Featherface: Getting In Each Other’s Business

In Interview, Music, Pop Culture, Pop Rock/Pop on September 10, 2011 at 6:30 pm

This interview was conducted by Monica Garza.

I had seen Featherface for the first time at Mangos in Downtown Houston with my best friend and colleague, Emily Vega. Right away, I knew I really vibed with their music and the passion they put into their show. I wanted to interview them and find out who they were as a band and as musicians. As luck would have it, they agreed and I was well on my way to conducting my first interview. We decided to meet at a Starbucks halfway between where I lived and where they lived. I must say, I was so nervous and flustered after having all of my recording devices fail on me, I took two or three wrong turns before arriving six minutes late. I walked into the coffee shop and found Kenny Hopkins and Steve Wells chilling on a couch as they enjoyed their caffeinated beverages.

So I would like you guys to introduce yourselves and say what you play.

Kenny Hopkins: My name is Kenny Hopkins. I play guitar and sing and sometimes play keyboard.

Stephen Wells: I’m Stephen Wells and I do exactly the same thing [laughs].

I wanted to start off with who or what inspired you to create music and to create this band.

KH: I’m not really sure. We’ve kind of just been playing music together since we were like, twelve or something. I don’t know. We were all friends in junior high and we just did. I don’t know. We just, we just wanted to…I guess we just liked Led Zeppelin and stuff like that and we were like, “Yeah, wanna be in a rock band!” [laughs] And we just tried to be and I guess just kept trying to be. We weren’t really that consistent about it until like about a year-

SW: -and a half ago.

KH: Yeah, yeah we decided, “Let’s make a band. An actual band.” And we’ve just been doing it ever since.

So, do you have any inspirational artists?

SW: Far too many.

At least name a couple.

SW: The Flaming Lips, Pink Floyd was a really big one, we used to play classic rock a lot so Queen…

KH: I’d say Beatles, Radiohead, I’m obsessed with Paul Simon lately…

SW: Too obsessed.

KH: [laughs] Like David Bowie, so many…

So what is music to you? Is it everything?

KH: It’s kind of become that way.

Is it work?

KH: I mean it is; we spend pretty much all of our free time doing it so I guess technically it is kind of work. But I don’t think we ever really see it that way. It’s what we want to do and we’re going to do what we enjoy. We don’t make any money out of it so…[laughs].

SW: We’ve been doing it so long, I just can’t imagine myself not doing it. It’s just really natural.

What do you think are the pros and cons of touring? I mean you’re in an alien place sometimes. Do you think the love of music creates a bridge between you as musicians and the people who are listening to you?

KH: Yeah, I think it absolutely does. I hadn’t really thought of it that much until we started playing around Houston a lot. I mean, all the shows that we go to are just gatherings of just really cool people, you know? And I just think it’s so cool that there’s a thing that people consistently go to just to hear bands play songs they wrote and have a good time. To me, I can’t imagine anything else that’s cooler than that. As far as the pros and cons of touring…we don’t really know yet…[they both laugh]. But we’re planning on it…we’re still in college right now. So, after this year, we’re planning on just going out and just trying it.

What college do you go to?

KH: I go to UH.

SW: I go to A&M.

What do you think makes for a great show? What makes you say, “Yes! This is awesome!” afterward?

SW: Definitely when we look out there and people are actually moving and physically into it. We played our first Austin show not too long ago and they were kind of more attentive and they stay back farther than Houston crowds. You could tell they were actually listening to it. There’s a different kind of appreciation than…in Houston everyone’s just going crazy. You know how it is. But I don’t know. There’s different kinds of feelings. I really like seeing people react to it.

KH: I agree. I’ve never really known anything about dance or anything, but when people are dancing that’s just the coolest! That’s so awesome! I don’t care if it’s because they’re really drunk or because they’re having a good night but if they’re dancing to whatever we’re playing, that’s really exciting.

That’s awesome. Well, I was reading a book by Neil Strauss, a famous interviewer and the title was “Everyone Loves You When You’re Dead” and it’s about musicians and artists and I was wondering if you agree with that statement? If you were to die at the peak of your fame would you feel that everyone would love you?

KH: Yeah, we were just talking about this the other day. We were listening to this guy called Nick Drake and he only made like 3 albums and he died when he was like 24? Something like that. And we were just saying how cool it is that we’re sitting around a laptop listening to him and it’s like 40 years later or whatever…I can’t do math…[both laugh] but it’s 40 years later or whatever and like-

SW: -he was never famous or got any recognition for his music-

KH: -while he was alive. And he lives on through his music. I think that’s absolutely true. I mean, I’m not going to say that that’s going to happen to us [they laugh] because that would be pretentious. But I don’t know. I feel like any form of art is kind of the way to live longer than you actually live.

Do you have any emotions that you want other people to feel through your music or are the songs really just for your own expression? Do you want other people to feel what you’re feeling?

SW: Um, I guess the last set of songs that we wrote were fueled by depression, at least for me. I don’t really wish that on anyone. We’re working on new songs now and we have a theme we’re going with, a central emotion. I definitely want to give people that. I don’t know, that’s a good question.

KH: Yeah, that’s a tough one. I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately too and I listen to a lot of just depressing music but it makes me happy, I guess. I don’t know why that is. I don’t really know how music corresponds to emotions but I figure if we put everything we have into it and emotions we’re feeling and we try to make the song have some kind of purpose, I feel that whatever people get out of it is important.

Speaking of emotions in music, do you feel like there could ever be a perfect album? At least for yourself? Like if you were to make an album, do you feel it could ever be perfect for yourself?

KH: No [laughs]. I don’t think so.

SW: Perfect for myself…an album that I’ve made?


SW: I don’t know. From what I’ve heard, after you’ve made a really good album, people don’t like it at all because they’ve listened to it so many times and… “beaten it to death” kind of. I don’t think…I’m really hard on us so I always find little things that I want to change. I think, no for me.

KH: No for me too. I can’t imagine…I mean, there’s a lot of perfect albums but I don’t think I’ll… even if by some chance we did make one, I don’t think I’d recognize it as perfect.

So you do feel like other artists can make perfect albums?

KH: I think so. They’re perfect to me, you know? It might be the same thing. It might not be perfect to them, but it’s perfect to me.

So what’s your perfect album?

KH: Oooh. That’s…ouch. My first response to this is Abbey Road, I think. I think it’s timeless. I don’t think anyone will ever like… Even though it does have the song “Octopus’ Garden” [everyone laughs], it’s still a perfect album.

SW: That’s a-

KH: It’s a great song!

It is a great song!

KH: I know! But like…yeah. [To Steve] What about you?

SW: [laughs] That’s such a hard question. Off the bat, I was just thinking like, OK Computer.

KH: Yeah, that’s what I was going to say too. Radiohead.

SW: I’ll have to think about that one.

Okay. So while, you’re recording or playing a show, do you ever find yourself losing your cool?

SW: At each other?

Yes, or someone else.

SW: Yeah.

KH: Yeah. We get…we get frustrated with each other. We’re all best friends with each other anyway. I mean, these are like my only friends so we’re like brothers. We always argue and stuff but we’re never mean about, you know, what someone’s doing. Like, “Play better!” But there’s definitely a lot of like…we get too excited about it or defensive about certain parts of it. We try not to get frustrated by what each others doing, trying to just learn from each other. It does get pretty frustrating sometimes. Especially when you’re spending a lot of time…we recorded our last thing in a little cramped storage unit. That’s where we practiced and set up our recording stuff and it was this horrible little metal room. It didn’t have air conditioning and it was the summer and it was just horrible and there was a lot of us yelling and stuff. But I don’t think there’s any bad emotions with us making music ever.

Oh man. So why do you choose to play music in the style that you do as opposed to something totally different?

SW: I don’t think it was really a choice for us. It kind of just…all of the music we’ve listened to over the years kind of brought us to a point that we could develop- well, we really didn’t develop it, it just kind of came out and we happened to like how it sounded. I don’t think we tried to actively sound like other bands or imitate other people. I like the way it’s coming out.

KH: Yeah, I’d say that’s our main goal is to not be like, “Let’s make a song that sounds like this,” but to make whatever we think is really good. And hopefully it will come out as something original. I think just all the music we’ve listened to, like he said, all the music we’ve listened to throughout our lives has kind of culminated into this weird mash-up of things. I don’t know, I mean, I’m way too into Black Sabbath and then I listen to Mastadon too much and then we’ll listen to like Shoegaze-

SW: -and folk.

KH: Yeah and folk and all of this stuff. I would say we definitely didn’t make a conscious choice of like what type of music we wanted to make. We knew we wanted to play something that was fun, you know? Fun to watch and fun to listen to but in the end you’d get something out of it. That’s a tough one [laughs].

How do you think you’ve grown from one album to another?

SW: I would have to say that the last album were kind of ideas that- We’ve had a lot more time to think about the songs we’re writing now I think, than the songs that were on the last EP. I think this next album is going to be really well thought out and we’re taking our time and working really hard on it. I guess it just taught me that I have to be more accurate about exactly what I’m doing and not just like, playing something and saying, “That sounds really good,” instead of the whole piece fitting together.

KH: I’d say we’re also paying attention to each other’s parts more. We’ll stop mid-song and be like, “Try this on drums,” or whatever. We’re all kind of…getting in each other’s…business. I don’t know what I’m trying to say. Don’t- Try- That’s a horrible- Don’t put that in there! [laughs]

That’s definitely going in there.

KH: Quote!

SW: In the headline [laughs].

KH: “Featherface: Getting In Each Other’s Business!” Nah, I think we want to be really conscious about everything in the album instead of just, like he said, just jamming along to each other. We want everything to be very intentional.

So what is your favorite song off of the album to play live?

KH: I choose “A Youthful Offender” because I get to scream a lot and it’s fast. I like the contrast between that and our other songs. I think we are more kind of subtle usually. I like being really abrasive sometimes [laughs]. So that’s my choice.

SW: I guess “Thinning The Air [Around Them]”. We don’t play it that much because it’s really hard to play. But I like music that has primal freak-outs to it. I like doing that a lot and that song has a few parts in it that…I don’t know what the word is…

KH: We wanna be-

SW: -extreme.

KH: [laughs] Yeah. Extreme. Like over the top.

SW: Over the top, there you go.

I know my friend asked you this at a show, but, for the record, how did you come up with the name Featherface?

SW: Okay [laughs], our story currently goes along the lines of I had a dream one night that I was in a room full of these feather fans. Kind of like a flapper-era sort of thing. They hated that name and we started talking about that and watching “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and the two sort of went together. Feather fans, leather face, Featherface. That’s kind of a rough-

KH: We’d figure it’d be kind of funny to- ’cause we’re making pop music- we thought it’d be kind of funny to be like, “Let’s be called something that’s similar to leather face but instead of leather, it’s feather,” ’cause we’re not as manly- we’re not cool enough to be called ‘Leatherface’. Also, it’s a band already. Yeah, we kind of just-

SW: -came up with it.

KH: It’s not that significant.

SW: It’s not significant at all [everyone laughs].

KH: We can’t pretend it’s like some meaningful thing. We just kind of liked it.

What are your plans for the future? Do you have a new album coming out?

KH: Yeah, we actually just spent a week kind of locked in a house just writing stuff. I think we have a pretty good amount of songs how we want them. We’re going to start recording really soon. We’re definitely working really hard on the new album. We’re going to start playing out of town more. We’re playing in New Orleans and Baton Rouge this weekend so we’re really excited about that. We haven’t played out of town much. Yeah, right now we’re just trying to get stuff set up so that as soon as we can, we can just take off and go play small shows until we want to stop. I don’t think we’ll ever want to stop. We don’t really have much of a plan except for “try really hard” and “hope for the best”.

That’s a good of a plan as any. So who’s the lyricist or do you all pitch in?

KH: It’s really the two of us. I’d say we kind of come up with more personal lyrics for our song and we just try to exchange our ideas and collaborate as much as we can. So lyrically it’s the two of us and musically it’s all four of us.

Do you find it easier to write music while you’re alone or with other people?

SW: I usually just write alone late at night because I can’t sleep ever so I’m always up late at night and it just comes out when I’m feeling tired. We usually have not-completely-thought-out songs that we write alone and then we come together, the four of us, and it becomes what it’s supposed to be.

KH: I agree with all of that.

Where would you want to see your band going? Would you ever want to be signed to a record label?

KH: We’ve kind of talked about that. Because we talk [laughs]. No, but seriously, we think it’s really cool that now in modern day, you can just make music and put it out yourself and promote it yourself because of technology. Obviously, we would probably be like, “Hell yeah!” if some awesome record label wanted us. But as far as we’re concerned, if we’re making music we like and we’re getting shows we want to play, that’s all that matters to us. Our only real dream is playing music festivals, like BIG music festivals. That just seems like the greatest thing on the planet to us. I would say that’s our goal. But yeah, anything that can keep us playing the music we want to play and for more people would be great.

So what would you say to your fans right now?

KH: Where are you!

[everyone laughs]

KH: Just kidding. I don’t know, I mean, the few people that do support us are really awesome about it and it’s not easy to go to shows in Houston because everyone is so spread out, traffic sucks, and people don’t have a lot of money. We’re just really grateful if anyone goes to our shows. Like if anyone shows up to our show and says, “Oh, yeah! We saw you before and we came to this show!” We’re like, “OH MY GOD! That’s the coolest thing that’s ever happened!” So, thank you to anyone who has ever supported us in any way or even just downloaded our music for free, given us positive feedback.

SW: It’s a really great feeling. People that go to a show and come back to another show…there’s nothing like it. It’s really strange when people support you when you’re doing something that you love. It’s very strange.

KH: We’ve always been very cynical about it as far as like, “There’s no one that’s going to pay attention to this” because obviously there’s like a bajillion bands in the world. A few people paying attention to us, for us, is like good enough.

So if you were to play with another band or another artist, what would your dream concert be?

SW: A dream artist?


KH: [To Steve] Don’t say Kimbra.

SW: [laughs] I was…

KH: There is this girl from…[To Steve] New Zealand?

SW: Yeah.

KH: Her name’s Kimbra and she’s like pop, kind of soul-pop and she’s blowing up right now and he’s just in love with her.

SW: She’s great!

KH: It’s ’cause she’s great but-

SW: She IS great! She’s a great singer!

KH: I have to just say The Flaming Lips ’cause as long as we’re dreaming, we might as well dream big.

SW: Yeah!

KH: That was like, the coolest show we’ve ever been to. We went and saw them for Summer Fest last year and we were just up front having our minds blown thinking, “This is the coolest thing that people can do on a stage for other people.” So…I would say them.

SW: Yeah.

KH: Or the resurrected Beatles.

Zombie Beatles.

KH: That’s dreaming too big, probably. Zombie Beatles…that sounds amazing actually. I change my vote to the Zombie Beatles.

SW: I guess I’d agree with you! I mean, I can’t argue with that.

And so we ended our interview with the Zombie Beatles. I was incredibly nervous at first but when people who love music are in a place where they can simply talk about music, it’s hard to be all nerves for too long.

Want to know more about Featherface?

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