"I just gave my self, body and soul, over to the big Indian in the sky. Do what you will, I am clay."
*An edited version of the below interview appears in the 12th April edition of the Cork Independent
Much celebrated author, songwriter and poet Simone Felice has traversed rockier terrain, circumnavigated more crevices and survived far more dangerous obstacles than the fauna and flora of his beloved Appalachian Mountain home could ever throw at him.
The eldest of seven children raised in Upstate New York’s Catskill Mountains, suffered an aneurysm at the tender age of 12, a harrowing experience for anyone, never mind one so young but, despite having to spend the following months relearning basic motor skills (such as how to read and write), by age 15 had defiantly formed a punk band.
Since quitting school at 18, Felice has gone on to release compilations of poetry, record three studio albums - including 2009’s internationally lauded Yonder Is The Clock - as a founding member of The Felice Brothers (with brother Ian), publish two collections of short stories, form "traveling theatre troupe" The Duke & The King with long time pal Robert "Bird" Burke and now, in 2012, has released a solo record: Simone Felice. Quite a resumé for someone who was pronounced dead - and for several minutes at that - aged just 12.
It is this release that sees him visit Cork later this month with the eldest Felice brother looking forward to his visit.
Simone Felice: "Honestly, Ireland is one of the places I always look forward to with a warm heart. My grandmother was from county Clare and we grew up singing folk songs; A wonderful magical island. Also you're not afraid to sing along! I've been very fortunate to have been received warmly and with open arms each time I've come to visit. And I'm never in want of a Guinness!"
The G-Man: How much are you looking forward to seeing how people react to the new album in a live setting?
I'll be traveling this tour with a five piece band, all hand picked players and dear friends. We've really managed to bring the album alive, as well as rediscover some of my past work with The Felice Brothers and The Duke & The King. [I am] anxious to share this with everyone - we've been keeping it to ourselves too long.
It was recorded at a relatively leisurely place was it not?
Over a years time, starting directly after my open heart surgery and the birth of my daughter. A year of fear, pain, joy, and renewal...
A sound engineer friend of mine is mad into finding "the right mood" when recording. For example, he could drag you out of bed at 5am, when at your most vulnerable, to sing or play. Do you see method in this madness?
That's it. He's a wise man. It's all about the moment.
'You And I Belong' is the most upbeat song on the album by quite a bit. The track also features members of Mumford & Sons. Do you feel they helped raise the tempo or was it always set to be the "single"?
It just turned out that way actually. I wrote that song the day my daughter Pearl was born; It's about giving thanks for each breath, each new morning. The tempo was set from that moment, the beating of a quickened heart.
I love the repetition of 'You And I' throughout the lyrics of that song. I get a vision of two people - be they lovers or friends - holding hands, running around in their own bubble. It must be good fun to play live?
Yes sir! It's like a hillbilly rave!
And the video looked like it was great fun to make too?!
The director Toby [Stretch] is a genius, I give him most of the credit. He did a Radiohead video [for 'Weird Fishes'] I love and I'm blessed to have gotten the chance to work with him.
Is it ok if I ask you where the inspiration and idea for 'Courtney Love' came from?
I suppose I always viewed her as the black widow, the Yoko Ono of my generation, but now that I've gotten 20 years to experience the weird mazes of love myself I realize it was never fair to point a finger at her - that's the crow calling the raven black. We've all (at one time or another) had a bad way to love.
The new album is obviously your debut solo record. What do you feel when you see Simone Felice on posters and not The Duke & The King, The Felice Bros. etc.?
I suppose it makes me feel like a veteran, that I've been privileged to have been a part of these very special albums and outfits, and that, now, I can use this experience to tell my own story, to puzzle out the riddle of my heart.
You famously wrote in your memoir for The Guardian that when you were sick when you were 12 your "mother Patti wouldn’t let him in, kept him at the door with a look, a red palm held out, a string of words: ‘You can’t have him.’" That image nearly moves me to tears every time I read the words.
You have had some obstacles (to put it mildly) to vault in your 33 years on earth. When you have the support of a family that will slam the door on death/a priest (same supernatural power for an Irish family in the 80s) you have an impressive springboard to help you overcome these challenges don’t you?
Simply put: yes. Family is king, or queen in Patty's case.
Does a love like that only become slightly comprehensible when you become a parent yourself?
Absolutely. I never truly understood until i held pearl and she looked in my eyes.
Was there ever a feeling of "Jeez - why me?" when you found out you had developed aortic stenosis?
Yes- but just for a moment. Then I remembered my history, and all the myriad suffering on earth, and I just gave my self, body and soul, over to the big Indian in the sky; Do what you will, I am clay.
You have so much material to write about. More than a lifetime’s worth compared to most songwriters. Is it difficult to focus when you sit down to write?
Yes. Especially in this new pixelated world of 10 billion distractions.
Who is currently on tour as part of The Simone Felice Band and what can we expect from the live shows we are soon to witness?
Aurora Bangarth on Drums, guitar and chimes; Mathew Boulter on lap steel and mandolin; Simi on fiddle; Arthur on piano; me on drums and guitar, and all 5 singing our hearts out.
Thanks again Simone and congratulations on the birth of your little Pearl.
Gratitude, see you in the green land.
Irish tour dates:
April 20th - Cleere's (Kilkenny)
April 21st - Whelan's (Dublin)
April 22nd - Cyprus Avenue (Cork)
- Simone Felice Group play Whelan's (Dublin) on the 21st and Cyprus Avenue (Cork), Sunday, 22nd April
- Tickets, priced at €16.50 and €13.50 respectively, can be purchased via www.cyprusavenue.ie, www.whelanslive.com or from the venue
- Simone Felice's debut solo album 'Simone Felice' is available to buy from all good record stores or online here