Portrait Of The Artists As A Young(er) Band: The Felice Brothers
In 2008, I signed up to be the A&E editor of a college magazine in Southern California. I wanted to shed a spotlight on some of my favorite new bands which, at the time, included The Felice Brothers. On March 18, 2008 I managed to catch the band at The Echo during their Los Angeles stop of a tour that included the brothers and another up and comer, Justin Townes Earle. James Felice, multi-instrumentalist for the band, was even gracious enough to answer some of my questions.
To make a long story longer, the magazine’s head honchos felt that they wanted me to write about bands that were more mainstream, so my article was never published. With the release of Celebration, Florida (Fat Possum Records), I thought it would be a great chance to finally publish the article. The fact that it is on ND makes it even cooler for me. As fans of the band know, a lot has happened since then, but I left the article as it was when I wrote it all those years ago. The cool photo from that night is courtesy of my pal, Aldo Padilla.
James Felice did not fare so well in the California sun. “How do you guys deal with this shit?” Felice, an intimidating figure sporting a brand new sunburn on the non-bearded part of his face, asked the crowd at his band’s March show at the Echo in Los Angeles. “Get some rain in your lives.”
His band The Felice Brothers, on their first major headlining tour, however, fared just fine. Comprised of actual brothers Simone, Ian (whose voice and lyrics belie his 26 years), and James, plus bassist Christmas (who James simply describes as “a deep guy”), and newly added multi-instrumentalist Greg Farley, the band hails from the Catskill Mountains of New York and, in March, were in Echo Park to play some songs from their recently released self-titled album on Team Love Records. This was the band’s third L.A. area appearance in two months (in February, the brothers opened for Southern Rock heroes The Drive-By Truckers at the Avalon and at the Anaheim House of Blues.)
In addition to the DBT tour, the band also landed high profile gigs at the Bonaroo and Langerado Music Festivals, a showcase for No Depression Magazine at the South by Southwest music conference in Austin, Texas, and a Fall 2007 tour with Bright Eyes.
The Bright Eyes tour came at just the right time for The Felice Brothers. “That was at a time when a lot of labels were interested in working with us,” explains James, the band’s designated interviewee. “And Connor [Oberst, lead singer of Bright Eyes and co-founder of Team Love Records] said, ‘Why don’t you just sign with us?’ His musical integrity is just unbelievable.”
A label like Team love seems to be a perfect fit for such a close knit band. “We love Team Love!” adds Farley. “It’s like one big family.”
Incessantly compared to legends like Bob Dylan and The Band, the music that the band creates fuses elements of the American musical canon with touches of country, blues, gospel, folk, and Appalachian mountain music. And on songs like “Whiskey in my Whiskey” and “Ruby Mae,” The Brothers revive the lost art of the murder ballad.
Just like the Brothers are inspired by music handed down from the past, James was inspired by music handed down from his brothers. “Simone would get Ian into some bands and then Ian would get me into them,” says James of the Brothers’ early musical education. “We’d listen to stuff like Bob Dylan and Neil Young, and even some of the older stuff like Lightning Hopkins and Robert Johnson.”
It is that dedication to being true students of music that adds an authenticity to their unique brand of music. This is brought to life during their explosive live shows that have been making believers out of the fans of whatever band they’re opening for while at the same time shaking off the unfair comparisons that no one could live up to.
As the night winds down, James, drenched in the sweat that comes with being a big dude rocking the stage all night, takes one last drag of his cigarette and walks back to the venue. His band will pack up and head north to San Francisco and on to the Pacific Northwest. Although, the weather up north will be more to his liking, he and the rest of The Felice Brothers should get used to the bright lights.