Sunday, December 6, 2009

New interview with James Felice

Intense And Off The Cuff: Our Chat With James of The Felice Brothers
27 November 2009

“I’ll just stand in the middle of this parking lot. It will be awesome,” James Felice laughed through the phone from an unidentified swath of pavement in upstate New York. I’d caught him red handed getting gas station coffee somewhere near his home in the Catskills (“I still get coffee at gas stations for some reason… They’ve got pretty good coffee here actually”), to where The Felice Brothers had just returned after a mostly sold out sweep through the UK, Germany and the Netherlands. The irony of Europeans eating up their rootsy brand of rolicking Americana with such gusto is not lost on James, “Apparently the Europeans like Americana more than the Americans do,” he said, “I don’t really know. I don’t know why they like it so much, but they do. It’s really great for us because we get to travel over there and it’s pretty amazing.”

But “pretty amazing” was about all James was willing to divulge about their across-the-pond antics: “It was very surreal. And, um, I have crazy stories but I shall not share them…with the public. What happens in Europe is best left in Europe, perhaps,” he laughed, “We’ve had a great time. It was wild. There was drunken revelry. We got sick, then we got better. Then we had a lot of fun, we were exhausted and then were, at every turn, amazed at how many people came out to the shows and how much they enjoyed it.”

Overseas partying and internationally packed houses would be a dream come true for any band, but the Felice Brothers have certainly paid their dues. Long before their legendary performance at the 2008 Newport Folk Fest, where their energetic, hour-long, unplugged set in the pouring rain won them a cult-like following, James and his brothers, Ian and Simone, were playing backyard barbecues.

They soon graduated to busking in the New York City Subway. “It was always busy and bustling and we played as loud and as hard as we could,” James remembered, “Sometimes people paid us and sometimes they didn’t. It was pretty exhausting. It didn’t last that long, eventually we got pulled out of the subway to play actual shows. But, while we were down there, it was an amazing learning experience– I’ll tell you that.”

Though eldest brother Simone recently left the band to start the more pared-down, introspective The Duke & The King, James and Ian are joined on stage by washboard player and fiddler Greg Farley, drummer Dave Turbeville and their friend Christmas on bass. “Two brothers in the band and three other guys that are like brothers,” James explained, “We live together, we work together, we tour together. We’re around each other all the time—which is great. Sometimes we get in fights. People throw things, say things that they didn’t mean. But most of the time it’s great, being that close to a bunch of dudes. It’s like being married, I’ve said that before. It’s like being married to four other guys. It’s really intense but it’s really awesome.”

Intensity seems to be the name of the game when it comes to the Felice Brothers. Their headlining gig at the Paradise proved a cramped, crowded and downright rowdy affair. While not surprised, we were glad to see the love Boston showed the boys that Thursday night, “I love coming to that town, anytime. It’s great. I’m really excited to get back there, actually,” James had told us only a few days before. “I love playing Boston. I think besides New York, Boston is my favorite city in the country… Bostonians have a certain attitude that is sort of similar to… I guess the Irish attitude. Just sort of get drunk, have fun. Get in a fight. I love that style. It’s honest and it’s endearing. When they really like something, they really go for it. The shows we’ve played there have all been really vibrant and electric because of the audience. And you’ve got beautiful women there too, in Boston.”

–Jessie Rogers