James Felice of the Felice Brothers: I Drive An Ambulance And Comparisons To Bob Dylan Are Uninsightful

Somewhere on the road between 2009's Yonder is the Clock and Celebration, Florida released this spring, the Felice Brothers took a turn from the browned dusty road they've traveled since 2005 and walked toward the flashing lights of an electric big city. Their new album has keyboards very much in the foreground, as opposed to the bare-boned, yet beautiful previous released. The result is totally unexpected.

We spoke to James Felice (accordion, organ, piano, vocals) before they headed in to Orange County, Calif. for the first time (he grew up in Orange County, NY). We chatted about their new album which has a picture of a six-or-seven-year-old Ian Felice (vocals, guitar) in a fantastic purple leotard doing the splits.

OC Weekly: What is the signifigance of the city Celebration, FL?
James Felice:
It was the inspiration for the whole album. It's owned by Disney and they designed it in the '50s to be the perfect town. It's a really interesting concept.

Will you put the album in context for us in relation to your previous releases?
It's definitely different. We approached this album in a completely new way. It was designed to sound the way it does. Our older albums were bare. They were products of having limited means. Now we have more time and money–well, maybe not more money– but more time in the studio to experiment.

It's interesting that you boys got your start playing in the New York City subway. Old Crow Medicine Show got discovered playing on the streets also. Now your bands play together and you're on tour with Gill Landry right now.
Yeah, I would say we're definitely kindred spirits. They were one of our inspirations. They started off playing subways just like us and it's nice to know that sort of thing's a possibility. Actually, I think our first few songs were covers of Old Crow Medicine Show songs.

It's hard to find an article without someone comparing Ian's voice to Bob Dylan. What do you think of that?
I think it's a very reactionary and uninsightful comment. I understand why people would because it kind of does but it makes it seem like those people don't care. I know journalists only have a limited time to hear a bunch of bands but it feels lazy. Then again, it's kind of flattering to be compared to him.

Where did the idea to “go electric,” so to speak, come from?

I don't know exactly. It comes gradually. Little by little we changed things. I think on the road we were listening to too much Radiohead. We were just tired of making the same kind of record.

What's it like playing the accordion? It seems like a really tough instrument–it's really heavy.
My friend let me borrow it. It was her grandpa's. I couldn't even play it when the band first started. I still really can't–I mean, I've only been playing it for five years. But you're right. It is a tough instrument and it's very heavy. I taught myself.

What do you do for fun when you're not out on the road or in the studio?
I do a lot of bike riding and hiking. We live out in the woods so… I also drive an ambulance back home as a volunteer.

What are some of the stories or themes you explore in Celebration, Florida?
There are so many. Every song is it's own story. There's nursery rhymes, legends… We were watching a bunch of David Lynch movies. “Ponzi” is probably my favorite song. It's a very angry song and it's all over the place.

Felice Brothers with Gil Landry (Old Crow Medicine Show) perform Saturday at Detroit Bar, 843 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa (949) 642-0600; www.detroitbar.com. 9 p.m. $15. 21+.

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