Feral Conservatives: Here’s To Almost…And Then Some

by James Duval

The music of Feral Conservatives – Rashie (pronounced “Rah-shee” Rosenfarb, Matt Francis, and Dan Avant - has been described as a “cocktail of dualities”. Are they an Americana band that deals in feedback and youthful angst or a mid-90’s alt-rock combo with a mandolin in place of lead guitar that write songs dealing with romantic longings, and the call of the open road? On their new album, “Here’s To Almost”, one could be reminded of triple-A bands like Sixpence None The Richer or The Sundays or “left of the dial” mainstays like R.E.M. or The Replacements. When I ended our interview, I brought up a comparison that had been made in the press about Rosenfarb’s voice that surprised them: Shania Twain. After sharing a laugh, she replied with, “Yeah, I don’t know what to say to that. Thank you?” Over the course of several EPs and two albums, more and more people have been paying attention with “Here’s To Almost” gaining national exposure through blogs like Consequence of Sound, Stereogum, and Paste Magazine as well as being named the this week’s “Out of the Box CD of the Week”  by Paul Shugrue. I sat down with them last week to discuss their history, why they decided to sign to a label after years of self-released music and self-booked tours, and how sometimes making a few expensive purchases might lead to you being their new member.

 

Let’s start by talking about the narrative of the band. How did Feral Conservatives originate?

Rashie: [Matt and I] were in a three-piece band when we met. It was a totally different band, kind of like garage-rock. I was playing bass and singing backup vocals. So, we became friends, and around that time, I started learning mandolin. We decided to start a side project that was kind of folky, with the acoustic mandolin and things like that. A little while later, the three-piece band broke up and we said, “Well, what are we going to do now?” So we decided to put the garage rock into the folky, mandolin music and made it what it is now.

 

I believe the first time I saw you, you were playing as a two-piece. And then, I saw you playing with Dan and thought, “Oh, they’ve hired a touring member”, but that’s not the case. How did you decide to add a member to the band?

Rashie: Yeah, in the beginning we were playing shows with just the two of us.

Matt: But on records, it’s always been fleshed-out: bass, layered, sometimes guitar, a little reverb.

Rashie: So, we wanted to try it out live with a bass player. My brother was actually playing live with us for a while, just as a sort of stand-in player and we decided…

Matt and Rashie: (in unison) We can never go back!

Matt: Mandolin’s great. You know, there’s some great duos we listen to like Japandroids. But the thing with the mandolin is it’s a little bit higher on the timbre. There’s a huge gap between the drums and the mandolin, so the low-end [of the bass] definitely helps.

Dan: So now there’s this three-year history of this two-piece act that I never saw. Here I am, a member of this band for eight months and there’s a whole other side before me and before her brother and I don’t exactly know what it sounded like back then.

Rashie: It was…a mess. (laughs)

 

So why did you decide to play the mandolin? It’s not something you expect to see on stage, plugged in, making feedback. Who says, “Let’s go with the mandolin!”?

Rashie: I think it was for lack of…well, our other band broke up, so let’s just keep doing the mandolin. It wasn’t really a thought of, “We’re going to be a cool mandolin band!”

 

So does the addition of Dan change the band’s songwriting process now that there’s a third member? Have you even started writing new material?

Rashie: Yeah, we’ve definitely started writing material for the future. I think it changes [how we write]. Matt and I will bring in the structure of a song, something that’s not really quite finished and the three of us will finish it together by jamming it out. Which is awesome because in the past, we’d play a song as a two-piece and there wouldn’t be a bass line in place, so you couldn’t really hear how it was going to sound. And also Dan brings great ideas.

Matt: Yeah, I’d say Dan’s play style is very melodic. It adds a lot; he’s even been compared to a guitar lead. “A guitar god” is what…

Dan: That is the biggest overstatement that ever been published in the local press.

Matt: When you are a three-piece, though, it’s so crucial for each member to hold their own and Dan definitely does that. He adds a lot to the songs, which you need when you’re a band our size.

Dan: Well, I’ve taken a lot of influence from piano-rock acts, where bass often takes the lead there. But then the mandolin stakes outa lot of interesting territory, so I never feel like I’m getting in her way.

 

Was there an adjustment period for you when you joined the band?

Dan: No, it was immediate. It was like whiplash. This is a Craigslist connection, as so many start, right? But I’d heard the name and I saw there was this opening and immediately delved into all the music that was posted. After four or five songs, I thought, “I’ve got to be in this band.” I remember my opening volley while talking to them, I said to Matt, “Even if this doesn’t work out, I’m a fan.”

Matt: Maybe that’s the best way to make fans. Announce openings for new members.

Dan: So we did a couple of informal meetings and rehearsals, but I studied as much as I could. It was amazing. They had a show lined up within a week, fairly low stakes, but they decided to see how it went and I was petrified. And late!

Rashie: Yeah, we were walking around saying, “Where is this guy?”

Dan: No, show starts at 7 and I’m at work. I should be there at 6:30, gives us plenty of time.

Matt: And then they bumped us up.

Dan: So, at 6:00, I’m stuck in traffic and get a call saying, “Well, we’re on stage…:”

Rashie: I remember we had lined up a few other shows around that time and I felt so bad.

Dan: No, I felt honored just to be able to jump in and keep up. I was just trying to not embarrass myself and it seemed to work out okay. One of the shows was on my birthday, so a few days later, they gave me this nice gift and said, “Okay, you’re in the band.” So that was my present last year.

 

But it seems to have worked out. You forgave him for being late.

Rashie: Yeah, well we still think about it sometimes.

Matt: Well, Dan bought a really nice bass, too. He shows up to first practice with a Peavey bass and a canvas bag case that didn’t even fit the bass.

Rashie: And the strap kept breaking off!

Matt: And we thought, “Who is this very energetic guy who keeps jumping around?”

Dan: Leading directly to the strap-breaking problem.

Matt: And then Dan goes ahead and buys a really nice Les Paul bass, so we say, “Well, we were going to cut him, but after a purchase that big…”

Dan: Bought my way right into this band!

 

So how did the album come about? I know you signed to Egghunt Records and that some of these songs are a bit older. Did you revisit them for the label or submit some as-is?

Rashie: Yes, some of them are older and some of them we wrote when Dan joined. So as we played with the older songs at practice, they became something new as he added his own bassline.

Matt: Yeah, Dan’s on the record.

Rashie: We recorded a couple before Dan joined and then we went back and he put his bass line on it.

Dan: But let’s remember, I’d heard some of those songs before and they were fully fleshed out. So here I am listening to Rashie and thinking, “How am I going to match this?”

 

Did Egghunt find you or did you find them?

Matt: I reached out to Egghunt. I saw a little ad for them in my Gmail and they were a pretty small label based out of Richmond and D.C. That just really appealed to me, as kind of a newer label that was also regional. That’s kind of the next step in our plan to take over the world. I didn’t really think much of it, because we haven’t really been actively looking to get on a label. It raises the question of what does a label even bring you in this era of digital distribution. So it was probably a really poorly written e-mail, because I didn’t really put a lot of stock into it.

Rashie: “Hey, like us! We’re cool!”

Matt: It was just really simple. “Hey, I see you’re a label…” I think I just sent the Soundcloud link and a couple days later, we got a like on “Logan’s Song” (http://bit.ly/1OLwlUl) and then had a call from Adam and Greg, who run the label. They liked what we were doing, they liked where we were heading. We do a lot with video, which I think distinguishes us. And we’d done some regional tours at that point. It just seemed like a good fit, with us being a few years in but still being pretty small and them being pretty new and based where they were.

 

And before you signed with them, you were already touring. It wasn’t just bars in this state. You’d been further up the coast and even further west in some cases. Now that you have a label, is that going to change?

Rashie: I think, while we were already doing that, it’s nice to have somebody that can help you get even more shows regionally and booking and contacts. We have friends in D.C. now, so if we want to play a show there, we reach out to them and get something together.

 

So when you started, was the idea to always do it on your own? Even when you were touring before this, you’d only put out a couple of EPs.

Rashie; No, I think we wanted to grow. We want to keep growing.

Matt: It seems really silly that we were doing that, but it really helped inform our sound, too in regards to adding a bassist. I remember playing in some dive bar and thinking, “How do we grab people’s attention?” One time, as a duo, the opening band was a seven-piece band with a cello, horn section, and how do you even follow that up? It’s such a different style. It’s kind of crazy to think about where we were at when we did that.

Rashie: Well, we were kind of like, “What’s stopping us from doing this?” So we said, let’s just go ahead

Matt: And that’s the thing. It doesn’t take a signing. You can sit on your hands and wait too long for the right opportunity and we made some of those opportunities happen. Maybe we even shouldn’t have.

 

That leads to a thought I had listening to the new album. A lot of your songs are about leaving and the first lines on the new album are “Meet me on the corner, I’ll be waiting/Lately I look to the highway, wide-eyed an ready to leave this place.” Would you say you’re restless?

Matt: You picked up on that, huh?

Rashie: (laughing) I would say “yes” to that question. But we love travelling, we love going places, and I think we are restless. We love getting out of town, so to speak.

 

See how restless they can be when Feral Conservatives play a free album release show  on Saturday, January 30th at 9 PM at FM Restaurant in downtown Norfolk with opening sets by Dear Adamus and Outta The Furnace.