The Americana folk band known as The Felice Brothers are currently touring the nation in a dusty storm of saloon-style singing. Started by three brothers in upstate New York in 2006, the band now includes two additional members and plays a soulful, raw country rock sound unlike most in their genre today. Ian, Simone and James Felice are instrumental jacks-of-all-trades, playing guitar, piano, accordion, organ and drums as well as singing vocals alongside their fellow band-mates Christmas and Farley, who strum the bass guitar and the washboard, respectively. An eclectic group, their sound spurs from the Catskill Mountains of New York and their music is as haunting and gritty as their homeland. With three albums currently on release, their tour has taken them all over the country as their popularity increases. The fiery fiddling and rumbling vocals that complement many of their songs has sparked connections across several states in those who share a love for good, down-and-dirty country music. James, who specializes in playing the accordion, took some time out of their interstate trek to talk with the Foghorn.
San Francisco Foghorn: How would you define your style of music?
James Felice: Inspired by early American folk and country, turn of the century…Woody Guthrie, Neil Young, Creedence Clearwater. It’s American music inspired by old American song writers and the 30s era which was just a good time.
SFF: So it’s you, your two brothers and two friends. How does that work for you guys?
JF: Relationship is great, dynamic is great. Started with two brothers, just us guys, but with everyone we play off each other very well.
SFF: What got you interested in this genre of music?
JF: Well, I think it was the first time I ever heard it. My older brother Ian had a tape of John Hurt. He was this guy who was a farmer his whole life; he sang because he had to in life. There is a raw simplicity [in] his music.
SFF: Any major musical influences?
JF: Plenty from the last 50 years, but everything influences you in some way, everything you like can inspire you to become a better singer or songwriter. Anything you like changes you.
SFF: You and your brothers grew up in upstate New York. How has this influenced your music?
JF: Upstate New York isn’t all that different from Kentucky; very similar people and landscape. Once you get an hour outside the city its all backwoods and down-home country livin’ back there. Far out [in] western New York…it’s a huge state…[it’s] very much like Kentucky. Our music relates to any other place in the country like that, that’s more rural and earthy.
SFF: Most of your tracks were released in the U.K. and are not as readily available here in the U.S. What was the motivation behind releasing Americana folk music in the U.K.?
JF: It was given to us early on in our careers, playing farmer’s markets in Brooklyn. We met some guy who had a record label in England. We jumped at it, we were psyched. [It] could have been anywhere, could have been on the moon! We went for it, we just jumped. But now “Tonight at Arizona” is from the U.S. so it’s more out here.
SFF: Now that “Tonight at Arizona” was released in the U.S., do you notice a difference in your fan base?
JF: Yeah, more people come to the shows. It’s always been all kinds of people who come to our shows, young and old alike. I’ve played shows where [there] were nothing but older people like 50s, 60s, 70s, all couples. But our show last night it was all college kids. Any given day it’s different people depending on where you are in America. With the release in the U.S. there is more variety, more people coming to shows.
SFF: You’ve been touring the U.S. a lot in the past year, what was your favorite event to play at?
JF: Oh man! So many, gonna pick one out of a hat…couple of weeks ago we were in the Midwest for a while. Lovely country, but a bunch of strip malls out there. We had a concert in the parking lot…kinda gets to you a lot. Actually, we had a show in eastern Ohio (laughs) that took us hours to drive to on these back roads, up hills–felt like we were going to a trap or something. Finally, we get to a clearing and there’s this small festival! Not too many people but it was so wonderful because it was so small and in the country. Beautiful country. But yeah, also the Outside Lands Music Festival in San Francisco we went to over the summer was great. A lot of fun, great crowds. You guys have some wonderful fog.
SFF: Why the washboard and not the spoons?
JF: (Laughs) Well, I guess it’s because we found a washboard at the Salvation Army…and spoons? We never really had any spoons (laughs). They’re hard to come by and we didn’t want to waste our spoons on our music.
SFF: I hear you’re touring in a “short bus,” how’s that working out for you guys?
JF: Oh man, that was about a year ago. Not anymore, now we have a camper. We upgraded (laughs). We were so cramped in that thing, couldn’t handle it anymore. Now we’re driving around in a camper and we can all sleep in it. Much more comfortable, a little more safe.
Check out the Felice Brothers on Myspace: www.myspace.com/felicebrothers