The Felice Brothers
341 Delaware Avenue
Buffalo, NY, 14202
Doors 7:00 PM / Show 8:00 PM
This event is minors under 18 with parent or legal guardian
The Felice Brothers
Cut live to tape with very little overdubbing, Undress was recorded in the late summer of 2018 in Tivoli, New York. Band members Ian Felice, James Felice, Will Lawrence (drums) and Jesske Hume (bass) teamed up with producer Jeremy Backofen to record their most personal and reflective album to date.
“Many of the songs on the new album are motivated by a shift from private to public concerns,” says songwriter Ian Felice. “It isn't hard to find worthwhile things to write about these days, there are a lot of storms blooming on the horizon and a lot of chaos that permeates our lives. The hard part is finding simple and direct ways to address them.”
Undress follows the band’s 2016 album Life In The Dark, and finds the group in a very different place three years later. Between personnel changes, families growing and the political landscape, the result is a tighter, more-paired down release. “Every song is a story,” said James Felice. “On this album everything was a bit more thoughtful, including the arrangements, the sonic quality and the harmonies.”
Ian and James Felice grew up in the Hudson valley of upstate NY. Self taught musicians, inspired as much by Hart Crane and Whitman as by Guthrie and Chuck Berry, they began in 2006 by playing subway platforms and sidewalks in NYC and have gone on to release nine albums of original songs and to tour extensively throughout the world. Following the release of Life in the Dark, The Felice Brothers served as the backing band for Conor Oberst’s 2017 release Salutations and the subsequent tour.
Life in the Dark also coincides with The Felice Brothers’ 10th anniversary as a band. Hailed by the AV Club for a sound at once “timeless, yet tossed-off,” they’ve released plenty of music over the past decade, often on their own without a record label, but the new album is the fullest realization yet of the band’s DIY tendencies. Self-produced by the musicians and engineered by James Felice (who also contributed accordion, keyboards and vocals), the Felice Brothers made Life in the Dark themselves in a garage on a farm in upstate New York, observed only by audience of poultry.
“The recording is definitely rough around the edges and cheap,” James Felice says, laughing. “It was liberating and really cool to do. It allowed us to untether ourselves from anything and just make music.”
Because of makeshift studio set-up, the music they made was necessarily stripped down, emphasizing acoustic instruments and spacious arrangements on songs that showcase the sound of a band playing together live, with echoes in the music of Woody Guthrie, Townes Van Zandt, John Prine and rural blues.
“We tried to make it as simple and folk-based as possible, because we were working with limited resources,” singer and guitarist Ian Felice says. “We wanted to take all the frills out and make it just meat and potatoes.”
Still, there are hints of seasoning: among the folk and blues touchstones, the band took a certain inspiration from Neil Young and the Meat Puppets, too. Ian Felice says he was trying to channel the spirit of Meat Puppets II on opener “Aerosol Ball” — “They played kind of weird, freaky folk music, so there’s a connection there,” he says — while James Felice says listening to Neil Young’s Tonight’s the Night was like getting permission to make Life in the Dark.
“If you listen to that record, it’s fucking crazy,” he says. “We listened to that to know that what we were doing was legal and had precedent. If Neil Young could make a record that sounds like that, we can make a record that sounds like this.”
He’s referring to the wild, whirling accordion and big, loose rhythm on “Aerosol Ball,” mournful glimmers of electric guitar and fiddle on “Triumph ’73” and the ramshackle, blues-rock feel of “Plunder,” full of grainy lead guitars, blasts of organ and a shout-along chorus inspired by the rhythm of Shakespeare’s “Double, double toil and trouble” incantation in Macbeth. Though The Felice Brothers often share songwriting duties, the band gravitated toward Ian Felice’s songs for Life in the Dark.
Along with Shakespeare and the Meat Puppets, Ian Felice absorbed the essence of writers from Anne Sexton to Anne Frank, Raymond Carver to Dr. Seuss, on tunes with clear, if unintentional, political undertones. “It’s just what was going on when I was writing the songs,” Ian Felice says. “It’s a pretty politically charged climate right now.” To say the least.
The singer’s characters on “Aerosol Ball” exist in a dystopian culture bought, and ruled, by corporations; while “Jack at the Asylum” catalogs cultural ills including climate change, economic inequality and the numbing aspects of televised warfare, themes that recur again on “Plunder.” He wrote the title track after re-reading The Diary of a Young Girl, the journal that Frank kept while in hiding from the Nazis during World War II. “The idea of living in a dark attic unable to fully grasp what is going on in your life and feeling powerless to change it seemed like a relevant metaphor for me at the time,” Ian Felice says.
Elsewhere, he offers his own interpretation of classic American archetypes: “Triumph ’73” follows a young man on the cusp of adulthood desperate to ride his motorcycle away from the life changes overtaking him, while the ballad “Diamond Bell” tells the story of a folk heroine gunslinger in the vein of Pretty Boy Floyd or Jesse James, and the hapless, lovestruck kid she ensnares. “It’s part-love song, part-adventure story, part-tragedy, told in the Mexican folk tradition of singing about bandits,” Ian Felice says. “I think it’s one of the most straight-ahead narratives I’ve written.”
The band, spent about a month recording Life in the Dark in the late winter of 2015. James Felice learned engineering on the fly — “I literally had a book, like, ‘Where do you put the mic? How do you mic the kick drum?’” he says — and the band managed to nail most of the tunes within a few takes.
“There wasn’t too much agonizing, just the joy of playing music,” James Felice says. “We had an audience of chickens, and an audience of each other, and we were just really enjoying making it.”
The resulting album is more than just classic American music — it’s a parable for modern America.
“This album is an honest look at what it’s like to be in a relationship that’s disintegrating,” says Johnathan Rice. “It was important for me that the songs be unflinching in recognizing my own complicity in that experience, though, because I wasn’t interested in just playing the victim or wallowing in heartbreak. I wanted to paint a 360-degree view of everything that’s wonderfully beautiful and wonderfully sad about love all at the same time.”
Hailed by NPR’s World Café as a songwriter capable of being both “wry and brooding,” Rice has always contained multitudes: he signed his first record deal at 19, the same year he made his film debut as Roy Orbison alongside Joaquin Phoenix’s Johnny Cash in Walk The Line; he released three solo records that earned tour dates with artists as varied as R.E.M., Ray LaMontagne, Pavement, and Phoenix; he wrote and produced for a slew of well-known artists and collaborated with everyone from Elvis Costello to Jonathan Wilson; and he even published an acclaimed book of poetry. But Rice’s latest album, ‘The Long Game,’ demonstrates a new kind of range and depth, stripping his songs back to their most elemental selves in order to reveal naked reflections on loss, pain, acceptance, and growth. Written during a time of turbulent emotional upheaval and self-discovery, the collection finds the Scottish-American songwriter’s full-bodied baritone in the spotlight like never before, often relying on nothing more than his deeply evocative voice and poetic grace to conjure up whole worlds of darkness and light. The songs are bold in their austerity, unafraid of empty space and raw vulnerability, and the starkness of the performances enables even the subtlest flourish to land like a hammer. There is no pretense of artifice or affectation here; the lines between singer and song are erased, and for Rice, that’s been a long time coming.
“I spent the last few years writing primarily for other voices,” he explains. “I wrote with Jenny Lewis for her ‘Voyager’ record, I wrote with The Apache Relay for their self-titled, I wrote almost an entire record’s worth of material for the Anne Hathaway film ‘Song One,’ I wrote for Meryl Streep in ‘Ricki and the Flash.’ It was only when my life changed abruptly in a very jarring way that I realized I had no choice but to get back to writing as myself.”
That abrupt change came in the form of a slow-motion breakup, one which saw Rice leave the Laurel Canyon home he’d shared with his partner for roughly a decade and begin a period of itinerancy and exploration. He moved from neighborhood to neighborhood in LA, surfing his way through a series of Airbnb’s until he eventually settled in a friend’s spare apartment for a little more than six months of intensive writing and reflecting.
“There was a studio next door that was part of the same property, and I would go to sleep each night listening to folks like Father John Misty or Roger Waters recording their albums,” says Rice. “I was listening to a lot of other people making records at the same time I was getting deep into writing my own.”
While ‘The Long Game’ is Rice’s fourth studio record under his own name, it’s his first collaboration with celebrated producer Tony Berg (Phoebe Bridgers, Aimee Mann), a longtime friend who played an integral role in shaping the album’s character. It was Berg who encouraged Rice to drop his vocal range deeper, a move that simultaneously evokes the weary cynicism of Leonard Cohen and the cinematic romance of Frank Sinatra’s more downbeat work, and it was Berg who insisted that Rice record the collection the same way he’d spent much the previous year: alone.
“The entire record is built around me being alone,” explains Rice. “Tony was extremely clear about wanting to capture performances with just me and my guitar, and then once we had the take, we’d invite other musicians to come flesh things out a little bit. When it came time to mix the record, we ended up doubling down on the starkness even more.”
The record opens with the wistful title track, a duet with acclaimed singer/songwriter Courtney Marie Andrews, whose unmistakable voice adds a gorgeous and melancholic counterpoint to Rice’s compellingly restrained delivery. Regretful without bitterness, aching without self-pity, optimistic without naivety, the song encapsulates much of the album’s emotional and sonic themes, offering up a snapshot of a narrator reconciling with disappointment while recognizing it for the necessity that it is. On the waltzing “Silver Song,” an older co-write with Jenny Lewis, Rice conjures up a dreamy world where happiness is always just out of reach, while the stunning “Hollow Jubilee” spins an allegory for the willful escapism and empty self-destruction of LA’s perpetual party, and the acerbic “Meet The Mother” takes an off-the-cuff turn of phrase and transforms it into a Suicide-meets-“Nebraska” gem. “Some fruit rolls far / Far from the tree / But it still holds / The same bad seeds,” Rice sings over a barren, pulsating guitar and drum combo. “So before that big fat knot is tied / …You’ve got to meet the mother / Before you kiss the bride.”
“I ended up in a conversation with Bill Murray one night about relationships, and he told me, ‘Well, you’ve got to meet the mother,’” recalls Rice. “I carried that phrase with me for years. It felt totemic.”
The song is a prime showcase for Rice’s trenchant humor, a defining characteristic of his personality both on and off the stage. In 2016, his biting wit led him to begin posting tongue-in-cheek haikus on Instagram, playful little slice-of-life observations drawn from the absurdity of modern culture. The posts garnered a cult following (including amongst celebrities like January Jones and Mandy Moore, who recorded themselves reciting Rice’s poems) and led to a book deal with LA’s Hat & Beard Press, which published ‘Farewell, My Dudes: 69 Dystopian Haikus’ to rave reviews. The collection became the fastest selling book in the company’s history and prompted W Magazine to dub Rice “the beat poet of the Instagram generation.”
“I think people connected with the haikus because, for the most part, we all like to laugh at ourselves,” says Rice. “There’s a one-dimensional aspect to the idea of the modern singer/songwriter as a sad guy with a guitar, but that’s never been who I am.”
Rice’s versatility has long been his hallmark, and ‘The Long Game’ is no different in that respect. The elegiac “Naked In The Lake” evokes the faded glamour of a vintage film noir, while the raucous “Below The Deck” gives in to its own most debaucherous impulses, and the soaring “Millions of Miles,” another duet with Andrews, bids farewell to a relationship that wasn’t supposed to end. As the album progresses, so does Rice’s perspective, and by the record’s concluding track, “Friends,” he’s found an easy, gentle kind of peace, one that acknowledges pain but insists upon love.
“That song had to come last because it has a sense of resolution,” reflects Rice. “There’s some understanding in there, some forgiveness. I’ve come to learn that forgive