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INTERVIEW: Simone Felice

photo by Duncan Elliott

photo by Duncan Elliott

THE BIG SPIRIT OF SONG

AFTER FINALLY STEPPING OUT UNDER HIS OWN NAME, AMERICANA SONGWRITER SIMONE FELICE IS DEEP IN THE MIDDLE OF WRITING AND RECORDING ALBUM #2. HE GIVES CHRIS FAMILTON AN INSIGHT TO WHERE IT MIGHT BE HEADING AND HOW HE HAS ADAPTED TO LIFE AS A SOLO ARTIST.

Simone Felice has experienced a lot in his 36 years on this planet. From a childhood brain aneurysm to open-heart surgery and the loss of a unborn child it would seem from the outside as if life has dealt him a bad hand yet, speaking to him, you get a surprisingly strong sense of contentment and calm from the songwriter. Music perhaps has been the one constant in his life from teenage bands with friends to the Americana sibling group The Felice Brothers, the cosmic vibe of The Duke & The King and now his solo career that is heading towards album number two. That sophomore album has in fact been underway since the middle of 2012, not long after his debut was released and is a project Felice is letting evolve in a natural and organic fashion.

“I’ve been writing and recording over the past ten months, taking my time over my second album. Like Leonard Cohen said, “ You don’t know a song has the magic until God walks into the room” It’s all about the big spirit of poetry and song so I’m not rushing things. We’re writing and recording and listening as we go and I’ve got a great writing partner, my friend and producer David Baron who I’ve been working with on it since about May last year. We are going to keep working on it through the Summer and hopefully it will come out early in 2014. We started working on it quite soon after the last album came out, because for me songwriting is an endless endeavor, it feels like we’ve been writing songs our whole lives, myself and my brothers, we’ve got the plague, the bug and you can’t stop for better or for worse.”

Writing and recording as songs emerge creates the interesting question of how or if the album will come together as coherent group of songs and whether there will be ideas and musical concepts that will tie them together. Felice does have some goals for the record but as he explains he is happy and confident enough to be led by his muse and bring others into the studio when the songs call for additional players and voices.

“The album is still a collection of songs but it is starting to shape itself into a theme or a loose feeling for sure. I’m really trying to attain this feeling of openheartedness and being able to say I love you which isn’t an easy thing to say without it being sappy. It isn’t an easy line to walk between honesty and being too sappy. I’m just listening to the whisper that comes and it is going to be a dynamic record and a shift in a way that I’m looking forward to sharing. I’ll have some guest artists come and work with me. My brother James is going to come and sing some harmonies, I just love his voice when we sing together – and his accordion work. I’ve got some great female singers that are going to feature on the record as well so I’m definitely don’t like to be too lonely in the studio.”

For many artists the transition from being part of a group to becoming a solo writer and performer can be a challenging one. Felice seems to have made the shift with relative ease and though he has minor regrets he has found a number of advantages to being the master of his own creative domain.

“Sometimes I miss being part of a band. That ‘in the trenches’ thing that happens when you are a platoon. I miss a bit of that but the trade-off is that I can do whatever my heart tells me to do. There isn’t a parliament or committee that you have to deal with to get agreement on things. I can just let the wind blow me artistically and when it comes to touring I can go wherever I want to go and not have to just get on the bus when it shows up outside my house. I can chart my own course when it comes to where I want to go and I don’t have to be at the beck and call of the tour bus. One thing that has made touring easier is forging some special relationships with some of the musicians that come out on the road with me. On this Australian tour I’ll have my friend Matt Green who plays the lap steel, mandolin and dobro so we’ll be performing as a duo and he’s actually from Melbourne and he’s travelled with me all round Europe and in the States so I do form great bonds with the different players I take out with me. It helps to have the camaraderie, I’d be a bit lonely if I was just out by myself all the time.”

Newer bands like The Lumineers have cited The Felice Brothers as a major influence which Felice finds gratifying and feels blessed that his art is inspiring others to create music. The flip-side to that is the music that shaped his life and growing up in the Woodstock area where so many great musicians like Dylan and The Band lived made an unavoidable impression on the young man.

“That music of the 60s and early 670s was omnipresent in my world as a child. The music of The Band, Hendrix, Dylan, The Beatles and the great CSN, that was all the music I listened to growing up along with classic rock. I couldn’t escape that for better or for worse. If I can be just one of the people to carry that torch onto the future I feel very lucky. I think a lot of people deny their true influences because they don’t want to be compared to some people but I think it is important to be honest because folk music, any form of music, it all bleeds into one and inspires everyone and keeps this grand thing called music rolling along. The global nature of the world now means you can’t help by being influenced by different music, shapes and colours.”

Traveling and touring is something that Felice also draws a lot of inspiration from and it feeds back into the songwriting process when he gets home to Woodstock and is able to kick back in front of the fire in his writing room and work on new songs.

“Always traveling and getting on airplanes and losing your bearings is an important thing for artists and human beings. Getting out of your comfort zone and having your feet swept out from under you   happens a lot when you are touring and I think it is really great to feel afraid, vulnerable uncertain and it helps me to recalibrate my vision and my understanding of poetry and song. I’ve just been touring a lot for the last year and if I can just write a song or two and hang with my family when I’m home then I’m doing good.”

this interview was first published in The Drum Media and on themusic.com.au

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