Mad Feather Group is a gang of some of my very good friends, who are as precious to me as a velvet painting of a whale and a dolphin getting it on. I deeply care for that painting and I share that passionate love with these fine gentlemen. That being said, being away from my home town has left me with only periodic chances to see the progression of their band and overall sound. The times I do get to see them, I am pleasantly surprised by the new feats they reach as a group. Their music is truly indescribable and since I conducted this interview I received a new understanding of the a group of guys I thought I fully understood. They were able to donate a large amount of time to deliver this fruitful interview to me, so take some time to read it. Afterward, listen to a sound that you’ve never heard before and discover a band that’s truly on the rise.
Our band was a brotherhood of 3-4-5-6 New Jerseyans like two years ago, and that still accurately describes us. However, there’s always room for addition and subtraction when it comes to our band. We’re all from Jackson, except for Brandon who’s from Toms River but moved to Boston and then to Asheville, NC and now is in Ocean, NJ. Membership: Mad Feather Group has always featured Roshane Karunaratne, or the Lone Flower on Mt. Jupiter (bass, keyboards, etc.), Santo Rizzolo, or Steamboat Shaman, formally Sailor Shaman (drums), and me, Dave Colon, or Big Perverted Wind (vocals, guitar, keyboards), and almost always Matthew T. Hess, or a Punch-bowl Full of Feathers (occasional lead guitar). Matt was out of the band for a month for being a bad boy, but he was, and still is, much too integral to our way of being to have him out for very long. All is forgiven. Our first bassist was James Black, or the Leftover Locks of Samson, currently of the local folk revival sensation, Thomas Wesley Stern. James is a coy gentleman who is filled with hundreds of yokel catchphrases, and he’s one heck of a time-keeper. Terrific upright player. Great guy. After James left in the spring of 2010, Roshane started playing key bass with his left hand and chords and leads with his right, kind of like Manzarek from the Doors. We were gonna have Matt pick up the bass but I think he just got a new amp, so we felt bad. We went on a few months with this instrumentation delegation until Jake Valentine, or the Great Adobe Treehouse joined our ranks. He mostly played bass but would switch over to rhythm guitar when Rosh would do synth bass on select songs. Then Jake moved to LA first quarter 2011 and Roshane subsequently played bass full time. To make up for a lack of keyboard sound we started using backing tracks live, first manipulated with Ro’s laptop and then with a sample pad Santo triggered. Although not ideal, and its mechanical nature later developed into a form of artistic slavery, we did learn how to metronomize. During Winter ‘11-’12 we were regularly joined onstage by the Elastic Lullaby Funeral Horns: Steve Tambone, or the Gentle Smokestack (trombone) and Chris DeSaye, or the Deafening Tea Kettle (trumpet), two rival drummers who we convinced to become our horn section after we sang drunken Christmas carols with them at their after party. Our current, and to date most sophisticated lineup was finalized by the addition of two old friends: Brandon Tuzio, or the Evaporating Brushstroke (keyboards, sound effects) and Charles “Buck Lee” Krautwurst, or the Gung-Ho Confetti Cannon (percussion, beats, sound effects). We’ve been playing with Bran and Buck since July and they surely were the missing ingredients all along. They liberated us from the chains of the live backing track. They are the perfect amendments: Mad Feather Group’s Bill of Rights. All the aliases I mentioned are completely superfluous, and are never actually used in practice.
How did you come up with the name of Mad Feather Group?
I once said that naming a band is like naming a baby; you don’t want to pick a name that’s gonna scar your sweetie pie, and once you pick it you know it’s gonna be a pain in the ass to change it to something else. So, you got to pick wisely and strategically, but you also gotta choose something everybody’s gonna like. In most cases, two people, the mommy and the daddy, have to agree upon the baby’s name but in our case it was five indecisive guys. Three Men and a Baby, and Two Other Dudes. It was tough, but we had to think fast because we were using this horrible temporary band name: You Know Them. I hated that name. Anyway, somehow during our like hour long name choice session I came up with Mad Feather Group. It had this mystical American Indian vibe going on with it and I don’t know how this fit with us but we all seemed to like it enough to use it. I still like the name but I don’t know what it means. I like the group part of it. I remember my girlfriend at the time didn’t like it. I don’t talk to her anymore, so I guess it worked out.
How long have you all known each other? How did you meet?
For years. Sam and Rosh have been playing together in different groups since the end of middle school I think, so at least eight or nine years for them. When Roshane moved to Jackson from Staten Island Buck apparently was his first friend, so its actually quite cute that he ended up in the band. Brandon was one of my best friends from high school and we were in all the music programs together. We always wanted to start a band with each other, so it’s pretty magical that its finally come together the way it has. He’s actually a better singer than I am, and was always the lead in all the school musicals. I was more the class clown. Ro went to our high school, too. I started playing with Santo and Ro at the end of high school (so 6 years ago), when I joined our friend, Joe Mackoviecki (also now in Thomas Wesley Stern)’s band, the Boy Judas, on keyboards. After high school, Brandon moved to Boston to go to Berklee, and I joined a band with Ro, Santo and Bobby Jackson (formerly of TWS), called Love Child, or Love Child. When Bob became estranged, we called up our friends Matt Hess and James Black to fill in on guitar and bass, and so on.
When did you form your band? What inspired you to make music together?
January 2009. We’re coming up on our four year anniversary, which is kind of ridiculous to think about. Although we essentially had the same members, I don’t consider us becoming the real Mad Feather Group until maybe 2011, when our songs and arrangements developed to a certain quality. Our major inspiration to make music is our friendship. We are each others’ best friends. How sweet is that?
What genre of music do you consider your work to be? Who are your major influences?
I made up these genres to classify us: Freak-Adult Contemporary, Fashion Twang & Heterochromia-Eyed Soul, and we certainly fit in all these categories. Our band’s influences are so eclectic it’s almost unethical. It’s evident that we have a strange affinity for “smooth” music of the 80s and 90s. We love Michael McDonald, Hall & Oates, Phil Collins and R&B singers and groups from this time period. “Sailing” by Christopher Cross is a favorite of ours. We are aware of the cheese-factor but we don’t take it seriously. This music is fun to listen to. I also have an appreciation for dweebish, genuine musicians who aren’t caught up in their image, so while others will put Phil Collins down for his lack of rock n’ roll irreverence, I can’t help but fall in love with the guy. Classic soul and rock n’ roll is an influence but that’s a given. We did our research. Some artists that have significant influence on all or part of our group include: Prince, Michael Jackson, the Band, Radiohead, Wilco, Francis and the Lights, Kate Bush, Harry Nilsson, the Beatles, Elvis Costello, Justice, Steely Dan, David Bowie, Talking Heads, Grizzly Bear, White Denim, Electric Light Orchestra, D’Angelo, R. Kelly, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Tom Waits, Neil Young, Television, Olivia Newton John, the Smiths, Kanye West, the Roots, Peter Gabriel, Herbie Hancock.
What are some of your favorite songs to cover?
We love/ hate covers so much that we started a cover band with our best friend, Danny Stinson. For Mad Feather purposes, we sometimes like to play “Something” by the Beatles, “In Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel, “Let’s Dance” and “Life on Mars?” by David Bowie, “This Must Be the Place” by Talking Heads, “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere” by Neil Young, and “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen. We’ve done an instrumental version of “On a Train” by Francis and the Lights a few times before. We’ve also done a mashup that could theoretically be called: “You Dropped the Pig on Me, Satan” which combines the first half of “War Pigs” by Black Sabbath with part of “You Dropped the Bomb on Me” by the Gap Band. One time we played that in Seaside and a fight broke out.
Who writes your songs? How would you describe your process of making music?
I usually write the frame of the songs first. What I mean by frame is melody and chord progression and sometimes a basic rhythm pattern, too. I’ll “frame” a song on either a piano or a guitar, sometimes starting a song on guitar and then finishing it on piano or vice versa if I get stuck. Then when I’ve come to a point where I feel I’ve written something good enough to bring to the group, we will start working out arrangements from there. We’ll jam a song a few different ways until we arrive to a structure and rhythm we all like. Then we’ll just hone our individual arrangements. This is highly collaborative, and we’ll often share ideas with each other. A lot of times Ro or I will have a drum idea, or Brandon will have a guitar idea, etc. Lyrics rarely come until after this process has already begun. I write my lyrics to my melodies, rather than the other way around, not because I think lyrics aren’t important but because I think melodies can come out weaker if they are attempting to cater to the lyric. When I write a lyric, I try to visualize a scene the music conveys to me, and then try to come up with words that project this scene. Writing words to melodies requires you to be economical in your choice. It’s always difficult for me at first. Sometimes it takes me weeks or months to start writing lyrics for a song, but once I get a resonating line out, I’ll get encouraged and usually finish the whole thing in a couple of hours. I recently found that singing in the car helps. It must be the forward motion.
What are the main themes or topics for most of your songs? Do you think these topics will change over time?
Common themes and topics: death, anxiety, religion and/or spirituality, time, BABIES, dreams, dysfunctional romantic relationships, the artist’s relationship with his/her audience, insanity, the writing process, self-image; and to a lesser extent, love and sex. I always try to write allegorically and ironically. Sometimes it comes out very cryptic-sounding, other times just very sarcastic. It’s hard to find a balance but I’m just really developing my writing style into it’s own thing. I think I’ll always be writing about death and anxiety and religion and time and babies, haha. These are the things that really interest me for whatever reason. It’s in the titles too, I have a song called “Dead” and another one called “We’re Having a Baby”, haha it’s very obvious. Evidently, I suck at coming up with song titles. We have a song right now called “Steel Madness” and another one called “Sanyo’s Song”. They’re just stupid inside jokes.
What are your rehearsals generally like? Do you have a set time each week in which you practice or are rehearsals more spontaneous?
We’re making sassy jokes the whole time, and then we break three or four times for cigarettes. With the six of us it’s hard to get a set time, but we try to practice as often as possible. The ideal is three times a week.
How has your music evolved since you first began playing music together?
We started out as this strict roots rock revival rip-off, and now we have the capabilities to play a cornucopia of styles. I don’t know why, but for the first eight or nine months of our existence we thought we could only play this folky country rocky thing, and only that. But it didn’t reflect what we listened to or even us as people. I remember this enlightening moment for us: we were at this rehearsal with this guy named Chuck, who Sam worked with at Nordstrom. Chuck had this studio in his basement and he had us over to hear us play, I guess to see if he could produce us; and so we were playing these horribly written Neil Young knockoffs, and I remember, he asked Ro what kind of music he liked. So Ro of course says, funk and disco, and Chuck then asks, “so why don’t you play anything like that in your guys’ songs?” Roshie was caught off guard and he said, “well it doesn’t fit what we’re doing.” Chuck said, “well you can’t really think like that, you got to play what you like.” It’s very obvious looking back on it now but we really thought we could only stick to one territory. After that we started experimenting with funkier rhythms, more overtly groovier sounds, to the point that people claimed that we “went disco”. We’ve balanced out since then, but it took us awhile to get to that point. Maybe we had too much water in our ears. I think our sound really meshed when Rosh switched over to bass permanently.
What has been your biggest challenge as a band? Have you been able to overcome that challenge? If so, how?
Our biggest challenge is probably getting a recording together that we’ve liked enough to put out hahah. That and confidence; we always think we sound like a sack of pure shit. It’s silly. I think we’re at the point where if we were put in the right recording environment we could finish something fairly quickly.
What’s your ultimate direction for your band? Are you seeking fame and fortune?
Yes to both. Moneys and babes. We just really want to tour. And have our likenesses made into action figures.
What advice do you have for people who want to form their own bands?
Haha, I don’t think we’re in any position to give advice! I guess the only thing I can say is make sure you’re playing with people who you actually like, or at least tolerate. It’s not gonna be very fun if it’s the opposite.
How can fans-to-be gain access to your music? Do you have a website with sample songs or a CD? (Facebook, Twitter, etc.)
We have music videos on youtube that our good buddy Anthony Yebra has shot for us. Actually, Buck, before he joined the band, was the main camera operator on those shoots! For the time being that’s probably the best way to check out our stuff. We’re trying to get a Christmas single out, at least a day before Christmas, so hopefully that works out. More to come in 2013!!!
YouTube – Mad Feather Group