An Elegy: Felsen’s Beginnings Were Narrowly Avoided Tragedy
Most bands form when a couple of college friends realize they all play guitar and just have a few ideas they want to jam out. Oakland-based indie group Felsen–who will be playing at Johnny B’s on Sat., July 22–was formed under very different circumstances, circumstances that can be heard in their varied and self-reflective take on indie-rock. But we’ll let guitarist and songwriter Andrew Griffin explain it.
RVM: How did you all get together?
AG: I’ve been playing drums since I was a kid, playing in bands since I was 13. At some point along the way, I picked up the guitar and began songwriting. I made a few valiant attempts to be the songwriting drummer, but always with someone else singing the words I wrote. That didn’t really pan out, so I just continued drumming. The drumming life was good to me. I toured all over the US with lots of great bands and even went to Europe a few times.…And then out of nowhere, I got sick and diagnosed with cancer. My wife and I were expecting our son at this time. My musical career came to a screeching halt for about a year. My diagnosis went from bad to pretty grave. I had a few surgeries, chemo, radiation the whole thing. Recuperating from yet another surgery, I began what would be the first Felsen album, Accidental Drowning. I started out with the idea to record a few of the tunes I wrote over the years to potentially leave behind for my son as my health situation was dodgy at that time. A few months into this, I began writing about what I’d been through: life and death; specifically my son’s arrival and maybe my departure! Yikes. I still was under the impression that I’d get someone else, or maybe different singers to sing the tunes, but at some point I realized I had to sing it. The tunes were too personal. I learned to sing a bit. Trial and error, mostly error. Slowly my health improved. I met some people who had recently started a new indie record label in Berkeley who liked my music. They offered to help me make a second album (felsenlovesyou) and encouraged me to put a band together where I was the singer and frontman—a fun new and challenging twist on life. I’ve been doing Felsen now for about eight years.
RVM: Your last album was in 2013. What have you been up to since then?
AG: We have a new album that is completed and it goes off to the printers today! It’ll be Felsen’s first vinyl LP, Blood Orange Moon. I worked on it for two years–twice as long as any previous Felsen album…. It’s definitely a bit of a departure from previous Felsen albums. On the whole, this one is mellower and quieter and often the tunes are much longer and more expansive. I guess I was holding onto the idea that Felsen would someday, somehow get a song on the radio and had been making what I believed were radio-friendly albums (to the best of my ability). I guess I’ve abandoned that idea entirely this time around and just made an album that I enjoy listening to. So…lots of 6 minute tunes this time.
RVM: Felsen has largely taken a DIY path. How has the DIY world in your hometown of Oakland changed since the tragic fire at Oakland DIY venue Ghost Ship last year?
AG: That one really hurt the Bay Area, the East Bay in particular.…The tech boom has flooded the bay area with many, many people willing to outbid each other on housing forcing artists to live in insane conditions, or even out on the streets. I think that’s why there was the tragedy of the Ghost Ship…I think people are way more cautious about the more willy-nilly pop up, DIY type of venues post Ghost Ship.
RVM: Will this be your first time playing in Southern Oregon? Any thoughts or expectations?
AG: This will be our first time in Medford, but we’ve had many great shows in Portland and Eugene over the years. I love Oregon in general. I just love to travel and meet new people and see new things. Felsen is a bunch of foodies too. We look forward to trying out new diners for breakfast and drinking some strong coffee. Wired on coffee, we’ll rock extra hard for you.
9 pm, Sat., July 22
Johnny B’s, 120 E. Sixth St., Medford