Wednesday, April 29, 2009

James Felice interview Birmingham Box Set

Carla Jean Whitley

I spend a lot of time seeking out new music for our monthly music recommendations in Currents. A lot of times that means requesting the upcoming album by someone I’ve already heard a lot about, or keeping an eye out for something new from my favorite bands. But there’s no rush like the excitement I feel when I pop in a CD from a band I’ve never heard of and hear something worth falling in love with.

That’s what happened in early 2008, when the self-titled album from The Felice Brothers turned up in my mail. In our March 2008 issue, I wrote: “‘Greatest Show on Earth,’ the second track on The Felice Brothers(Team Love Records), is a cinematic composition—like something you’d hear on the soundtrack of a movie set in a saloon. The stateside debut from this rural New York band is at turns raucous (cue ‘Frankie’s Gun!’) and introspective (‘Wonderful Life’).”

You’ll have to excuse the self-referential quoting, but it’s still how I feel about this band. I’ve been trying to catch them live ever since, but I have a knack for going out of town when they come to Birmingham or Tuscaloosa. That will change—finally!—on April 28, when they play Bottletree in support of Yonder is the Clock, which dropped earlier this month. James Felice offered Birmingham Box Set insight into the new album and a preview of what to expect at Bottletree.

Birmingham Box Set: So much of your music sounds like a party—“Penn Station,” for example, on the new album. Is it as much fun to play with these guys as it sounds like?

James Felice: It actually is. It’s really fun. When we play live, we try to make it like a really fun environment for everybody. We just want everybody to have fun and feel good. People that are spending—I don’t know how much people tickets are, $15—but I want people to have a good time. If I go to a show I want to get drunk and rowdy to dance around.

BBS: And yet, y’all balance a really fun time with great lyrics, whether on the rowdy bar numbers or more contemplative songs.

JF: Thank you very much. That’s really important to us, too. The songs that have to be quality or else it’s not worth it. They have to be good. We write a lot of lot of songs. Only a few make the best quality, you know. While we have a lot of fun and rocking songs, a lot of the songs are much more somber. They have to be equally as good.

BBS: How does your songwriting process work? Does everyone contribute or one person do most of the writing?

JF: My brother Ian, he writes most of the songs. We all work on them in one way or another, [but] he’s definitely the main songwriter.

BBS: What influenced the songs on this album?

JF: Everything. You know? It’s not just one thing. …

We wanted to make an actual real album. Everything else we’ve done before was kind of piece meal and thrown together, because we didn’t have enough time and space for a real album. … For this record, it was nice to be in an environment where we could record and make a real cohesive piece of music.

We had the chicken coop that we recorded a lot of the last album in, and we put a roof on it and put walls up and that’s where we recorded Yonder.

BBS: You’ve got a variety of songs in your repertoire—when it’s time to be loud, y’all are really loud, but you also have plenty quieter, thoughtful songs. How does that contrast play out in concert?

JF: I think it works really well. We try to have an equal number of both. It depends on what we’re feeling at the time, what we feel would work best, how the crowd is feeling at the time. … I think it’s important to have moments of respite between the dancing around. We’re not a punk band you know, I think we’d all wear out if we were dancing around for an hour and a half.

BBS: Who have you been listening to lately?

JF: James Booker, actually. He’s a New Orleans piano player, amazing. And Gershwin, listening to a lot of George Gershwin. I don’t listen to that many things at once, I try to stick with one or two records.

Birmingham Box Set