Inhabiting a space somewhere in between Daydream Nation and Led Zeppelin’s ‘Battle of Evermore’, Feral Conservatives sound like if Thurston Moore’s gingery noise-imbued locks were squeezed as fertiliser onto rural americana countryside. This is no bad thing. Comprised of Virginian multi-instrumentalists Rashie Rosenfarb and Matt Francis, Feral Conservatives have been making swathes with their folk-punk charm. They have labelled themselves as ‘The sweetest intervention’, a moniker akin to the feel of songs such as the opener of their latest album, Breaks and Mends. ‘Control’ is as good a pop song as any folk pop entrants, but its infused with a vibrancy and a harder, repetitive punk edge that owes a lot to more disparate influences and sets them apart from the raft of bands who are aiming for a jangle-punk drive. We caught up with them for an informative talk on just why they’re so unique, as well as to find out both their future plans and what makes them tick.
The songs on your fantastic full-length ‘Breaks and Mends’ appear to be grounded in a love of both simple indie folk melodies of early R.E.M ilk and the punk ethos of bands like Sonic Youth, Bikini Kill etc, like on songs like ‘Friends Bail Always’ Is that the sound you strove for? How easy was it to obtain?
We’ll take that as a compliment! We definitely draw a lot of inspiration from 80’s college rock and 90’s indie/alternative—R.E.M., the Replacements, Superchunk, the Cranberries, Belly. I think a lot of it sort of permeates the writing by osmosis more than a conscious effort. Or, see, I’ll try to write a song that sounds like Archers of Loaf meets Wilco and it’ll come off like something completely differently, something not nearly as competent but it’ll maybe retain some charms (hopefully). Plus, just general sounds—guitar tones, or drum structures—are copped from those eras since we’re drawn to it anyway, in that let’s color our sound with the golden hues from our own nostalgia kind of way. And there were better girl bands then—great voices and unique voices that still held a really powerful band/grunge dynamic. That’s a mould we just naturally fit into, so we’d be remiss not to follow the ones who do it so well beforehand. There was this really cool mix of beauty and melancholy from “left of the dial” radio that intrigues us.
What made you decide to make music of this calibre, emphasising the folkier textures present from the Mandolin?
That was definitely more incidental. We stumbled upon it, really. We were playing in a more traditional rock 3-piece (Matt on drums, Rashie on bass) and Rashie was writing songs on the mandolin she was learning to play. We started a side project that was going to be more rootsy/folk-flavored—like if Joni Mitchell and Frank Turner had a love child. The other band dissolved of its own accord, so we injected that rock and roll grit into what we already had and it evolved from there. Playing live informs our sound as well—since live we’re basically a garage band playing folk instruments, with this sort of strained and noisy/bare bones approach that encourages simplicity & melody & chemistry over production and technical intricacy.
There was this really cool mix of beauty and melancholy from “left of the dial” radio that intrigues us.
What were the influences upon you both? Not just on the lines of bands, music, but textures, feelings etc? Were there any experiences which impacted upon your writing?
A lot of the songs on record sprung from relational hardships—but more so platonic or familial. We had a rough year. I think overall we’re more intrigued by the pain and darkness—not really in a depressing way, but in it’s more interesting to write from. Heartache is more intriguing that contentedness in love because heartache inspires change, searching, yearning and subverting. But happiness—being complacent—is static and, while a better emotional state obviously, isn’t as artistically compelling. Specific experiences that happened for us: well, for one, Matt had a business dissolve and in the process lost his best friend from college. We left a church. We fell in love. Rashie’s mom had to step out for a while. We learned how to play songs by the Replacements, Maurice Williams &The Zodiacs, and The Outfield and rearranged the chords into our own songs.
Heartache is more intriguing that contentedness in love because heartache inspires change, searching, yearning and subverting.
How successful have you been in establishing yourself in the vibrant east-coast Indie-Rock scene?
We were a D-level band, and this past year we’ve worked ourselves up to possibly C-level. Touring’s helped us see some new faces and kind of plant our flag in different markets, and I guess slow and steady is the nature of the game here. We’ve also met a lot of really cool and helpful bands along the way, so we’re networking on both sides.
Your songs, such as ‘Haven’t Given Up’, have a rich variety of instrumentation and effects, How well do you feel the songs you’ve penned have translated live, and how easy has it been?
I think—and I hope—they translate live because underneath any production flourishes, there are good, solid songs, we feel. We think that’s the true test—in how does it stand in it’s barest form? Do we still get feet tapping with just a drum kit and an over-driven mandolin? We briefly considered using backing tracks but that’s just not really us—we don’t want to rely on something that can’t feed off of our own self-created energy and spontaneity. But the live sound has taken a few shapes—currently we supplement the low end with an octaver pedal and it’s own dedicated amp, and it seems to provide us with a full sound despite the mandolin’s more limited timbre. I would love to have a bassist live—Rashie’s basslines are so intricate and melodious and adds so much on record, it’s hard to peel back that layer. But we try to make sure fans aren’t disappointed live—it’s rock n roll at heart.
What are you future plans? Do you ever see yourselves touring Europe?
Future plans are more touring and we have a new album about 90% written that we plan to record in the spring. We’re trying to expand and play more and more shows out—local and growing into some of the bigger, vibrant nearby cities of Richmond, DC, Raleigh. We’d also want to do more weekend jaunts—Baltimore, Philly, NYC—so just regional as of now. Very quickly we’ve maxed out our vacation times between touring and the studio so we’re kind of left with squeezing in the big shows and opportunities you’ve got to do to grow in other markets on the weekends and in one-offs—so there’s a lot of driving overnight. Europe would be fantastic. If it was sustainable for us—I should say as soon as it is sustainable—we’d love to do Europe. Let’s get them spinning the record over there!
We don’t want to rely on something that can’t feed off of our own self-created energy and spontaneity.
What are your favourite bands/albums at the moment, both folk bands and otherwise?
Superchunk probably gets my vote for best album this year (I Hate Music). They just get better with age, and they’ve been going since the 90’s. I’m really digging the new Yuck record. The Bed Wettin’ Bad Boys are a stellar band from Australia and their debut came out this year—well worth picking up for Replacement’s-style bar rock. We’re really following bands like Seahaven, Lucero, Frank Turner—those are a couple of bands we’ve seen out this year.
I’m intrigued; If you had to pick, what would be your favourite Simpsons episode?
Futurama. The Series. Does that count?
If not, then whatever episode inspired the arcade game because I use to play that all the time—where Maggie gets kidnapped and you beat up all of Springfield to get her back. Only I never had enough quarters…
Feral Conservatives’ full length debut is available for streaming and download from the widget below.