Welcome to a world where fuzzy indie rock meets folk meets punk meets country meets college rock circa 1995. Welcome the wholly unique sound that is the Feral Conservatives. Come along as I talk to Rashie Rosenfarb (vocals, mandolin), Matt Francis (drums, pedal noise, and feedback), and Dan Avant (bass) and after, read the review of their new release HERE’S TO ALMOST (egghunt records).
Can you give us some background on how the Feral Conservatives formed?
Rashie: Matt and I met a long time ago playing music together with friends. I was playing bass at the time. We kind of got to know each other and I remember him asking me if I was interested in being in this band with this other guy who played guitar and sang songs that sounded reminiscent of Nirvana. I joined and soon we became a straightforward garage rock band. I had begun to learn the mandolin around this time and as Matt and I grew closer we started this little side project with it. We were writing cute folky songs. I think the guy in our other band didn’t like it because he just stopped showing up to practices one day and didn’t really explain why. Matt and I decided for lack of us having a guitarist on hand to make our mandolin band full time and combine the folk with the garage rock. Thus Feral Conservatives was born and we’ve been experimenting with those two styles ever since. Dan joined the band last year around April and we’ve never looked back.
What is your songwriting process? Is there a process or does it vary by song?
R: It does vary but usually Matt or I will bring in the general outline of a song, (melody, chords, some lyrics etc.) and then together we will build it from there. Growing off of each other’s ideas, the song will form and become something that at exceeds any idea that was envisioned in the beginning. I personally like to give my spin on the vocal melody of a song to further suite my range and so I’ll usually contribute to a song with harmonies and things like that as well. Sometimes I’ll bring in a song that doesn’t have lyrics and just sing nonsense/hum while the band plays along…until the words start to form.
What did you learn from recording “Breaks and Mends” that you were able to carry over into “Here’s to Almost”?
R: Breaks and Mends was the first full length album I had ever recorded, and the first time I had spent so much time on one single thing. I think going with your gut is a big thing. If something doesn’t sound right and you’re questioning it at all, change it. It’s only going to bother you more later and then it’s going to be harder to fix. Also really being engaged in the vocal editing process. I wasn’t really involved in that for Breaks and Mends like I wish I had been and looking back now, after Here’s to Almost, I wish I had. It was kind of a collaboration between me and our engineer on this last album for choosing takes and I really enjoyed that. Also, just having the songs really flushed out and ready to go for recording.
FC has cultivated a sound wholly your own, but it is easy for the audience to draw quick parallels to Velocity Girl, the Sundays, and other female-fronted indie bands from the 90’s. How do you feel about those parallels?
R: Honestly I was just thinking about this the other day. I am flattered to be compared to such great bands I have so much respect for but it’s frustrating hearing how we sound like these “female fronted bands” as if that’s a genre in itself. There isn’t some male fronted band category for guys. They’re just referred to as bands. So sometimes it feels as if we’re being put in a small box. Bands shouldn’t be categorized by the sex of their lead singer. It really wasn’t a conscious decision to sound reminiscent of these bands but I think maybe the sound people are hearing comes from our love of 80’s college rock.
Matt: For me, the 90’s was the heyday of female fronted bands (emphasis on bands). Rashie points out some sexism in the music industry, and in some ways I think that has been perpetuated worse in the proceeding decades. I’ve joked before that if some of those bands we love were around in the major label/pop radio era of the 2000’s, the front women would be separated from their bands and forced to do a hip-hop single ala Gwen Stefani. Tonya Donelly (of Belly, The Throwing Muses) has a great story about fighting Rolling Stone to have their cover feature the whole band instead of only her. The bands you mention have careers/discographies to aspire to, but they also came around at a time when alt was all over the radio. That was special.
Side Note: I saw Belly perform in 1995 (with Gail Greenwood on bass, which was such an interesting scene in and of itself) and they were great. Tonya Donelly writes lyrics like no one’s business. She’s even responded to a few tweets I’ve thrown at her, so she must be super cool. And, Belly is reuniting this year with some new songs and a tour!
M: Can’t wait — King is king. Planning on going to the DC show. Her solo work is great, as well.
About once a year, I’ll break out the Belly collection and listen to nothing else for a few weeks. King may be the better album, but I have a soft spot for Star.
Rashie, have you always felt comfortable with your voice?
R: Ha, no actually. I had to really learn to like my voice. I had always thought my voice was childish sounding. But I spent a long time honing it and teaching myself how to use it to its strengths. I remember in high school when I discovered how to sing in my middle voice — that was a big, enlightening moment for me. It took me a while before I felt comfortable listening to my voice recorded.
I get pretty tired from air drumming to “Can’t Do This”. Matt, come on, that has got to be a ton of fun to play live, right?
M: For the longest time, that was our closer. And hell yeah–that’s the sort of head down, driving song that I can really sink into. Live, we actually extend it into a half-time jam that is a ton of fun–we keep it pretty loosely structured so it is always spontaneous and improvisational.
Dan, does the approach to playing bass change when the lead is a mandolin instead of a guitar?
Dan: Yes and no. The chiming tones of a mandolin are so distinctive, and the chord voicings and the the kinds of chords Rashie plays are definitely influenced by her choice of instrument. So she has a unique approach, but in a way she’s still filling out the sound much the same way a rhythm guitar would. In that sense we’re sort of a traditional three-piece, just with this mandolin twist. As for the bass, though, yes: the mandolin really thrums in the higher frequencies–which is also where her vocal range is–so I have a lot of space underneath to play more melodically and stand out in front more than I might otherwise. I can get a little fuzzy, for example, or play chords (!) without competing with the mandolin.
How do you define success as a band and as individuals?
R: As of right now we’re striving to grow a nice little following that will bring us to a point where we can tour a lot more often. I feel like that’s the success we’re looking to achieve.
M: I’ve made a lot of close friends through the band, either with other artists or fans, in our hometown or across the country. That connection is the most rewarding thing for me.
The FC website it says “We 100% support equality and diversity through our lives, music, and applicable legislation.” Can you talk about how that conviction has influenced your music and the direction of the band?
M: That was mostly a reaction to our own dumb band name–we’re not a political band and the name is a joke, which may be remiss on people who don’t know us personally. If anyone missed the oxymoron–and I don’t want to speak too broadly here–but it was a way to say we’re not hateful conservatives. And truthfully, I hope that the question of the influence of that conviction is answered more by you, or the listener, apparent more so than any statement we make. I would hope it echoes through our lives and art. We want to tear down walls with our music, and not put them up.
Seriously, how cool is it to shoot a music video?
M: It’s a lot of me on the floor looking through a lens and getting so absorbed that I stop communicating with everyone.
R: Filming is electrifying. It’s kind of like that feeling you get just before playing live. I love the performance part of it and getting down to the real emotion behind the lyrics when singing the songs. Sometimes I can get lost in it and then Matt’s saying “cut!”
When you’re performing, what is going through your head?
D: You know, I’m not entirely sure. Performing for me is a sort of meditation–I’m not clearing my mind of thoughts, but I’m filling it with … just pure concentration on the music and the experience. So it’s like a little time warp: my clearest memories after a show are of the moments between songs. But then there are these little flashes when something unexpected happens and I find myself “in the moment” but in a different way–this sudden shock of realizing I am playing a rock show, like dropping into the middle of a dream.
M: Don’t fuck up…don’t fuck up…don’t fuck up…It’s either that or “I am a golden god!” I like to oscillate between the extremes.
What is the best part of touring? What is the worst part?
M: Best and worst part of touring is the people. We meet so many great people and bands on tour and have crashed on many unexpected couches/floors/ashtrays, it really becomes a highlight. Of course, you very quickly meet dick promoters or bands that are too cool for the shows they’re on — that’s the caveat. Tour is also this accelerated microcosm of what’s great and shitty about being in a band — all at once. Sometimes, different nights, sometimes, all in the same show.
What is your proudest moment as a band?
R: We got covered in Paste and Consequence Of Sound this year and those were some really proud days for us.
What’s up next for FC?
R: We’re working on a tour in the late summer. Also playing a smattering of out-of-town shows here and there this spring, so stand by for those. Also be prepared to see more music videos on the visual journey of for the tracks on Here’s To Almost.