The Features, presented by Penguin 98.3
Fri., May 17th • 8:30 p.m.
255 N. Front St.
$8-13 • soapboxlaundrolounge.com
The Nashville-based indie-rock act The Features must be feeling a bit of liberation this week. After all, they just released their fourth full-length, a self-titled album, on May 14th. Yet, they finished recording the project one week before the release of record number three, 2011’s “Wilderness.” Created in the two months before their fans even got a hold of the third album, “The Features” is a bold move. With the backing of Kings of Leon’s label, Serpents and Snakes, and some gigs with the “Twilight” series and Ford, this band’s likely doing something right.
Matt Pelham (vocals, guitar) and bassist Roger Dabbs started the band in middle-school in Sparta, Tennessee. With a population of less than 5,000, the town left little for the eighth graders to do except cover classics by artists like Neil Young and Guns ‘N Roses. It was enough to spawn the meticulous and methodical rock The Features procure today.
The group is rounded out by drummer Rolum Haas, who joined in the ‘90s, and keyboardist Mark Bond, who teamed with the band in the early aughts. Together they bring about an amalgamation of mid-century pop and rock, with a bit of new wave and Krautrock thrown in, too.
This sound is portrayed in the first 30 seconds of “The Features,” during the intro for “Rotten.” The instrumentals seem a blend of Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away” and Buddy Holly. Pelham’s introspective vocals creep in to create a breathy ballad—but at about 1:40, the song revs up with beautiful intensity as Pelham begs, “When did I lose my youth?”
As the record continues, “Tenderly” brings listeners into today’s alt-rock and indie with dynamic beats and catchy riffs, rolling into the drum-heavy track “This Disorder.” Such emotionalism combined with fastidious rock ‘n’ roll is likely why The Features were selected to appear on the soundtrack for “Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 1.” Pelham’s dreamy vocals don’t hurt. Probably an unintentional influence, given Pelham’s middle-school start, a likeness to Kings of Leon’s Caleb Followill can be heard. Meanwhile, the effervescent fun of “How it Starts” personifies the 2013 Ford Mustang in a pretty captivating commercial. (You know, the “inner Mustang” theme where the little ballerina sees herself with black wings—YouTube it.)
encore had a chance to chat with The Features’ drummer before their stop in Wilmington this Friday, May 17th. One thing we learned: Pokémon still is pretty rad.
encore (e): You guys completed “The Features” before “Wilderness” was released. It could be risky, as a lot can change for a band in two years’ time, and you didn’t have the public’s full response to “Wilderness” yet. Would you guys record another album so quickly again?
Rollum Haas (RH): For better or for worse, we’re not swayed by the response of fans, press, friends, family, or drunk strangers getting in our faces, shaking their fists and yelling, “The drums are too loud!” I’d be happy to record another album that quickly. We have a history of making poor and trivial decisions when we have time to over-analyze our recordings.
e: What was the impetus to self-title your fourth full-length?
RH: It probably appears to be a grand mission/manifesto/statement about our reinvention or some horse shit like that. It’s really that Matt drew the cover without a title and going self-titled seemed easier than taking the time to figure out and agree on one.
e: You’ve received a lot of support from pop culture. Did you see a measurable boost in fans or positive response after being featured in “Twilight” and the Mustang commercial?
RH: It’s hard to say for sure, but I don’t think it hurt. If you read the YouTube comments for “How It Starts,” comments range from, “Ford Mustang!”; “Chevy Sucks”; “I have a picture on my Mustang of Calvin peeing on the Chevy logo!”; “Taco Bell!…Doritos tacos rule!” to “They sound like The Black Keys”; “They’ve been around longer than The Black Keys….You don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about”; “They’re so much better looking than The Black Keys.”
e: That said, “Twilight” tends to be the butt of a lot of jokes for anyone who’s not a 14-year-old girl, despite having pretty awesome soundtracks throughout the series (Muse, Iron and Wine, Paramore). Did you guys watch the film?
RH: I’m not one of those people that gets into poking fun at things kids like (Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, Pokémon [brilliant show], etc.). That being said I didn’t watch the film. I heard it was used in a sexy chess match which seems appropriate given that we’re handsome men of intellect.
e: When watching the Grammys this year, as fun. accepted Best New Artist, Nate Ruess mentioned the band is 12 years old: hardly new. The Features reminds me of that moment—deserving of widespread acknowledgment but it’s taken some time. (Well, is it fair when the band started in middle school?) Do you think this may be the record to catapult you—or, do you guys kind of feel it’s neither here nor there?
RH: Both, kind of … I hope. We haven’t gotten bored. I think by nature of the way we work that’s impossible. We never over-rehearse, and when we do there’s always an emphasis put on new songs.
e: What stops on this tour are you most looking forward to making?
RH: The stop where the van pulls up to my house, I unload my luggage, see my wife, get on my bike for a long ride, and smell something other than body odor and pee.
e: Fair enough.