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The Felice Brothers
New York’s Felice Brothers have come a long way since they first launched themselves on to the live scene with a series of gigs at their home city’s subway stations.
Now the roots rockers, who once played an entirely acoustic set at the 2008 Newport Folk Festival when a lightning bolt cut their power, have dived into the world of synths and electronica on their latest album Celebration, Florida.
“I think we were listening to too much Radiohead!” says James Felice, who started the band with his brothers Ian and Simon in 2006.
“We wanted to try something different, and we had the means to get hold of the synths and computers and such.
“We didn’t know what we were doing with those instruments, in the same way as with the older records. We just tried to have fun.”
Within its 11 tracks Celebration, Florida takes in synths, samples, horn sections, disembodied children’s choirs and howling violins, all combining with Ian’s Dylan-esque vocal style – and that’s only on opening track Fire At The Pageant.
In among the more complex pieces, such as the storytelling Cus’s Catskill Gym and the electronic single Ponzi, there are still some rootsy numbers, including the gentle late-night country paean Dallas.
Overlaying all the songs is the album title – a reference to the planned community built by the Walt Disney Company in the late 1990s to represent small-town values.
“We wanted to write an album around the name before any of the songs were done,” says James. “The idea started out as an in-joke. We knew people who had gone there. The idea of the town was fascinating to us and inspiring. “I think the record has a lot to do with the state of the US at this time, but we’re not trying to make any grand complicated statement. It’s interesting how the songs fit into it directly, or indirectly.”
The album was the first official release without eldest brother Simon, who left the band in 2009.
“He was ready to start a family and didn’t want to be on the road for 200 days a year,” says James.
“The process was different – he’s a very strong and creative person, who had a lot to do with the other albums. We weren’t sure how we were going to go without Simon, but it meant other members of the band could step forward and fill the space.”
Although Simon had always been playing music and writing poetry, it was only when Ian wrote a song out of the blue in the mid-2000s that the brothers felt they could go somewhere with music.
“Simon and I were blown away,” remembers James. “We thought: ‘This is as good as any song we’ve ever heard.’ We tried to support him with what we could.”
The band has had a pretty relentless schedule ever since, releasing nine albums, and touring for two-thirds of the year. For this tour the more orchestrated Celebration, Florida songs have been reworked and broken down so the five-piece band can play them with a bit more rock and roll energy.
“We like to stay busy,” admits James, who says the band is looking forward to their first Brighton visit. “If we aren’t working we feel like we’re wasting time. It’s important for our momentum and sense of self-worth to keep working. It is easy to get lazy and stop because nobody is telling you to get another record out.”
Indeed since Celebration, Florida was released in May, 2011, the band has put together another album, God Bless You Amigo, over the course of two weeks in memory of their late, departed Winnebago tour van.
“We were inspired to play some acoustic music and go back to our roots after Celebration, Florida,” says James. “We had some songs written that we’d never recorded.
“The album came out two weeks ago – we haven’t raised enough for a new tour van yet. We really loved that bus. It was our first home – when it died we were all very sad.”
And even then the band isn’t taking a break. Having already started to write material for another album, they hope to start recording in the autumn.
“After Celebration, Florida we feel like we can do anything we want,” says James. “It has opened up new worlds.”
- The Felice Brothers play The Haunt, Pool Valley, Brighton on Thursday, August 16. Doors 7pm, tickets £6.50. Call Resident on 01273 606312.
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