I have a wife and a new born baby/in a new house at the end of water street/ it rained all day,/I sat at the kitchen window/drinking coffee and playing solitaire/hedges drink the rain/coffee clogs the drain/the lightning blows/ the dreamy Catskill flows/I have a wife and a new born baby/in a new house at the end of water street/my father walked out and just kept walking/in the light of an 80s moon/ sometimes I walk the tracks/but I always come right back/and feed the cats in the boiler room
Yes, that’s Ian Felice’s life. (And, I love that passage.) If you have ever seen some of the wild, almost frantic performance videos (or if you were lucky, live shows) of the early Felice Brothers, the otherworldly energy of a current show, or the intensity of Felice’s facial expression when performing, then on hearing Ian sing of his quiet, hometown life in his recent song “Water Street,” you might not believe it’s the same person.
To some extent, I get the feeling from Ian that he feels somewhat the same way. At least, it is a major change in his life, one that he’s explored in his thinking and his music and poetry and, probably, his visual art. It has led in part to his first-ever solo album, In the Kingdom of Dreams, an independent release done in a studio near Ian’s Catskills, New York, home in the U.S.
In reality, Ian, who will be touring his solo show in the U.K. in November, hasn’t changed that much. While the lifestyle of husband and father are new, he remains much the same person, an intelligent, perceptive, thoughtful dude who has, with his brothers and friends, turned an initially-exploratory band into one of the most successful of today’s indy groups (much to Ian’s surprise).
All three Felice brothers and the rest of his family still live within an hour’s drive of each other in the beautiful Catskill Mountains of the northeastern United States. Ian is taking time off from touring to care for Henry Green Felice, Ian’s latest contribution to world culture and the apple of his dad’s intense eye(s).
I see Felice’s solo outing as another way an exemplary and unique artist has expressed himself, creating imaginative work that changes our perception of the world and our experience in it.
Ian’s literary influences jib with my own, and these are not the norm. William Carlos Williams, John Ashbery, Jack Spicer, and a rare choice most have never heard of, William Bronk, are among those poets who have had the most impact on Felice’s writing – both his songwriting and his poetry, the latter being a relatively new form of expression for him, evidenced in his recently-published book of poems, Hotel Swampland, a title exhibiting Felice’s ever-near humour and irony.
What follows are some highlights from my recent conversation with him:
Ron: How long have you been planning a solo album/shows?
Ian: Not much planning went into it. I’m not great at making plans. When I had completed the songs for the album, and I knew that it was, in fact, an album it made sense that the songs should be recorded as simply as possible and immediately, without too much analysis. I’ve never been interested in making a solo record or playing solo shows; I enjoy playing with the band. However, the circumstances of my life led me to want to pursue something more personal, and it seemed like a good time to do it.
Ron: Have you been taking a break as a band?
Ian: The band is going to get back to work on some new material soon. I will be touring in the UK alone. The shows that I will do will all be just me and the guitar. Outside of the UK tour, I’m not really sure how many shows I will do for the record. I guess it depends on whether or not people like the album.
Ron: As it is a subject in one song on the album and because I get a sense family is important to you, would you tell me about your parents a bit.
Ian: My parents split up when I was a newborn, and my mother raised her three children as a single mom for a long time until she remarried. The marriage wasn’t great, he was a drug addict and died of an overdose when I was 8 years old. My father was semi-present in my life; we would visit every other weekend for a while. James is my father’s child from his second marriage. We have different moms.
Ron: Would you reflect about the role of you parents/step-parents/family in the life of your lyrics and poems, especially perhaps in the dream content, that plays such a prominent role in the solo work?
Ian: I always want to show the residue of a life lived somehow behind the lyrics. There are allusions in the songs to people and events in my past, but they are placed alongside other material non- autobiographical and distinct from my experiences.
I wanted to arrive at meaning through contrast so that a line that is deeply personal could follow something like the nonsense verse of Lewis Carol or Edward Lear. I was interested in how worlds are connected in this way. The world is deeply confusing and complicated to me, and I wanted the songs to reflect that and also to facilitate a means by which to work through some of the confusion.
Ron: Why, would you say, do your dreams play such a large role?
Ian: I was keeping something like a dream journal for a while that was working its way into some of the things I was writing. The thing that I like about dreams and using them as a setting is how anything can happen, and it is never questioned as to being normal. There is no normality. I wanted the music and melodies to be rather simple, harmonious, more or less a folk idiom but to have lyrical dissonance.
Ron: I say your dreams. Does the dream content tend to come from your own dreams or more strictly from your imagination at the time you’re writing?
Ian: It’s both. (William Carlos) Williams said something like “Only the imagination is real.” I think that’s true, and I think that dreams are the most liberated form for the imagination. Many of the songs were constructed by collaging lines I had written separately together.
Ron: How does your marriage and baby affect your writing, your choices in what you write or changes perhaps in content, imagery, etc.?
Ian: My life circumstances dictate a lot of what I write but on more of a subconscious level, although a couple of the songs on the record deal directly with these relationships, at a slight remove.
Ron: Your new book is of poems. Have you written poetry per se before, i.e. content you’ve written/thought of as poetry distinct from your music work?
Ian: I started writing poetry about five years ago. I was drawn initially, I think, to the idea of the line break because it’s how a lot of the thoughts in my head are constructed. Many of the poems were written and intended to be poems, but some were written simultaneously with the record so that lyrics and poems cross-pollinated in a way.
I’ve always loved poetry but never thought that I could write it well. When I first started reading poets like John Ashbery, Jack Spicer, William Bronk and other 20th-century American poets it was a very freeing experience. And it gave me some direction on how to think about writing poems. I wrote a lot of shitty poems at first but gradually got to some that I thought were OK.
Ron: How do you see the relationship, if you do see one, between your paintings/ visual work and your songs/music/performance and your poetry.
Ian: All come from the same impulse and are more or less arguments with myself. They all attempt to embody thought, to communicate something, and deal primarily with imagery as a means of communication.
Ron: Who has had the strongest influence on your music, art and personally?
Ian: My friends and band members have been the strongest influences on me musically. For art in general, I would say, William Blake; his work has always been an anchor in my understanding of what an artist can be. My mother has been the strongest influence on me as a person.
Ron: Have you had any specific training/instruction/mentoring in songwriting or in poetry or prose writing.
Ian Felice’s world is one full or discovery and communication, spirit and struggle, imagination and productivity, as well as reflection and performance. It is, as Ian would say, an effort to find meaning through contrasts, a process we, as his audience, are all the richer for.
In The Kingdom Of Dreams is out now via Loose, available on CD, heavyweight vinyl and as a download.
Ian’s book of poetry is available from ianfelice.com, along with a selection of related paintings.
Ian Felice UK Tour Dates
Ian Felice will be embarking on an intimate solo tour of the UK in November. Tickets are on sale now for the following shows:-
22 Nov – MANCHESTER, Night And Day
23 Nov – EDINBURGH, Voodoo Rooms
24 Nov – NEWCASTLE, Live Theatre
26 Nov – NOTTINGHAM, The Maze
27 Nov – LONDON, Borderline
28 Nov – BRISTOL, Thekla
29 Nov – BIRMINGHAM, Hare & Hounds
30 Nov – LEEDS, Brudenell