Posted August 20, 2006
BABY WON'T YOU FOLLOW THEM DOWN:
KING FELIX CLAIM THEIR PLACE
IN SYDNEY'S BUSY GARAGE SCENE
Just like scores of other bands, Sydney four-piece King Felix have been playing gigs around their hometown and Melbourne since 2003. You could tag them “garage” but that wouldn’t throw much light on the issue as the term’s just too broad. Coming on like a cross between Crazy Horse (without their plod) and the bluesy side of Australian pub rock but mixing it with occasional forays into hard-edged country rock, their twin-guitar line-up has a strength that most local competitors can’t match and that essential element: a great engine room.
It’s a tough time in Sydney if you work this pub/garage rock field with lots of bands and too few venues – which is something that all four King Felix members know well. They’re veterans with a history drawn from the The Hunchbacks, Roll Cage and its spin-off, The Freak Bros. Unlike many of their contemporaries, however, there’s a literary side to the music of King Felix that should merit more attention, especially with the arrival of their debut album “King Felix”. It’s a tougher-sounding record than their “Shape Your Mind” EP and a marked advance.
SIMON LI decided there was no better time to talk to the members of King Felix. He cornered NED MATIJASEVIC (aka NED ALPHABET - vocals, guitar), CARL EKMAN (vocals, bass), JOHN SOUTH (guitar) and ANDI JACKSON (drums) to talk about the past, the present and the future.
I-94 Bar: Bar Some of the members of King Felix, as I-94 Bar readers would be aware were previously in bands such as The Hunchbacks and Roll Cage (but not Brother Brick) Could King Felix identify themselves and the bands they were previously apart of?
Ned: I'm Ned, I used to be in Roll Cage and before that Full Toss and The Funeral Clowns.
Carl: I'm Carl, I was in The Hunchbacks and I was in Roll Cage and I'm in King Felix as well.
John: I'm John, I was in The Hunchbacks.
Andi: I'm Andi, I was the drummer in The Hunchbacks, Scum of The Earth, King Felix and a bunch of other scummy bands.
Ned: Going back to high school.
Andi: No, I wasn't doing nothing in high school.
I-94 Bar: Going back to the band Roll Cage, we at the I-94 Bar were pretty keen on that band and of course that band has since kind of dissolved.
Ned: "Bifurcated" to quote John McPharlin.
I-94 Bar: Those members of Roll Cage, whom are now in King Felix would they have any tactful thoughts or explanation on their eventual departure from Roll Cage?
Ned: It's just one of those things.
Carl: Yeah, I don't know. We just sort of took it as far as could, without too many arguments starting...we weren't getting really along in the end.
Ned: We grew apart.
Carl: It was better to split... than to become enemies... I still talk to Ash (ex-Roll Cage vocalist/guitarist) and I still talk Scotty (ex-Roll Cage drummer). I'm still friends with both of them.
Ned: Roll Cage was a great band too. I know from my part and I know Carl liked playing in the band too. There's nothing wrong musically, it's just one of those things...
Carl: Personality clashes. It's not Ashley's fault, it's not my fault, it's not Ned's fault, we weren't supposed to be in the same room together.
I-94 Bar: During the early period of Roll Cage, both Ned and Carl had another band going with another member of Roll Cage known as The Freak Bros?
Ned: The Freak Bros, that's right.
I-94 Bar: I believe The Freak Bros recorded a 7" EP?
Ned: That's right. That was kind of a side thing. That was actually kind of Ashley's idea in a lot of ways. He played drums on that 7" EP and I'd had a bunch of songs and Ashley suggested I record them as something extra from Roll Cage and we did a vinyl-only four-track release which is extremely rare. If you're after a copy of that you'd need to let me know and basically King Felix grew out of the The Freak Bros, but not entirely...
Carl: We we're sort of jamming on the side and we asked Ashley if he'd join us but he wasn't that interested. It just so happened I ran into Andi around that time and I asked if he wanted to come along for a jam and he stayed. That's how King Felix got born basically.
At that stage we (Carl and Ned) were still in Roll Cage and doing The Freak Bros and were doing this on the side, but we didn't have a name for King Felix, we we're just mucking around.
Then I ran into John a year later and he said he didn't have any bands to play in and looking forward to playng and we (King Felix) we're looking for another guitarist... so it's just by chance really.
I-94 Bar: John and Andi, any thoughts on your addition to King Felix?
John: The band was King Felix when I joined.
Ned: John, we were a three-piece for the first year or so and then John joined.
Andi: Did we have any alternative names for the band at the time?
Ned: Not really, I think I came up with the name... As I said, it rolled on from The Freak Bros and we kind of wanted to play but at the same time we wanted to keep The Freak Bros with Ashley and we decided to call it something different. I kind of took the initiative and I took the the name and called it King Felix.
I-94 Bar: Was there a thought of keeping the name "The Freak Bros", even though certain members of The Freak Bros, were no longer together in Roll Cage?
Ned: Out of respect to Ashley, although I wanted to keep The Freak Bros going, what Carl and I were doing was separate from anything to do with The Freak Bros or Roll Cage, so, we changed the name on purpose.
I-94 Bar: For those curious, where does the name "King Felix" come from? Some may think it has something to do with Felix the Cat?
Ned: It doesn't have anything to do with any royalty as such. Not to give to much away about the name, but it comes from one of the last novels by the author Philip K. Dick called "Valis" which was first published in the early '80s prior to Philip K. Dick passing away...
We we're once called "Killing Felix" when we were interviewed on (Sydney community radio station) 2SER which was really cool.
Carl: Some people think we're Portuguese. (Ned then offers a Japanese phrase and a Portuguese phrase.)
I-94 Bar: With the name King Felix when did the band start?
Ned: The first gig was in February 2003 at the KB (Hotel in Surry Hills, Sydney).
Carl: That's when (the venue) the KB (Hotel) first started having bands.
I-94 Bar: The original line-up of King Felix was Ned, Carl and Andi, so we're there any thoughts of getting other members into the band at the time?
Ned: Not at the time.
Carl: We we're just surviving after being outcasts of Roll Cage and we just wanted to keep playing really.
Andi: I didn't expect that we'd get that far that we we're playing. When we went in, it was just a jam. We got together and I thought it would be fun, 'cause I hadn't played for a while, but at the time, I thought we we're just jamming and I didn't expect it to have a name and play gigs and one thing led to another and next thing you know we've got a set of songs and off we go.
I-94 Bar: Andi, were you aware of what Ned and Carl had been doing prior to King Felix?
Andi: I was aware of nothing at the time. I'd gone through a pretty rough spot prior to running into Carl, so there was pretty much nothing happening. Just going around in circles.
Carl: I'd played with Andi for six or seven years previously, it's just by chance that he joined. Ash didn't want to drum with us and then Andi rang me out of the blue, 'cause he was living back near where I was at time and I asked him if he wanted to jam, but his drum kit was living under his house and under the dirt at the time...
Andi: I actually went out to the eastern suburbs (of Sydney) and bought a new drum kit to play with, because that drum kit was pretty ratty at the time and I've bought five (drum kits) since then to get the correct sound.
I-94 Bar: After the band formed with the initial line-up of Ned on guitar, Carl on bass and Andi on drums, a year later guitarist John South joined. Was there a particular reason/(s) why John joined the band?
Ned: We needed a fuller sound and we were bouncing ideas around about who or what we thought might need to be added.
Carl: At that time, we though we had gone as far as we could as a three-piece. Even though playing in a three piece is great, because you have to tighten up... but we were also thinking of adding keyboards or something else.
Ned: We just needed another person to fill the sound of the band out more.
Carl: I just happened to be talking with John, because John and I had kept in touch after the days of The Hunchbacks and I asked him to come and have a jam with us and he stayed and it's been two years since I asked him to come and have a jam with us...
Ned: So, if you want to join King Felix just come and have jam with us... (band members laugh)
I-94 Bar: With the addition of John was there an effect on the sound?
John: Well, I don't play certain kinds of other music and I think we're all relatively into the same kind of music and before we met we were all going and seeing the same kind of bands.
Carl: I like the fuller sound and I like hearing lead guitar with a rhythm guitar in the background. I think having the rhythm guitar adds something to rock-n-roll songs. I love three piece bands, but I still prefer a good, steady rhythm, whether it’s from another guitar or keyboards, it adds something extra
I-94 Bar: Would King Felix draw on some of the The Freak Bros material for King Felix material?
Ned: Well, The Freak Bros material and the early King Felix material came from the same source. Prior to joining Roll Cage, I'd been recording songs I'd written on a four-track tape recorder at home over a period of a year or two, and I'd built up a pool of 20-30 songs which I drew on for The Freak Bros and then later King Felix.
After departing Roll Cage, I then wrote a few new songs and Carl had some songs.
Carl: I had some songs that I'd wrote for Roll Cage, but then we split and I thought what was I going to do with those songs? So, the first time I played those songs was in King Felix. I'd never got to play those songs in Roll Cage.
Ned: We also picked some covers we really liked, cause Carl and I like to cover stuff like country and blues.
I-94 Bar: Which Freak Bros songs have King Felix revisited?
Ned: "Stalker" and "Good Authority". Earlier on we were also playing "I Feel Good", but we haven't played that song for some time.
I-94 Bar: Is there a reason you don’t play more old songs?
Ned: King Felix didn't play the song "Shit Town" 'cause we couldn't do the song justice at the time. We did try and rehearse it but other Freak Bros songs sounded better and we stuck with those...
Carl: The songs that worked we kept.
I-94 Bar: So what are the key influences for the band initially and/or more recently?
Ned: Speaking more for myself, at the time when the band began I was drawing a lot on country, folk and funnily enough punk as well as 60's R'n'B. There's a lot of roots rock in there everything from Chuck Berry to Woody Guthrie to Bob Dylan to bluegrass and stuff.
Everything though came back to rock and was played with a rock attitude which comes from my love of stuff like 'The Stones and '70s punk and '60s garage, but we combined all those roots rock influences and revved them up.
Carl: I sort of like the heavy sort of blues. I love the chunk.I love Willie Dixon. Anything that Willie Dixon writes is great by me and mixing that up with Aussie garage and Lobby Loyde, stuff like that.
Ned: Both myself and Carl really worship Lobby Loyde. (Carl laughs)
I-94 Bar: What inspiration does the band draw for its original songs from literature and/or non-traditional sources? Are there any particular songs that demonstrate this?
Ned: I'm interested in songwriters such as Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, Neil Young and Patti Smith all of whom are also big fans of literature, poetry, theatre and film-making
I also like the prose style of writers like William Burroughs or James Joyce and that kind of stream of consciousness and playing with words
I suppose a song like 'Housing Commission Blues' is more of a story than a song, in which a situation is set up and it has a narrative background. It's not quite a slice of life, but a series of scenes... 'Suburban Angst' is probably another original song which draws some inspiration from sources other than music, but its hard to pinpoint any specific influence, since they all come together at some point, with all the books I read and movies I watch, from time to time. I get ideas from them
With lyrics, in a way we try and make them more than just words by trying to put in visual references
Neil Young, even though his lyrics are sometimes corny, has the ability to evoke cinematic images with his words and music. Lou Reed's "New York" isn't just an album, it's a novel or a set of short stories.
I suppose some of our songs are more in that vein, like short stories.
Carl: The influence I get from literature is that people in literature did what they wanted to do and they didn't care about anything else and we're sort of like that in a way. We don't want to be the "next cool garage band". We're just trying to do what we can do well and do it as well as we can.
Ned: In naming the band "King Felix", we wanted to have something that didn't mean anything in particular but was quite easy to remember, but at the same time it's also a literary reference which is cool. If you don't get where the name came from, you can just laugh at the silly combination of words.
Some bands seem content to draw purely on past musical reference points and capitalising on that, but we're different in that we try to consciously set ourselves apart from other bands by taking a wider artistic view.
I-94 Bar: I suppose some would expect that with the kind of band members that King Felix have; all of whom hail from Sydney and which probably experienced '80s Australian garage rock, (which some would argue to be the golden era of Australian garage rock) to then form a band which is likely to carry on that kind of Australian garage rock sound. Do King Felix carry on that kind of Australian garage rock and/or (influences aside) why does the band possibly not follow and/or carry on that kind that of Australian garage rock sound?
Andi: I think the time difference.
Ned: When talking about the '80s, not everything was "garage" was it?
John: No, some of it was just good rock.
Ned: "Garage" is on one hand a great description, but can also be too definite or too narrow. We all grew up seeing bands in the 80s, but we also grew up listening to the music of the 60s and 70s and I think what we play is a mixture of all that and the reason why we don't exclusively follow that '80s kind of garage rock is that. I guess we also don't want to be a cabaret act. (band members laugh)
I think we're fairly honest with our influences and that's probably why we don't sound like we're copying anything in particular
John: All those bands from the '80s weren't all garage rock
Carl: Yeah, bands we liked such as like Rosie Tatts, Lime Spiders, Celibate Rifles
John: Died Pretty, Ed Kuepper. They're not garage
Andi: Some of them, most of them were "alternative"
Ned: If a hip hop group rehearses or a reggae band falls over in a garage, are they any less a garage band than some guys cranking out 60's covers? The term "garage" is a fairly wide-ranging term and does not just include '60s guitar rock. Let's not get too hung up about categories
I think the term "garage" should be applied to any band that bashes away in an actual garage and makes glorious noise. (Laughs)
I-94 Bar: Well, for those whom might have become aware of the band members of King Felix through the bands which they were previously in such as Roll Cage and The Hunchbacks, there might have been an expectation of King Felix that, even though King Felix was a new band for the former members of those bands, that it would probably follow on that kind of sound/style.
Ned: Well, there are elements of that sort of 60's/70's "garage" rock in what we do and there are certainly songs of ours that fit in that mould, but not all of our songs are like that.
Carl: I can remember when Ashley and I formed Roll Cage and his idea at the time was "let's form a really stupid, dumb rock-n-roll band that plays stupid, dumb rock-n-roll songs" and I said "yeah, alright" and you could tell by listening to the lyrics of the songs (on the album which Roll Cage released) that they weren't songs you would take home to your mum and say: "Hey, listen to this... check this out"...
Ashley at the time had a great sense of humour and he's also a bloody great musician.
Ned: ... and he's a great songwriter...
Carl: A great songwriter also...
Ned: Roll Cage was also influenced by '70s music and some '80s music even.
I-94 Bar: When King Felix formed in early 2003, how long was it before the band started working on its own original songs/material?
Ned: Well, we did that straight away, because even though Carl and I had songs we wanted to do, from the very first time we played the three of us jammed out, and I remember I started some Hendrix rip-off riff and jammed out for ten minutes, so we were creating from the very beginning.
Andi: I think one of the first songs we jammed on and wrote was 'More than Anything' which I recorded on a tape recorder and that lasted 18 minutes.
Carl: No, it wasn't that long.
Andi: No, it was eight and a half minutes.
Carl: It probably took us six months to feel comfortable to play our own songs.
Ned: We recorded our first CDEP around Easter that year.
Carl: Which was a bit too rushed I thought.
Carl: We didn't realise, we kind of rushed in and recorded.
Ned: I guess it was after that we started introducing more new material, moving on. That was the next step of the band, when we then started gigging a lot more and went to Melbourne and played around Sydney and got the band together.
Carl: We played at the last Hands of Time gig in Melbourne and that was in October 2003.
I-94 Bar: Bar The band recorded its first CDEP around Easter 2003, the four songs which appear on that CDEP, were those songs the main four songs the band specifically wanted to record for the CDEP or were there other songs which the band thought about recording but eventually dropped and/or decided against recording?
Ned: We recorded six songs, when we recorded that CDEP.
Carl: We left 'More than Anything' and 'Housing Commission Blues' on the CDEP, because during the recording process we asked the producer Jordan whether we could attempt to record a few songs totally live and when listening back to the songs we'd recorded during the mixing of the six songs we recorded, we realised that those two songs 'More than Anything' and 'Housing Commission Blues' which we recorded totally live turned out really well.
Ned: The other two songs on the CDEP were the catchiest we had at the time and we just picked the four best sounding songs out of the six we recorded.
I-94 Bar: The four best sounding songs during the recording the band did during Easter 2003 came out as the CDEP called "Shape your Mind".
Ned: That's right, "Shape your Mind" another collectors item. (band members laugh)
Carl: I'm yet to see a cent from the sales of those.
Ned: Well, the sales of those went into the King Felix Trust Fund.
I-94 Bar: Bar Following the release of the "Shape your mind" CDEP, the band was gigging in Sydney quite regularly from there, was it long before the band played interstate and/or outside of Sydney?
Ned: I think the only places the band played outside of Sydney were Melbourne and a gig in Newcastle at the infamous Lass O'Gowries Hotel, but we've mainly played gigs in Sydney.
Carl: We thought if we were to ever play outside of Sydney we'd have to record an album.
Ned: We also played a gig in Brookvale.
Carl: We went across the water (laughs).
Ned: We did a bikie clubhouse gig in Brookvale which was pretty interesting.
I-94 Bar: What have been the highlight gigs and/or supports the band has played?
Ned: We played at a benefit for 2RRR (Sydney community radio station) late last year, which was good, since we played with a bunch of great bands and we played really well at that gig.
John: We also played a gig (fundraiser for a short film) recently in a church which was kind of a highlight gig for me. (Band members laugh).
Ned: Well, I don't agree with that gig being a highlight, I felt it was a lowlight amongst those kinds of gig that bands play where the band plays during the middle of the week and it's during winter when it's cold and no-one comes and the band is paid $1.50 each
Carl: We played a gig at an outlaw motorcycle club/gang party and we didn't know how they were going take to us but they actually liked us 'cause there was a bunch of metal bands on before us and the bikers didn't like the metal bands and we played blues and the bikers brought beers to the stage and offered other stuff but I only drank a bottle of beer on the night of that gig and they thought us guys we're alright and wanted us to come back. (Andi laughs)
Ned: The gig with the band Lords of Gravity at The Empire (of Annandale Hotel, in Sydney) was another highlight gig, as was playing at The Gaelic Club (in Sydney).
We managed to get a gig with Ian Rilen at The Gaelic Club one night and I must say the on-stage sound was the best I've ever heard, that venue even had a foldback mixer alongside a mixer for the sound in the front of house, which I thought was fairly decadent and bourgeois.
Carl: We got to see how bands on a higher level than us get treated and thought that was alright.
Andi: I thought the first time we played Glenworth Valley (private party) was great, in the rain and the power going off and then coming back and the horse shit everywhere, that was just great! It was probably the best gig I've done.
Ned: Another great support was the farewell Hands of Time gig in Melbourne. We'd only been around for eight or nine months and it was really great of those guys to let us play at that gig.
I-94 Bar: Has the band been played gigs where the band has felt mis-matched or mis-cast with the rest of the bands at a gig line-up?
Ned: There was a particular gig we did at The Forest Inn; where we played with a band from Newcastle, whose lead singer likes to take off his shirt off and climb onto the foldback speakers and stare menacingly at the audience.
For some reason, they wanted to beat us up and I don't know why. Even though we clapped to their songs and cheered them on. That gig was strange with that band with "that lead singer" and another goth/metal band and that band with "that lead singer" they taunted us.
Carl: They were just putting on a show and being macho.
Ned: There was also a gig at the Annandale (Hotel, Sydney) which was quite good, which was on a good night of the week and we were placed second in a three band bill. The gig was a last minute booking because another band dropped out and we ended up playing with two fusion/funk/metal bands, which was quite interesting and I recall the I-94 Bar reviewing that gig of ours.
Other than those two particular gigs, most of our gigs are with bands that generally fit in with what we do... I suppose we're kind of unique and can't be pigeon-holed so easily, which can be problematic.
I-94 Bar: Has there been a gig/event that shaped the bands identity and/or lead the band members to believe that the band should be pursued full-time and not just as a part time project?
Ned: Well, before being in both Roll Cage and The Freak Bros, I'd been writing songs, alongside work in theatre and other stuff. I wanted to get serious with the material I'd been writing because it just wasn't being played elsewhere.
It was for me about getting out there and doing it.
One day in my mid-30s whilst doing my boring day job which I really hated doing, so I then decided to be a poor bastard and play music as much as possible.
John: I know when I first started playing and I'd been having lessons from a guy Pete Hood and at the first lesson he said "Do you want to play in your bedroom or do you want to play live?" he then said "If you want to play live, it will differ from what I'll teach you." A lot of people just pickup their guitar and play in their bedroom. I've always wanted to be in a band.
Carl: I've always found I love the live experience. I like it if it’s messy or if it’s good. I just the like the fact that you're out there, in front of people playing and its a sort of freedom. People come up to me and they say "How can you get up on stage, in front of people? I'd just freeze. I'd be so embarassed and so self-conscious." After a while, it's not about getting up on stage and being Mr. Cool... I just love playing music and I'd rather play music live for people than sit around in my bedroom and just play music there.
Ned: To the point of sounding brash, our material is above average and we don't want it to lost in some rehearsal room on a Sunday afternoon. We know our material is good and want to get it out there.
We've also had great feedback from our peers, other musicians.
Although the fanbase is low on the ground, most people who play music really like what we do and that gives us heart, particularly when we're playing yet another support we know we're a good band and won't have to play support to others forever. I suppose we feel a certain artistic responsibility, when talent is there, god-given, genetic or otherwise; there's a responsibility on artists to use it or lose it. In having that responsibility ties back to myself and working a crappy job for the rest of my life and when I'm my 50s or 60s, sit around wondering or wishing I'd done this or done that. For me, now is the time to do what I do.
Carl: I remember when I was growing up and started playing music, I took up playing bass in the band that eventually became The Hunchbacks and whilst playing, friends would say to me, there was this bloke who was apparently a great guitarist and as far as I know he never ever played live and I thought how sad that would be... (laughs)
He was this great metal guitarist and he would amuse his friends at home on the weekend, but he couldn't start a band or play in front of people and maybe handle criticism. Many people can't handle criticism, but I don't care, I love it. When someone says you're not to up it because of this, you think, maybe they've got a point.
Ned: Many people don't realise, it's about doing what you love and they think they have to achieve something in particular like kids, a house in the suburbs and everything else compared to those things is not so important. People whom are artists, painters or musicians do what they do as a hobby and treat it that way since it's not likely to make money.
Carl: I suppose from something like literature, I was once inspired when reading Charles Bukowski and he said something to the effect "Don't want to do something, just do it"... don't just think I wonder if I could have done that, just do it and see what its like...
Ned: Or, as Yoda said in Star Wars IV - Empire Strikes Back to Luke Skywalker "Do not try, Do! There is no try. Do!" Which are such words of wisdom.
ON TO PART TWO