FROM THE MOMENT the first foreboding notes of "Juarez Wedding" rumble through on Federale's third full-length album, The Blood Flowed Like Wine, it's clear that the band has decided to bulk up their arsenal.
The largely instrumental crew, helmed by bandleader Collin Hegna, admittedly tried to emulate the classic scores of Ennio Morricone on their debut album, La Rayar. And on their second album, 2009's Devil in a Boot, they continued to refine their approach to spaghetti-western music, conceptually acting as composers of scores to films that only exist inside their heads. But, as Hegna points out, when it came time to begin work on the group's third LP two years ago, there were fears within the band of coming across as a one-trick desert-western pony.
"We reached the point where if we did it again, people were gonna say we're just repeating ourselves," explains Hegna.
The Portland collective previously placed a lot of emphasis on the traditional instrumentation that's come to signify spaghetti-western soundtracks—nylon-stringed guitars, whistling reverb-y guitars, and soprano melodies—but with The Blood Flowed Like Wine, Federale has expanded to include strings, horns, and a much richer, more orchestral foundation. Rounded out with performances by Portland's 45th Parallel Ensemble, plus flute, French horn, and oboe by members of the Oregon Symphony, as well as pedal steel by way of Richmond Fontaine's Paul Brainard, Federale's heavy textures are given a booster shot.
To boot, the band strayed from their typically vocal-less regimen to include guest singers like Alex Maas of the Black Angels and KP Thomas of Spindrift. Those contributions forced Federale to step back from the strictly instrumental soundscapes they'd used to convey emotional turmoil, triumph, and hope, giving the album's story a somewhat literal interpretation through vocals. The tracks featuring Maas and Thomas, then, are marked changes for Federale.
"It's strange to think of 'branching into' normal rock music," jokes Hegna, "but for us, it was a departure."
The story arc for The Blood Flowed Like Wine, says Hegna, is just as important to the core of the album as in past releases. There is, however, no libretto to explain the plot, no narrative device to ease the theme into the listener's head.
"On our first couple records, I think we allowed the music to take a backseat to the story," says Hegna. "On this one, I thought it would be best to let the music be in the forefront."
Not surprisingly, Federale's affection for film music has generated interest from actual filmmakers and production companies. The band is contributing existing material, alongside custom score pieces, to a film due out in summer 2013 called A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, an Iranian vampire flick that was recently picked up by Elijah Wood's new horror film company, the Woodshed. Additionally, the band had demoed a title piece for Quentin Tarantino's new film Django Unchained, titled "Django" and sung by Thomas. While that project didn't pan out for the band—the song did make it onto The Blood Flowed Like Wine—their artistic growth during the last three years certainly has.
"Now that we've gone through the process of making this album, we're better equipped to expand upon what we do," says Hegna. "I'd like to go into a full-on orchestral score with a rock band backing it up."
With one caveat:
"I'll never get rid of the reverb guitar."