JAMES FELICE is an extremely fast talker. Even as a resident of sleepy Upstate New York, he speaks fluidly and fervently with a bristled East Coast cadence that reeks of late nights and long winters. Much like the accordionist's conversational style, the Felice Brothers got their start in a more frenetic brand of American music.
Their 2008 self-titled album and 2009's Yonder Is the Clock are both packed with raucous swells of fiddle, billowing accordion, and whiskey yells, vaguely tethered to the hit of a hollow snare. They've toured the country with the likes of fellow rabble-rousers Old Crow Medicine Show and Dave Rawlings Machine, and walked in the shadows of their marketable backstory: just a few country boys who grew up near Woodstock, left with few options but to take their acquired tastes for Dylan and the Band, stumble out of Big Pink's encumbering shadow, and start busking in the big city's subway tunnels.
However, the Felice Brothers have actively sought refuge from those funny shackles of the past: "Sure, it's an interesting story, and it's still true in a lot of ways, but you can only read about it so many times," says James. "I think this most recent record was us trying to get away from that a bit."
And away they got. Celebration, Florida—named for a planned community near Orlando that's owned by the Disney Company, which makes it easily one of the most self-evidently terrifying places on the planet—was likely conceived in a lab that tests shampoos on Americana. Its beakers and flasks bubble with sound bites and liminal space. The rusting hearts of tinny, synthesized drumbeats fuel astral piano concertos, and there is very little mind paid to traditional song structure. "We had decided on the name of the album before we started recording, which was something we had never done before. And it was actually cool to have the name beforehand; it helped cultivate that bizarre, creepy vibe, as we indulged our whims," James says.
Most peculiarly, the song "Back in the Dancehalls" exhibits a veritable dubstep beat rubbing its reverberant elbows with the loneliest fiddle that's ever been bowed. And like the record, it tends to leave a slug trail of inquiry at the end, the listener left wondering if there was something more that they should understand, if there was something more profound to get. "People swung wildly with this one—some loved it, some hated it—and it was interesting to read so many divergent essays about the same piece of work. But honestly, people didn't get it because they didn't have to; we just wanted to make something that was different, that we liked," says James.
As with any active band, there is always speculation about the future. There has been some hint of new material, namely in the internet-based Poughkeepsie Princess EP. James describes it as a "haphazard, fly-by-the-seat of your pants" collection of songs the band had scattered around the floor of their van. "We've been on tour... forever. But we plan to spend the winter writing, and record in the spring. And who knows what that new record will sound like," he says, as he prepares to wield the acid tongue with which every Easterner is born. "It could just be 40 minutes of birds chirping."