Released back in May, Celebration, Florida, by New York band The Felice Brothers, is a confusing record. Take the first track, "Fire at the Pageant," with its chorus of screaming children, stomping cadence, and menacing, howling vocals. It's the sound of Americana set loose in the record store overnight, munching on agit-punk, hip-hop, and funk 'till sunrise. In reality, the band recorded the album in an abandoned high school, and the unusual surroundings benefited the 11 tracks.
Bassist Christmas (yep, Christmas) doesn't think the combination of influences is all that strange, or even particularly noteworthy. "...music is so crazy these days that we didn't think it would be that big of a deal if we decided to use synthesizers," he says over the phone, having just finished sound check and grabbing a bite in Knoxville, Tennessee. We spoke about the band's lyrical focus, unusual sounds, and 'Lil Wayne's records.
The Felice Brothers are scheduled to perform Thursday, November 1, at Rhythm Room.
Up on the Sun: I've been listening to [Celebration, Florida]. I like it. It's different, and it's pretty exciting. I'm curious, because you guys have been lumped in with the New Americana thing, but this record has weird synth pop sounds, hip-hop, and pop sounds, all kind of butting heads with the more traditional stuff. Was there any point any point while making the record where you guys thought, 'This is really going to through people for a loop, mess with people's perceptions of what we are?'
Christmas: I guess so. We had some notion. But music is so crazy these days that we didn't think it would be that big of a deal if we decided to use synthesizers [laughs].
I think the surprise comes from the way people perceive the band before hand. I went in expecting something rustic or sounding like The Band or something, and it's...it's not just the synthesizers; the arrangements of some of these songs, like "Fire at the Pageant," are all over the place. I think it's exciting. I don't really like records that are stuck on one sound. It doesn't sound like you guys do either.
We like throwing curve-balls. But we didn't throw curve balls, it's like...you think a pitcher is going to come out, and it's a race car driving around, you know what I mean? We like different stuff, you know?
I assume you guys listen to a lot of diverse music.
Yeah, there's all sorts of crazy music popping off in the bus. People listen to all sorts of crazy shit.
Seems to be a lot of hip-hop sounds on the record. Are you a rap fan?
Yeah, man. I listen to a lot of rap.
I bought Tha Carter IV. I thought that was pretty good.
Did you like Rebirth at all? The guitar record?
I didn't listen to Rebirth that much, to be honest. I'm sure it's very creative [laughs]. I don't know what else to say about it. That one song is pretty crazy, the "Pick the world up and drop it on its mother fucking head."
I like Lil Wayne's rap stuff, but that record reminded me of, like, Linkin Park or something.
I think he was having a strange period in his life.
It's a weird thing. When you mix genres, which is something your record does too, it can feel like combinations not gelling. How difficult was it to integrate curve-balls while still maintaining a sense of wholeness to the songs?
What we always try to do...most of our songs, the poetry is the most important thing on a lot of them, and the melody, so we...everything has to not stray too far from that. That's kind of the basis. Anything that supports that...anything that kind of deters away from the poetry, or the feeling we're trying to get across is no good.
The lyrics are an interesting element. Do you write any of the lyrics?
Yeah, I do. The stuff I sing on that record, I helped out on a couple things. Mostly it's Ian, though. He writes all the stuff.
The lyrics sound like a reflection of right now. I don't want to read too much into it, but it sounds like hearing the news right now. There are all these different evocative images: Ponzi schemes, Honda Civics, Oliver Stone. Maybe I'm just been watching to much political coverage, but it feels like a political record to some degree. Political as in, 'We're thinking about a lot of things.' The personal as political.
[Laughs] Yeah, we're trying to express something about the time we live in. Just walking down the street, observing things, reading the New York Times. Things like that. Kind of viewing those things through a collage...
It seems like there's a thread of storytelling. That you are sharing these stories to illustrate a broader point.
Yeah, man. We love stories; reading books and things like that. We're trying to concentrate on telling whatever story there is.
The record was recorded at an old high school in Beacon, New York.
Yep, that's exactly where it was recorded.
You guys recorded previous albums in a converted chicken coop. What about these nontraditional spaces attracts you guys?
A lot of it has to do money constraints. We spent a year almost on Celebration, Florida. If we went into a "real" that would cost...way to much fucking money. So we kind of built our own studio. We're kind of mystic, so the vibe matters, where we are. We don't really want to see golden records on the wall, and see Jimi Hendrix posters and stuff. Not anything against Jimi Hendrix. We don't want some crazy metal band clocking in a couple hours after we leave. We just want our own space and something that feels like "ours."
How did you find that location?
We had three classrooms and an auditorium.
I don't know how it works with the vibe, but sound-wise the record sounds huge.
The auditorium, and this really big library, and it used to be a gym as well. The chicken coop was a really small room, with us low ceilings, so sonically, this was a lot more room to breathe. It was tons of fun, man. We would ride skateboards around the hallway at two in the morning, and like, go off and talk about shooting zombie flicks in the locker room. Walk around...we really got tripped out there.
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That's everybody's dream: Getting locked in the school over night.
We talked about that fantasy a lot. When I was a kid, being bored in the classroom and just your mind drifting off...all of the sudden we're drinking beers in the hallway and stuff like that. It was kind of like victorious, like "Yeah, we got the school! We took it over. Finally."