Feral Conservatives: “We write sad songs and singalongs”

Rarely do you think of “mandolin-based” bands as being reminiscent of the heroes and heroines of 120 Minutes… but that’s exactly what Virginia Beach’s Feral Conservatives are.  The trio;...

Rarely do you think of “mandolin-based” bands as being reminiscent of the heroes and heroines of 120 Minutes… but that’s exactly what Virginia Beach’s Feral Conservatives are.  The trio; comprised of Rashie Rosenfarb on mandolin/vocals; Matt Francis on drums, pedal noise, and feedback; and Dan Avant on bass; kick out indie rock jams along the lines of the best jangle-pop, alt country, and college rock bands that would have supported Sonic Youth in the late 80’s and early 90’s.  Although they’ve drawn comparisons to Alanis, The Cranberries, and Sixpence None the Richer, their actual sound is quite a bit more credibly badass, sonically unhinged, and poignantly existential.  Their second LP, Here’s to Almost, drops January 22nd on EggHunt Records, and they’re playing at our very own Bourbon & Branch on January 24th.  I recently got a chance to chat with Rashie Rosenfarb and Matt Francis about the roots of the not-quite-“roots” band, who tell me that they’re actually quite fans of Philadelphia.

Izzy Cihak: Since this is a Philadelphia publication, I have to ask your thoughts on the city.  I know you’ve played here a few times now.

Rashie Rosenfarb: Philly has always been good to us. We’ve had great responses so far. Our last show we played up there was at Kung Fu Necktie and it was great to see that most of the people came out just to hear the music and were actually engaged in listening to the bands. As a side note, we always make it a point to go to Black Bird Pizza while we’re there!

Matt Francis: I’m all about the city-wide (cheap beer + cheap whiskey)… but it has made for some sloppy shows.

Izzy: This band is still relatively new, entering your fifth year.  Is there anything you think is especially important for fans and potential fans to know about you as a band, your process of creating music, or your aim as artists?

Matt: We write sad songs and singalongs and we also look to engage the visual aspects of music where we can, as we’ve always been really deliberate that way. We have some new music videos for the album coming out and that is one of my favorite aspects personally, as a visual artist. We’re always looking to connect with new people through the music. We have a silly name but we are entirely apolitical in our music, however we definitely support love and equality in our lives, music, and any applicable legislation.

Izzy: What have been some of the highlights of the band for you so far?

Rashie: Getting to go on tour this past year in January and October. We played at this awesome venue in DC called The Rock and Roll Hotel. It’s a venue we’ve gone to see national acts play so it was kind of surreal for me to get to walk on that stage and play a show of our own there. That feeling you get when those bright lights hit your face is unlike any other. Also the response and support we’ve had gearing up for this next release has been overwhelming and we’ve been really grateful as well as excited to put it out into the world.

Matt: Yeah definitely touring… I love how it’s this totally bi-polar microcosm of everything that is great and shitty about being in a band. Great venues and bad… good turn outs and empty rooms… fast friends and swindlers. Throw it all our way!

Izzy: You’re about to release you’re Here’s to Almost LP.  How do you feel like it compares to previous releases?

Rashie: I treat my songwriting like it’s a diary for others to read and so my songs are mostly about something I’m going through at the time. Whether it’s me writing about missing my sister who lives over 10,000 miles away in Australia or a rough patch within a relationship — all the way to events that happened years ago that still seem to creep into my thoughts from time to time. I draw a lot from emotion and it’s a big influence for me on where a song may take me. With emotion there’s a lot of ups and downs and I think you can hear that in our music.

Matt: I think the live show really informed the writing and performances on this album. We toured off the first LP and that really helped craft our sound and personality, doing the super charged-mandolin-big Muff in seedy bars up the East Coast. We kind of went from an electric roots band that listens to too much R.E.M. to a folk band that woke up with amnesia in a Seattle basement and had to out-garage other rock bands to save our lives… that still listen to too much R.E.M.

Izzy: What were the most significant influences behind the new album?

Rashie: I feel like we’ve come into our sound since our first release and you can really hear it in this new album. We love to play with dualities – be it aggressive noise vs soft, delicate melodies and how they play and interact with each other from song to song or even within a song. We’ve also added an official third member: Dan joined on bass this past April and he’s brought his own flare to the music in a great way. I think we’re stronger writers than we were starting out and the music is a little richer and has more layers then the first album.

Matt: Leaving a church and losing friends from a pastor’s betrayal was a significant personal event that went into this one. This album overall seems a little more existential, more man vs. self (or woman vs. self) than the first album that was more about external relationships.

Izzy: I’m curious who your actual favorite musical artists are, as your own sound seems to draw a lot of pretty specific comparisons. Also, has anyone ever compared you to Belly?  Your new album totally reminds me of them.  (Their debut was like one of my favorite albums of childhood.  Unfortunately, I saw Tanya at The Black Cat like 15 years ago and she turned out to be totally mean and uncool… I guess that’s like the, “Don’t meet your heroines” thing. The show was amazing though.)

Rashie: We have a love for the 80’s college rock scene and 90’s indie rock. Yes! We love Belly and everything Tanya Donelly has done — she has some really great solo albums, especially Love Songs for Underdogs, put out after Belly split. She’s a big influence for us, as well as bands like Superchunk, Teenage Fanclub, The Replacements, and The Sundays. That’s too bad about Tanya. We had the pleasure of meeting Mac from Superchunk recently and he was one of the nicest musicians I’ve had the pleasure of talking to.

Izzy: You’re going to be playing here very soon, on January 24th, at Bourbon & Branch.  What can be expected of the live experience? (I apologize, but I’m going to have to miss it, as my favorite band, Those Darlins, are playing their last Philly show ever that same night.)

Matt: No worries, we’ll definitely be back! I’d sum up the FC live show as high octane with pretty vocals — keep it loose, spilling beer, mostly the rock numbers and a bit of our folky soul. Also, the lineup for that night is stellar. Definitely check out Resilient and The Good Mess! Make sure to buy the awkward looking drummer a city-wide.

Izzy: Finally, what are you most excited for in 2016?  What are your most significant hopes and plans for the band?  I’m hoping there’s some more touring in the works, as I really wanna catch the live show eventually.

Rashie: Looking forward from here I’m so excited to release the album and we plan to tour off it for most of the year. We want to get to the point where we’re touring for longer stretches and just promoting ourselves and building our following. Matt films all our music videos and has plans to put out some new ones for the new album, so be on the lookout!

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During the day Izzy Cihak teaches transgression, subversion, and revolution at Temple University. At night he haunts Philthy's best venues to cover worthwhile acts for Philthy Mag. Morrissey is everything to him and, in their own heads, all of his friends see themselves as Zooey Deschanel.