Interview: Simone Felice

A long time has passed since we witnessed a shirtless, sweating Felice clambering over a rickety drum kit hollering “Yankees In The House” at  The Basement in Nashville after an incendiary Felice Brothers show that was described on this very site as ‘the future of rock’n’roll.’ These days Felice is one of the golden boys on the Americana scene, a stunning, at times ethereal songwriter that is known for live shows that really leave a mark. His new album ‘The Projector’ is arguably his best yet, a poignant, lo-fi masterstroke of a record that will only enhance Felice’s reputation as a heart-breaker and soul searcher.   AUK’s Alan O’Hare talks to the New York songwriter ahead of May UK dates. 

I remember how I felt the first time I heard Simone Felice sing. I haven’t got a clue where I was, but that doesn’t matter… it’s all about feel with Felice’s music. You feel every syllable and strum as the Catskills’ troubadour pours all of himself on the page, tape or stage. Songs like  ‘New York Times’ ‘Hey Bobby Ray’ ‘Molly-O’ and ‘Bye Bye Palenville’ can move even the hardest of hearts. The first time I saw him play live, in Liverpool back at the start of this decade, he was singing like Bob Dylan in 1966, moving like Neil Young in the 1970s and playing drums like Levon Helm in ‘The Last Waltz’. Big names, but Felice is worth the fuss.

As an in-demand producer, it’s all about feel when turns The Lumineers’ strum-and-sing-alongs into million-sellers. It’s all about feel when he helps Bat For Lashes’ best music inhabit a world. And it’s all about feel on ‘The Projector‘, his recently released third solo album, where Simone the songwriter steps back out of the shadows and sings his soul.

It’s a return to the origins of what makes me tick,” he reveals, “Back to my fascination with verse and rhyme and shadowy storytelling.”

The Projector’ has been described as Felice’s ‘Nebraska’ and it’s true that Springsteen’s folk fingerprints are all over the record. But there’s something startlingly original, too. It may be there in the ethereal hums and colours that collaborator Four Tet’s synth textures bring to the likes of      ‘Your Hands’ and ‘You Shall Be My Eve’ but that seems too easy. Felice is a master craftsmen when it comes to creating atmospheres and cooking up tangible space. The talented songsmith takes common chords and twists magical new melodies from them – while never paying any less than complete attention to rhythm and tunes.

Tell me about how ‘The Projector’ came to life?
I had the good fortune of working on it over the course of two years, when the inspiration hit, and when I had time in between producing other albums.

Did those gaps in recording help or hinder the record’s progress? 
I think it really helped me to gather the right songs for the album’s vision.

Speaking of other albums, how has your work with The Lumineers and Bat For Lashes influenced your own record?
I’m inspired by all of the artists I collaborate with, especially the two you mention, there’s a work ethic and healthy fanaticism that keeps me on my toes, where I like to be.

How satisfying has it been to see The Lumineers’ success or did that come from the work itself?
It’s been amazing, they really deserve it, but the real success was when we all listened back to the final mixes for the first time and felt the chills, it’s those moments of collective goosebumps, before anyone in the outside world hears it, that are the most gratifying for me.

Let’s go back to ‘The Projector’… it’s been a while since you released a record. What are your hopes for it? 
That my poetry touches those who allow it into their lives. You grope in the dark, maybe you find a doorknob or a window latch.

Where did this set of songs spring from? 
My big fucking mental head! As Harry from Peace sings… I recorded them at my barn in the woods.

You’re back in the UK soon. Looking forward to it? 
I’m looking forward to single malt scotch at night. And proper scones in the morning.

Anything else?
I always look forward to the uncertainty of the highway and hope to make each night upon it real.

Cool. Well, we’re looking forward to hearing the new tunes. How do they fit into your body of work?
Like I said, I hope that it’s a return to the origins of what makes me tick.

One last question. I want you to produce the next U2 record. Any chance?
Let’s do it. Give Larry a ring on my behalf.

The Projector’ is out now on New York Pro

May UK / Eire dates

9 May – London, Omera
10 May – Manchester, Deaf Institute
12 May – Edinburgh, Pleasance Theatre
13 May – Glasgow, Mackintosh Church
15 May – Newcastle, Cluny
16 May – Leeds, Howard Assembly Room
18 May – Bangor, Wesley Centenary Church
19 May – Dublin, Workman’s Club

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