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LAist Interview: James Felice - The Felice Brothers

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Photo: Lucy Hamblin

The Felice Brothers are storytellers. No, they're great storytellers. With critics comparing them to Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, and the Band, these guys from upstate New York are making quite a name for themselves. Their lovely folk ballads about hardscrabble men and tough-as-nails women are as complex as they are compelling. James Felice, the accordionist in the band and middle Felice Brother, was kind enough to talk to us on Sunday from the road.

So when did you guys decide to form a band?:

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James: We used to play together a lot. But we started getting serious about three years ago. I had just turned 21 and we were all out of work at the same time. None of us had jobs or homes, and really nothing in our lives except for music. I guess we had a discussion about it. I don't really remember.

I heard you guys just picked up and moved to New York City and starting playing at subway stations. Do you have a favorite memory from that?:

James:It’s always a wonderful time in New York City. I just remember playing at these farmer's markets and all these people would start dancing. They didn't know you and didn't care what your band was called, but they would dance anyway. It's a wonderful thing when strangers start dancing to your music.

: : Listen While You Read - "Frankie's Gun!"


Is your band a democracy or a dictatorship?:

James: It’s a pure democracy. When there is a big decision, we all sit in a circle and talk it out. Everyone has equal say.

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What is your writing process like?:

James: Well we usually all write songs individually and then play them together. We all work on each others' songs. You know, editing what they’ve done.

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Does your band fight at all? Is there any sibling rivalry?

James:I mean, yeah, conflicts arise sometimes. We all live together in a house in New York and we're either there or touring. I mean, we see each other most of the day, everyday, so things will come up. But life it too short to fight for long.

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Is Frankie's Gun! based on a true story?

James: No, Matt wrote it one day.

Where did he come up with it? It’s not really a song you can just pull out of thin air.

James:I don’t know, I never really asked him.

Love Me Tenderly starts out with the words, My baby told me "Darlin,' if you can’t get a pardon, get a parole." Who is that song written about? I don’t suppose any of you have done jail time?

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James: Ah, not really. I spent a night in jail once.

Really? What happened?

James: Oh nothing, nothing...we’re good boys. At least, we try to be. My mother has raised us well.

Well, I can’t really argue with that. So if these guys aren't you, who are these hardscrabble men you write about?

James: Some of them are based in truth, some not. We think that when you write a song it has to be about something. We tell stories about things we've seen or heard about.

What made you pick up the accordion?

James: I always was very interested in the accordion, but it was too expensive. But when we started playing gigs, I played the piano which we couldn't bring with us. So a friend’s mother lent me an accordion and I picked it up from there.

Which do you prefer: playing live or recording?

James: Playing live is much more exciting! Recording is just like playing live but more perfect, less fun. Playing live is where the heart's at, I guess.

What is the worst thing about touring?

James: Probably the way I smell. I haven’t taken a shower in a week in a half. But I'm a dirtbag. I don’t mind the way I stink. We all try when we get a chance.

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Are you telling me your tour manager can't find you a shower?

James: We might get one tonight in Austin. They'll have fruity soaps and shampoos. Our bath water always turns dark brown.

Gross. So, what is the best thing about touring?

James: Oh, there are so many good things about it. We never had any money growing up, so I had had never been anywhere. This gives us a chance to travel. It's amazing. You can pack a whole day's work into two hours on stage. And then you get drunk and dance and pass out somewhere. It's great.

: : Listen While You Read - "Wonderful Life"


Do you have a favorite city to play in?

James: I can’t say that I do. We were just in New Orleans for the first time. That place is unbelievable.

What was the weirdest thing you ever saw at a show?

James: We sing this song about taking off pantyhose, and one night this girl took off her pantyhose and threw it on stage. That was great. I mean there are always a few creepy older white dudes who are at our shows high on LSD. We try and ignore them.

Do you have an artist you really want to play with?

James: We're going out on the road with Conor Oberst soon. We love playing with him. We were also just playing with Old Crow Medicine Show. We love them too. But really, I’ll play with anybody. I don't care.

Are you excited about playing in LA?

James: I’ve been to LA five times and I think it's great. It's got beautiful beaches, beautiful women, and great Mexican food. I love LA.

What album can you not live without?

James: I’ve got twenty albums I can't live without. Um, maybe Sail Away by Randy Newman.

If you weren't musicians what would you do?

James: I’d probably be a bus driver. That's my backup plan. I’ve got enough experience driving our van. (laughs).

Would you rather be burned alive or frozen to death?

James: Frozen to death.

Why?

James: I think it's less frightening that way. I mean, it would probably hurt at first, but then you’d just fade away. Also when they find you you’ll be in one piece for your mother, and that's important.

If you have a chance, go out and see these guys at the Troubadour tonight at 9. They put on a hell of a show