the AU interview: Simone Felice (USA) talks new album, Strangers

We caught up with singer-songwriter Simone Felice ahead of the March 14th release of his new album Strangers to find out a bit more about the new record, his thoughts on the state of radio, the Americana revival and more.

Hi, how are you?

Hi Simon, it’s nice to hear from you.

Yeah, it’s great to get the chance to chat with you again; I think it’s been a couple of years.

Yeah, for sure. Time is a bizarre, frightening reality, how it flies by.

Since then you’ve been down to Australia on tour a couple of times, how do you think those tours went?

They went really good. Last time I came down I got to go down to Meeniyan Town Hall, which was this beautiful old venue down there. And we got to do a bunch of shows, and got to go to Adelaide for the first time. The tours are always good.

The greatest thing, I think, for me is over the past three years I’ve been developing my band as a solo artist, and one of the main players in my group is from Melbourne. And I met him there actually, about four years ago. So when I come down, it’s more than just being on tour. I get to come visit and travel with one of my best friends; and he comes to the states with me now and to Europe.

He’s coming over in a couple of weeks too, his name is Matty Green, and he recorded on the new album Strangers, on just about every song. He was living out here in Woodstock with me for a month. So that’s always a treat, to come down and feel like I’m with family; rather than it just being on tour.

I’ve listened to the new record Strangers a couple of times now, and absolutely loving it, what was the inspiration behind this one?

I started writing the songs that belong to this record about maybe a year and a half ago. I got struck by the feeling, the idea, that we can be so in love with somebody. We’ve all hopefully been struck by that pain and ecstasy of being in love. And when we’ve had enough time on earth, and gotten to go down the track enough, you have a special perspective where you can look back and realise this person, or these people, you have been so close to, so painfully madly in love with, you can look back and say “Where are they now?” and feel like that person is now a stranger. That’s been a very interesting feeling for me over the past year that I’ve been channelling into some of the writing that went into this record.

On the flipside of the coin, years can go by and you can go through old photographs of yourself and friends and you can look in the mirror and be a stranger to yourself; the person you used to be, the person you have become, or even just the person whose face is staring back at you from the glass. So these have been interesting feelings that I have personally been going through and I have the feeling that a lot of people have felt that way before. That is where a lot of the thematic ideas on this record came from.

And just making this record, yeah, making this record felt amazing. We got to record it out on top of a mountain here, right outside of Woodstock, New York; where I grew up and just get to work in a studio I’d never been able to work in before. It was just down the street from the old house that Jimi Hendrix used to live in, so I got to walk past that house in the mornings before we’d start recording, and I’d get to talk to myself, listen to the wind blow, and hear the ghosts. It’s literally just up at the end of this road, just a really wild, beautiful raw place. I just got to really live that feeling.

I was really lucky to have amazing friends and musicians come through and record this record with me as well. My brothers came and did a few songs with me, and my friend Leah Siegel, who’s a great singer from Brooklyn came and did a couple of tunes. Including “Running Through My Head” which she sang a sort of shadow duet with me on that song. I’m so happy with the way that came out. And my friends from The Lumineers came and sang, which was great, just a lot of love and great players coming through. So making and writing this record was really inspiring and the way you hopefully imagine when making a record. You know it’s not always the case when you try and record. It was just a great environment. And I have to thank my friends for that.

The last album was coming out of this place of being glad to be alive, whereas it seems like with Strangers it’s more of an opportunity to be retrospective and look back at your life.

Yeah that’s a great observation Simon. I guess every song I’ve ever written, and most songs I’ve ever heard are about the painful, beautiful, strange comedy-slash-tragedy that is called life. Being a human being, and being a human being on planet earth. Every song that I’ve ever written seems to come from that feeling of being a lost child on earth. Sometimes it manifests itself in a feeling of joy, sometimes it manifests itself in a feeling of sorrow, or both. But that’s really the journey that we’re all walking.

How was it working with your brothers again?

It’s always great having my brothers come, and to play with them in any situation, whether it’s just hanging out and singing or going into the studio together. Once in a while we’ll do a show together, when the stars line up with their touring, which is always fun.

My brother James especially, sang a lot on this record, he sang on almost every song, singing harmonies with me. And it’s just a really special feeling to sing with your brothers.

A couple of the album tracks have been released as singles already, what has the reaction to them been like so far?

I don’t really know. Honestly, I don’t really pay much attention to it. I just got a message from my label in the States saying that the song “Molly-O!” was really kicking off on the radio here. Which is a great feeling. We have a really cool radio system here with independent stations. So it’s playing all around the country, I actually just learnt that today. It’s a really great feeling, it’s never really happened for me with any other song that I’ve put out. And I hope that people feel the same way in Australia, listening to the radio.

I’m a kid from the late 70s and early 80s, I grew up with the radio, and it still has a lot of meaning to me. I’m sure you feel the same way, we’re probably around the same age, but I’m not sure. You know kids these days don’t listen to the radio. Everything is online, that’s all good, and that’s their radio. But my radio is like the old shit you had to tune in. I love it. The fact that I have a song on the radio makes me feel proud, you know, I grew up just a poor kid from the mountains, riding around with my father in his van tuning into the radio and hoping Tom Petty would come on. So it’s really cool.

It’s sort of that childhood dream, and the essence of rock and roll, to get that three-minute record on the radio and get it to as many listeners as possible.

(Laughs) I couldn’t say it any better myself. Absolutely true.

Given that we are now living in the “Streamable” age, does that influence the way you write an album? Do you still aim to create a “complete” record?

Yeah man, I mean I came from worshipping records like Dark Side of the Moon and Joni Mitchell’s Blue and Blood on the Tracks where it takes you on a real journey. I don’t really care if anybody beside myself feels that way, or that they don’t listen to the whole record and go through that journey to the end. For me when I make recordings I think about it as an album, and I hope that people can go with me on that journey; because it’s hard to say everything in just one song, just like it’s hard to write a book in one chapter. I totally come from the antiquated, dusty school of making a long player.

Americana and the folk tradition seems to be having a considerable revival in popularity at the moment, do you see yourself as being a part of that? And why do you think it’s popularity has risen recently?

Oh man I hope I’m part of it. I feel like it’s part of the tradition, the music we make, my brothers and I, right from when we first started. I don’t know man, I think folk music speaks to the people, that’s what it’s about. It’s music for the people. People like Pete Seeger, he was a real hero in the area that I grew up in and even the area I’m in now. He just passed away a few weeks ago, I’m sure you heard, but he was all about just bringing people together and saying what needed to be said about the society, and believing that it was music for the people.

I think that if you approach the music like that, it may go up and down, in so far as fans or trends are concerned but it will always last, because it’s music for the people, and it’s a tradition of handing down melodies and stories and ideas and songs. And I feel just really lucky to be a part of that, just one cog in that wheel, one drummer in that marching band.

Yeah it may not always be cool or popular, but it’s always been there as the undercurrent of American music

Yeah. American music, British music, you know. A lot of the music we all make; Aussies, Americans, Brits we all influenced each other through the ages. A lot of it comes from music before we had recording. It’s interesting. It’s the kind of music that I grew up with, and it’s the kind of music that I’ll die with.

Last time we spoke you’d recently become a father, do you feel like that’s influenced your songwriting or your work at all?

It’s really inspired me in many ways, when it comes to writing, and even when it comes to my perspective on life in general. I have a daughter, she’s almost four now actually, she plays the mandolin I bought her, and she jumps up and down and dances. I get to see through her what a, sort of, primitive magic music is.

You don’t have to know how to read, you don’t have to know how to rhyme, all you have to do is feel it, you know. From since she was just a few months old she’s been rocking along with the music. It’s been really educational for me to remember that primitive magic that lives within everyone. It’s inspiring.

Are there plans in the works for another Australian tour soon? I know you’re going to be heading to the UK and Europe in the next couple of weeks.

Yeah, I’m really hoping to come down to Australia this year. I’m not quite sure when that will be, but it’s always a treat honestly. Every time since I came down in 2010 I’ve had nothing but open arms and a lot of love from people down there. One of your countrymen has become my best friend and my right hand man. Like I said before, it’s more than just coming on tour when I come to Australia it’s coming to see some family, I’ve got some really great friends down there these days. So it’s always a treat for sure.

Great, well I’ll leave it there. Thank you very much for taking the time to speak with me again. It’s been a pleasure.

OK Simon, pleasures been all mine, thank you.

Strangers is out March 14.


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Simon Clark

Books Editor. An admirer of songs and reader of books. Simon has a PhD in English and Comparative Literature. All errant apostrophes are his own.

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