[Interview] The Felice Brothers

When I tell Greg Farley of The Felice Brothers that I’ve been listening to the band’s latest album all morning, he is so sincerely enthusiastic I can almost see his smile through the phone. Favorite Waitress, The Felice Brothers’ 10th full length released on Dualtone Records last week, starts with a characteristic dog bark and some laughter, a proper entrance for 13 songs that feel freshly sprung off a small town porch somewhere on the outskirts of America.

The Felice Brothers have a history of using unconventional, quirky recording spaces like chicken coops or schoolyards, but this time around the group ventured to Nebraska to record like big boys in a real life quality studio. The result is at once humble, authentic, and unabashedly fun.

“The whole thing this time was we just wanted to go in and do it,” explains Farley. “We wanted to say this is who we are and we don’t give a shit. This is what we do, this is us.”

Fans are in for a pleasant surprise with Favorite Waitress, which although was recorded in planned, “traditional” fashion, holds onto the down-home, chance sound that got people singing along at The Felice Brothers’ shows in the first place. As the story goes, a while back The Felice Brothers were asked to open for Conor Oberst and on tour they became “really great friends”. Oberst suggested the band record in a studio for their next album, and offered up his own in Omaha for an affordable price. The band said “Alright”, and to Omaha they drove.

“At the time we were so broke. So much crazy shit happened. Our practice space flooded and we lost all our instruments. So we toured out there, spent a week recording, and then drove all the way back in this crazy snow storm. It was pretty epic, the whole experience. It had some magic.”

Even as Farley talks about the band’s unfortunate luck and setbacks, he keeps up that representative cheery go-with-the-flow attitude hangs over everything The Felice Brothers make. Recording is clearly the only real work aspect of their process, the poisoning prerequisite for what the band really wants to do– write songs, sing songs, play songs, and have fun.

“I always thought it would be a kind of sterile environment but it didn’t really matter, I didn’t think, that we were just in a studio, I felt like we still had a whole vibe. We already had all the songs, we just wanted to get them down,” says Farley.

Thankfully, there’s a lot less electronic experimentation than what came with the band’s last studio album Celebration, Florida, which left critics and fans sincerely confused about the sudden origin of auto-tune in The Felice Brothers’ set up. As soon as I mention Celebration, Florida, Farley almost immediately concedes that it didn’t come out sounding like the stripped down folk we had gotten used to.

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“What happened with Celebration, Florida was we pieced it together in the studio. It was so meticulous. It wasn’t like the live stuff,” explains Farley. “It was totally natural to get away from that, from Celebration, Florida’s super planned, thought out style and just say here we are. Not as much thinking about it.”

And while yes, parts of Favorite Waitress feel like they were thrown together at a backyard barbecue with a cheap keg, the music is deceptively intricate. Sure, these guys make writing songs sound as simple as getting together and clicking GO, but there is nothing easy or amateur about Favorite Waitress. The Felice Brothers’ celebration of instruments meander in vague order like animals on a farm, and this slow spontaneity is now officially a badge on a group of veteran musicians. Like a sign of a good party, nobody shows up on time, but everybody shows up.

“We wanted to make a record that represented what you would see when you would come see us live, who we are– fiddle, accordion, bass, guitar, drums, and awesome songwriting all around.”

The lyrics on Favorite Waitress are subtly heart wrenching, with lines like “I’ve been afraid to depend on love” on the melancholy opener “Bird on Broken Wing”. Moods are quick shifting but all throughout you can literally hear the fun they’re having. “I’m the new Elvis”, sing Ian and Josh on “Saturday Night”. I ask Farley about that line and he just laughs.

“Usually it’s like whoever sings the song that’s who wrote the lyrics on that one,” explains Farley. Ian Felice, whose voice is on most tracks, writes the casual storytelling that has so many people making Bob Dylan comparisons and grouping the band into the Americana-Folk genre, to which Greg laughs “I don’t even know what Americana is.”

The five members of The Felice Brothers grew up together in a small town in the Hudson Valley, a small fact that had a clear effect on Favorite Waitress, which is mapped by references to a place. “Your environment forges a lot of who you are,” says Farley. “We write what we know. That’s why I think a lot of the imagery is of local places, references. A lot of songs paint a picture of where we grew up. I think that’s cool cause it adds to the heritage of where we come from.”

Farley himself is a storyteller. When I tell him I like the album title, he offers up the story behind Favorite Waitress. “Basically on our way out to go record, we all went to this little diner off the highway. There was this old lady working behind the counter and she was just super sweet, and we were all like damn, that’s our favorite waitress. It was just a running joke, a sort of theme of how it went, anything you thought was tight, it was like that’s my favorite waitress, that’s cool.”

Ten albums strong and The Felice Brothers are still having fun. Farley can’t wait to play this summer so people can “learn Favorite Waitress and sing-a-long”. He promises me a lot from their performance saying I’ll leave “exhausted” and “sweaty”.

“You can expect to leave being so happy,” he tells me. “That’s one thing we do, is make people have a good time.”
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Alexa Carrasco is a writer from the sweet coast of Los Angeles. She likes music, movies, and swimming pools. You can follow her on Twitter @alexajane17.

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