New York siblings embrace birthday suits and the unknowability of life on new album 'Undress'
In the lead-up to the Felice Brothers' new album, the folk-rock band convened in a garage rehearsal space on a farm in New York's Hudson Valley, where singer/guitarist Ian Felice brought about 30 song ideas to brother and keys/accordion player James Felice and the rest of the band.
It soon became clear these new songs would likely lead to the band's most overtly political album, and according to James, the topical direction was a welcome one.
“Politics have become part of pop culture and everyday conversation because we have these bizarre circumstances and crazy characters. People are paying attention to it as though it were a soap opera,” said James, reached by phone in New York a couple of days before a tour that will stop at Rumba Cafe on Saturday, May 4. “It's this cultural phenomenon that has real-world, potentially devastating implications, which makes it interesting. It's a soap opera that actually affects our lives and can cause true suffering in the world. It's our business. We're Americans. We're allowed to say how we feel.”
After culling 30 songs down to a dozen, the band — the Felice siblings, new bassist Jesske Hume and drummer Will Lawrence — eventually decided that leadoff track “Undress,” which implores a laundry list of people and places to remove their clothing, best represented the new material, so the song became the album's namesake. No one is spared on “Undress”: Republicans, Democrats, the Brooklyn Bridge, Bank of America, Kellyanne Conway, “Family Feud” contestants, industrialists, anarchists, “trigger-happy deputies,” the Pentagon…
“It exemplified where we were going with the music,” James said. “It's funny, politically and socially aware, astute, a little bit gross in a funny, intriguing way, and kind of sexy, too, in a weird way. Everything is off-kilter, off-balance. I like it, because you don't really know what to expect next in that song.”
James also penned a tune for Undress, “Nail it on the First Try,” which, unlike Ian's verbose, Bob Dylan-esque style, consists of just five short lines accompanied by accordion and piano. “It's like a palate cleanser to give you a break between these really interesting and complex ideas that we're hitting you with before and after,” James said.
But it's the lyrical hook of the Band-like ballad “Poor Blind Birds” that really hits home for James when he reflects on the totality of Undress: “We live in a world we can't understand.”
“Everybody who has ever lived has lived in a world they don't understand. ... We don't understand our own consciousness. We don't understand the very foundation of our reality, these quarks and complicated physics. We can't even comprehend things we actually do know, like how far away the sun is from the earth — these very essential parts of our lives,” he said. “Every day we're holding these cellphones and iPhones — these things that I don't remotely understand. My phone is a mystery to me. It's as mysterious to me as any possible thing — as mysterious as love, as the deepest bottom of the ocean. I have no idea how it works. … The world is very confusing, and the more you think about it, the more confusing it inevitably becomes. Everybody who has ever lived is confused about the nature of reality. It's the one constant. The only thing that we all know is that we don't know.”