By Mike Sembos
12:20 PM EDT, August 28, 2013
Hailing from upstate New York, the Felice Brothers are no strangers to Connecticut clubs. Or clubs anywhere else in the country, really. They get around. Before they started the band in 2006, they didn't even know how to play musical instruments, but they decided that being a band is what they wanted to do, and they stuck with it and learned the ropes until it became a reality. They played in New York subway stations, farmers markets and restaurants to get started, built a following and moved into the clubs. They played the Newport Folk Festival in 2008 when the power went off, so they took their instruments into the mud and played acoustically. They were willing to do whatever it took to create good times and memorable music, and the fans sensed this and began multiplying.
Last year the band ran into a string of bad luck. Their longtime vehicle, an RV that was loved as though it were a band member, broke down for good soon after they'd dumped another hefty chunk of change into its upkeep. Their homes were hit hard in the hurricane. Ian Felice fell ill, and was diagnosed with shingles in Europe, forcing them to cut a tour short. Upon their return, they fried a bunch of their amps in their practice space. There was so much bad luck, it became comical.
The band hastily self-released an album of home-recorded tunes called God Bless You Amigo, Kickstarter-style, with all proceeds going towards getting a new vehicle and getting back into the studio. Since then, things have been improving. They opened some pretty huge shows earlier in 2013, including some dates with Mumford and Sons and then the Killers. So... they must be reasonably financially secure by now, right?
"Not really," says violinist Greg Farley. "We pretty much took all that money we made from God Bless You Amigo and it went into making this record. We still don't have a real touring vehicle, we've been renting and borrowing one from our friend. Equipment-wise we're still banged up. It's still pretty janky, but I'm thinking that we've been building up a lot of momentum this year, playing all these crazy arena shows and all this stuff. And we've got this Felice County Fair we're doing up here, which is a big thing. Right now we're still all pretty much... broke. But it's all good though. Like any business, when you're starting out it takes a while until you really see any gains in that way. It usually takes a while. We're still just kind of evening out."
Playing the arena gigs proved to be not as difficult as had been feared.
"You just go out there and try to make the same experience you have in a smaller place, in a bigger place, and I think you can totally accomplish it," Farley says. "I think people put too much emphasis on the size of the venue, but it's really just, like, more people to connect with... People are always like, 'you can't even see the crowd.' That's bullshit. I see the crowd. There's a shit ton of 'em. I see 'em. I feel like we take it in stride and we just go up there and do what we always do. Just keep it real."
The Felice County Fair happens all day this Saturday at a sculpture garden called Opus 40 in Saugerties, N.Y., the first of what will hopefully be an annual event. Hardcore Felice fans will be making the trek upstate to show support, but those who can't can see them this Friday night at Fairfield Theatre Company's StageOne. Well, if they have tickets already that is, because it's sold out.
"Now we're back at home and we're pretty much finishing up this new record," says Farley. "We've got like one more song to record for it and then it'll be done. "
The band's last proper release (not God Bless You Amigo) was called Celebration, Florida, and it made liberal use of overdubs and studio trickery. But this new album was primarily recorded live.
"This one was just us in a room, you know, rockin'," says Farley. "So I think it's going to have that live feel, which is what we were going for. It's awesome. I'm really psyched about it. That's one of the main elements of it. It's us in a room, all playing together. That's what I think is one of the strongest parts of our band. That's what I've always wanted to bring to a record. The same vibe we bring live. I just feel like, we make everyone have a really great time. We make memories with people. We definitely have that. It just happens."
Because of the Felice Brothers' upstate New York origins, Ian Felice's weathered voice and the fact that they feature an accordion, they're often compared to the Band and Bob Dylan, who recorded the Basement Tapes a few miles up the road at Big Pink. The comparisons aren't quite accurate, and at first they were skeptical about embracing that angle. But Farley's been coming around.
"I mean, what's bad about that?" he says. "You're getting compared to Bob Dylan and the Band, two of the greatest musicians ever to come out of America. I've got no problems with that. You're getting compared to them, you're doing something right."
The physical geography of the area — the mountains and the woods — does shine through in the Felice Brothers' sound.
"It definitely influences you. Just your lifestyle and everything else," says Farley. "Everything is really simple where we come from. I think we kind of bring that to the music and have that homegrown organic feel. I think definitely where we live and where we grew up... which is pretty much the same place, definitely has an influence on us. That's how it is for everybody."
The Felice Brothers
Friday, Aug. 30, 7:30 p.m. Sold Out. Fairfield Theatre Company's StageOne, 70 Sanford St., Fairfield. (203) 259-1036. $25. fairfieldtheatre.org
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