“We still think we’re a garage band, and no one told us it shouldn’t work.”
By Walter Price
When it comes to changing the perceptions of indie-rock (or pop) with replacing the familiar guitar sounds with the timeless rootsy bluegrass go-to instrument, the mandolin, some would shy away. How many directions can you take such an instrument?
The answer lies within the sounds of Virginia based duo Feral Conservatives. Rashie Rosenfarb and Matt Francis have been forging new sounds from this instrument as greats in music have before them. The uniqueness is the melding of historic strings with time tested indie rock beats and a bit of gritty garage flavor with Rosenfarb not yet produced out of their sound earthy sweet delivery.
The band has been steady in singles and video releases in their somewhat short career and all have hit a chord with me. Watching two artists develop into their own and perhaps never staying the same to keep things interesting, relevant and well worth the wait to see what is next.
Since inception your sounds have varied slightly or should I say have stayed in progress, are you two getting closer to what you want your signature sound to be?
I would think so…we never intended to be a mandolin band with all the noisy elements. It crept up on us. Initially, we were doing a more traditional, roots-based, acoustic-y side project as we were both in a garage band with the traditional guitar/drums/bass as our primary focus. We rolled the rock energy into the mandolin project when that took over as our main musical output. It took us an album of writing half and half (acoustic and electric) and then a few tours where we were experimenting with beefing up the mandolin sound live by running it through a few amps and pedals, which helped hone it to be the folk/punk/indie fusion it is now.
What is the behind the music dynamics between you two?
From my point of view, it’s fusing our differences and playing off our dualities–like having this delicate instrument (mandolin) with the hard-hitting drums. Or having pretty vocals with a powerful, driving rock sound. Melody and noise. Rashie does what she does so well, sometimes it’s fun, from my perspective, to throw some grit into it: the feedback, the crashing drums. An edge. It keeps it balanced and it keeps it interesting for us. Like we can wander to the singer/songwriter folk dynamics or we can go for a big rock band sound over the course of an album, or both in the span of a song.
Can I assume that you two are multifaceted artists? What other mediums do you practice/work in?
Rashie is into painting and drawing, she’s did our first full-length and the artwork for the follow up single A D. Matt: photography, graphic design, and videography. We really see the band as an art project.
In a marketplace saturated in duos, would you consider going back to a larger band situation or is it just easier doing it this way?
Well put…but I’d reason that three and four pieces are the norm. It is easier to be a duo when making general decisions by reducing band politics. We’ve added a bassist live, so that helps…bringing the recorded band closer to the live band. That was a very early decision…do we try to make the band sound on record like we do live, or vice versa (limit ourselves in the studio, require supplementing live)…the decision was that the songs always came first (and let’s be honest, all bands multi-track). We had to break down what was true to us (not using samples live) and what was true to the songs…so far, it’s been cool because we’ve only ever used family members as guest musicians. I think live, or band could continue to expand as we try to give the best and truest rock show, but a big part of the FC dynamic is how Rashie and I work and write off each other as a duo.
The mandolin isn’t an everyday rock n’ roll instrument although it does have its history in great music hero’s repertoires (John Paul Jones, REM, Rod Stewart)..how did this historically bluegrass instrument make it into your music?
Well it more out of necessity than you would think. I addressed it above a bit…but Rashie cut her teeth early on violin and then was playing bass in a garage rock band we were in. She brought a mandolin to practice one day she was just learning, and she played the most beautiful and haunting song on it. That’s really where it all started.
The mandolin has such a cool quality, a jangle-y timbre, great for indie and folk that calls to mind a 90’s college rock sound. But really, we started playing together with the mandolin as our fore melodic-rhythm instrument because that’s what Rashie played…it’s really that simple. REM’s a big influence too, coincidentally. We need to cover ‘Losing My Religion.’ We also started more in the traditional realm of the mandolin as a folk-y, bluegrass instrument, and slowly wandered toward a more amped up rock sound. We still think we’re a garage band, and no one told us it shouldn’t work.
Your videos are pretty appealing to say the least. I actually discovered your music a while back via ‘Friends Bail Always’. Are these artworks conceptually all Feral Conservatives or do you seek outside assistance?
We do all the videos ourselves. I (Matt) actually went to school for film studies/video production. We see the band as an art project, and one of the things I love is how the visuals inform the music and vice versa…like how the album art can convey a feeling and deepen the sound on record, and if you saw the artwork first, it could help set the tone for what you’re about to hear. Same with the videos. ‘FBA’ was a fun one…we actually based it off of an old video for The Who. But they usually revolve around a simple concept…like “Little Pieces” was a light coming through a window into a dark room. It matched the tone of the song and fit the theme, so I like to play those concepts out as far as they go.
The FC lo-fi sound is an outstanding quality. do you two prefer a studio to record or doing it at home?
Initially we self-released a series of EPs that we had recorded in our recording studio. We were a band for a year and a half when we recorded our debut “Breaks and Mends,” and for that, we wanted to go into a studio, although it ended up being a former green house in Southern Vermont that was kind of a step between the home spun and the overtly produced. It was a great experience, part of the reason I love going into the studio and collaborating with a producer is you leave your familiar surroundings–work and home–and you get to focus exclusively on your music for a period of time.
For “Breaks and Mends,” it meant driving 13 hours and sleeping at the studio. You wake up, and you’re tracking. I think it can be helpful to get a fresh set of ears on your sound, too, so you don’t lose perspective. I think it’s a combination of being true to yourself and your sound, and being competitive in the current music landscape. Sometimes that takes leaving the practice space and getting a “pro” sound.
I can’t tell if FC enjoys using social media or not. I know musicians have to use it but what are your true feelings about it all?
Haha, maybe you pick up on some reluctance. Personally, I sort of hate social media. I don’t need to live-tweet my life, again, personally, I find it narcissistic and maybe a little intrusive. Yet I see the need for a band to do it, and we’re fine to do it. I think they’re are great resources for bands, and you meet the fans where they already are at. We like Tumblr a lot. We always just try to keep it relevant.
What did you learn in 2014 that could effect the way you make music going forward?
The main thing is you always have to be the first and last person satisfied with your music (art). Whether you think you have a great song, no matter who believes in you or doesn’t, in the end, no matter what happens, it is you living with your artistic output. You have the most invested, and you have to look back at the end of the year and if you compromised for anything, you’re still the one living with your music and sometimes (it happens) the only one.
What’s 2015 looking for Feral Conservatives?
Quite exciting! We are putting a 4-song EP on limited edition cassette in February on a label, a first for us. We are kicking January off with a little mini tour, very regional, and March we are hoping to expand up the East Coast USA for a longer run and to hit up some major cities. We have a few videos lined up to promote the EP–a lot of exciting stuff. Also, looking to do our next proper full-length in the Spring or Summer.
5 things the world should know about the band?
- We’re good people so you should like our music
- We’re not political and our name is a joke
- We’re putting a tape out on a label in February. Our first release on a label. Look for an announcement soon!
- We always have free music on our Bandcamp — usually our latest single.
- We have an active 2015 planned so make sure to follow us here to stay up to date.
Thanks for taking the time to chat with me and I’m looking forward to seeing what the future has up its sleeves for The Feral Conservatives.
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