndrew (he went on to become a finalist on NBC’s “The Voice”). She found inspiration in the poetry of Langston Hughes, whose name she first heard in the musical Rent, a personal favorite.
“I was in the library in middle school and saw a book of his collected poems,” she remembers. “It was like 600 pages long and I read it maybe four times in a row. His words were so powerful and he painted such a picture and everything he said was so beautifully written. It really opened my eyes — Dr. Seuss is great, but this is real literature.”
Talent gets discovered
Her father happens to be the attorney for Hooters drummer David Uosikkinen and passed a tape of his daughter along without revealing her identity.
“I didn’t listen to it for a few weeks,” Uosikkinen recalls. “But once I popped the disc into my player I immediately wanted to hear her sing live.”
Uosikkinen agreed to produce Forbes’ debut, bringing bandmate Eric Bazilian and Steve Butler of Smash Palace along for the session.
Chronic combines Forbes’ own heartfelt originals with covers of songs like Stevie Nicks’ “Edge of Seventeen” and George Ezra’s “Budapest.” Despite her inspiring backstory, Uosikkinen maintains his involvement was strictly due to her talent.
“I’m proud of her for overcoming her struggles and I watched her do it,” he says. “For me, it was all about the music. Even though some of it comes from a darker place, it’s a pretty upbeat record and that’s what I want the listener to walk away feeling.”
Moving past the bullying
Earning the imprimatur of such well-regarded artists should be a confidence boost, but Forbes says it took her a long time to be able to appreciate the compliment.
“I have 12 years of being constantly put down and bullied, so I’m just now getting the confidence to say, ‘Yeah, I’m a singer. I have talent.’”
However belated, that realization has come, and Forbes is taking full advantage. She’ll celebrate the release of Chronic at World Café Live on Thursday, Sept. 29 (tickets here), and is taking a gap year to concentrate on her burgeoning music career.
“I’m working on new stuff,” she says. “I’m really excited for what’s going to come. I’m not totally sure what I’m in for, but I think it’s good.”