Ian Felice was with The Felice Brothers for over a decade, during which time the band released a prolific 9 albums, but now he’s giving it a go alone. In The Kingdom of Dreams is his debut solo album, and he’s currently touring it in the UK. He’ll play the Brudenell Social Club on the 30th of November, which will be the last of his 8-date UK tour before he returns to America to perform the album there.
I caught up with him just after his first show in Manchester – it went well, he told me. It had helped that he “remembered how to play all the songs more or less.”
Despite touring solo, Ian hasn’t left The Felice Brothers for good – his brother Simone produced the album, while original band members James Felice and Josh Rawson also contributed to the music – keys and bass respectively. The album is itself firmly rooted in Ian’s family history: it was recorded in his childhood home of Palenville, New York. With these connections to America, it’s a little surprising that Ian’s touring his album first in the UK. He sheds some light on this thought when he mentions that UK audiences are “more quiet and present.” Touring solo has also been a reflective experience for Ian, who describes it as so far “subdued, contemplative.”
The Felice Brothers endured constant comparisons with Bob Dylan from reviewers over their 12 years of song-writing, and it’s still difficult not to note the obvious resemblance. To get myself out of the trap, I asked Ian to describe his sound for any new listeners. In case you were wondering, it’s “like a dog baying at the moon.” You get a glimpse here of Ian’s poetic lyric-writing ability. Alongside the album, Ian published a book of poems called Hotel Swampland. I ask how similar the processes of song-writing and poetry are. “It’s a little different,” Ian explains, “Song lyrics, if I’m lucky, just come without really thinking about them, just through the process of singing and realising a melody. There is more analytical thinking with the poems.”
It’s a folksy, blues, acoustic collection of songs that in part explores, as you might have guessed by its title, dreams. Ian’s interested in how dreams blur with reality, and how this informs the memories that we have. The album art is dark and distorted, both dreamy and nightmarish – it’s Albert Pinkham Ryder’s “Death on a Pale Horse”, a choice that Ian says “just made sense” for him.
When I ask about the connection between Ian’s dreams and the album, he tells me that “the dreamy quality of the record comes partly from a reluctance to face reality at the present. Sometimes it’s too much for me.” I wonder if the process of creating the album was an escape from this reality that Ian didn’t want to face. On this idea, Ian acknowledges that “it comes from the need for being absorbed or obsessed with creating something, so that reality becomes less important than the world of the album for a short time,” but he avoids getting overly psychoanalytical on the topic.
The lyrics of the album are very intimate. They explore some darker childhood memories, such as in In Memoriam, when Ian worries about becoming like his father. Ian describes how, “moving through the stages of life, different things gain or lose importance in my mind. During the writing I was reflecting a lot on personal connections to people or places from my past.” Does, perhaps, the blurring of reality and dreams in the album help to add a bit of a barrier between these very personal experiences and the public eye? Ian agrees that “that’s part of it, but not merely for the sake of disguise. There has to be some transformation and removal for me to look at things lucidly, or to try to turn experiences into songs.”
Yes, Ian explains, “some of the songs on the record deal with personal memories, [but] some not.” Indeed, there are varying and numerous themes on the album as a whole. There’s a political aspect, as in 21stCentury when Ian sings about aliens landing on Election Day. I ask Ian about the impact of the US 2016 election on his song-writing. Understandably, it made it more difficult to write anything very merry. “I’ve written a lot of nightmarish songs starring Trump. I want to write uplifting songs about the power of love and goodness persevering in the face of psychopathic corporate tyranny, but I’m having a hard time realising that emotion at present.”
Despite the present of modern life, the new album does have tones of optimism. Signs of Spring is a beautiful, instrumental track, on which Ian sings “You are the wild rose that grows between the graves,” and pines for the end ‘of a seven year rain’. There seems to be a sense of hope for the future, the same sense I get when I ask Ian what advice he would give his younger self – “Lighten up; everything will be fine.”
Everything will be fine.
Ian Felice plays at The Brudenell Social Club November 30th. To find tickets visit: ianfelice.com
Miranda writes for Leeds Living about contemporary music in Leeds.