10 Questions with Featherscale

1. What is the origin of Featherscale?

(Mike) As far as the name, it’s from Egyptian mythology- Book of the Dead, Maat, a heart and a feather… Go look it up. It’s some neat stuff. I’m not really sure exactly where I lost control of things, but it started off as a solo project- Topaz Stars in a Violet Sky, recorded for the RPM Challenge.

(Tim) I thought the album was great. Made me miss playing music. Mike and I played together off and on for 14, 15 years? A lot of open mics, but never pulled together a long-term project. We played a lot of covers and drinking tunes. We lived together for a couple of years when I was a student, and Mike was punching the clock doing retail.

(Amber) A little over two years ago, Mike posted on Facebook that he was looking for a drummer to expand his musical compositions a bit. Partly in jest, I wrote him back. I hadn’t played out in many years and was very rusty. I remember how nervous I was the first night we got together; I kept dropping my sticks! (wait, ok, I STILL do that!). It was only a short few rehearsals that we really clicked, musically, intellectually, spiritually. If he wasn’t married to a dear friend of mine, and well, if I wasn’t … ummm … let’s just say we work well together.

(Tim) This spring, at Pagan Odyssey, I got a chance to meet this Drummergrrl that Mike had been raving about. Most of the jokes and grief we were giving each other are unrepeatable, and would probably land us in jail in most southern states, but we were all shitfaced around the campsite that first night and I was borrowing guitars to jam a bit with them and a bunch of other friends. Amber, at some point, asked me why I was wasn’t playing anymore, and I realized that the perception that I didn’t have the time was basically bullshit. So, it got me thinking. The next day, they played their gig for the fest, and I was impressed that they made it work as a duo. He was leaning heavily on is loop pedal in order to fill out the sound and it was breaking up the pace of the performance in places. By the end of the set, I basically had decided that I was going to crowbar my way into the band. I’m a jerk like that.

(Mike) A month or so later, the three of us play Beltaine at A Sacred Place, with my buddy Rob on fiddle and guitar. We’re still without a bass player at this point, but this was where Justin came in.

(Justin) I met everyone officially at ASP. I had known Mike for about a year and we had gotten to know each other a little better at Maine PPD, so I had asked him to bring a guitar so we could jam. I met Amber and her coterie of camp followers when my wife Dawn and I arrived, and I met Tim a little later on when he showed up.

(Tim) Justin and I ended up hanging around most of the rest of that day, while Mike was tending his booth and Dawn hers. I think by the end of that couple of hours, we were, as Dawn put it, in the throes of a “bromance”. In addition, “Sex Potatoes.” If you weren’t there, you won’t ever understand, but I say again: “Sex Potatoes.”

(Justin) We got to talking, and Tim asked me to do play sound man for the show they were doing that night. I hadn’t had the chance to do a whole lot musically in a while, so I was pretty pumped to even do sound again. Mike asked me to join them on the last song about 2 hours before the show. I was flattered. The band hadn’t even heard me play. They had no way of knowing if I even knew what to do with it. So that night I did sound and accompanied them on Hail and Farewell.

(Tim) It was informal, off-the-cuff, and he wasn’t even amped or mic’ed, but it was the first time that Featherscale all played together on stage.

(Justin) Later that night came the, now infamous, Featherscale campfire jam. With a bit of Scotch, a bit of Guinness, too little of Tim’s kilt, and far too many horrific jokes, Featherscale began to come into its own. I’m pretty sure it was later the next day when Tim/Mike/Amber asked me to try my hand at bass, and I said “Um, sure! I don’t play bass, but what the hell. I’ll figure something out.”

(Tim) Justin immediately went and traded in a bunch of his guitar gear, and shows up to rehearsal with a complete bass rig. So, at this point, I know I was thinking “even if he sucks, we’re kind of stuck with him.” Well, by the time we had gotten him up to speed on a couple of tunes, I think we all knew that we had found the last team-member.

(Mike) Once all of us get in the room together, we have this amazing chemistry that just takes over and carries us miles beyond what any of us could do on our own. The group really evolved in a way that I don’t think any of us could have predicted, but it’s totally magickal. Really, the whole being greater than the sum and all that.

(Justin) And the rest, as they say, is a fried peanut butter and banana sandwich.

2. How would you describe Featherscale’s sound?

(Amber) I would describe our sound as traditionally modern Celtic rock. Keeps the foot tapping and the beer steins swinging!

(Justin) I’m not quite sure how to answer this. Apart from the fact that our sound changes for different songs, our sound changes depending on our mood. We came dangerously close to making Gallilee a metal ballad, and The Ballad of Thomas Meagher is a Punk/Irish drinking song. Samhain always gives me an October Rust era Type-O-Negative vibe. It’s hard to pin down in a simple phrase, but I’ll try: PaganIrishRockPunkDrinkingSongsToHaveAGoodTime/DieTo. Remember I’m only the bass player.

(Mike) It’s rock. There’s little bits of blues and folk and metal and Celtic trad, but like I said before- Once we all chime in, we end up with something that goes way beyond what we put into it.

(Tim) I’m not sure that we really have a particular “sound” beyond “loud”. I listen to our rehearsal tapes and we change the entire style and approach to the material with surprising regularity, and often by accident. Two of the tracks on the upcoming album are recycled from the first Featherscale album because they are so radically different than the original recordings.

(Amber) Justin with heavy metal, Tim with classical and traditional folk, Mike with rock and metal, and myself creates for surprisingly unified sound.

(Tim) Yeah, I think I can live with calling it “Rock.” I’m still putting a lot of loud grating stuff through my noggin, but I’m also going back to the stuff that I used to listen to before I was so damn hip. Robert Johnson, BB King, Spider John Koerner. I’m rediscovering Julian Cope and a lot of the odd shaped edges of pop, though part of that comes from wanting to figure out how they build certain guitar sounds that I’m secretly coveting.

(Mike) I love loud, overdriven metal and punk stuff, but for me, it’s always been about the song, rather than the style. My all-time favorite acts- Zevon, Cash, Cohen, Pogues… they’re all great storytellers first and foremost. I honestly believe in this idea of a bard having a duty to communicate in a way that people can understand and relate to, so I really look up to bands like the Cure, Oingo Boingo, Pink Floyd, Bowie- Who were able to make revolutionary art, but in a way that was still accessible to the average radio listener.

3. This question is for Justin, who failed to send in an official bio for the Featherscale website and thusly has been stuck with the goofy one Mike wrote for him. Justin, would you like to tell my readers about yourself?

(Justin) The bio on the Featherscale site is entirely true. I had asked Mike not to mention any of that until I could come up with a decently plausible explanation to my whereabouts, and he goes and tells my personal information to everyone on the web! I really feel like I’ve been abused. . . again. And this time by a friend, not someone who I thought was a friend, but an actual friend, who is now someone who I only thought was a friend. Dammit. I play bass. I’m not supposed to be smart. And yes if you must know, I am 216 years old. But you’re only as old as you feel. And I feel like a spry 110 year old.

(Tim) Mike also left out the part about how he killed a man in Reno, just to watch him die.

(Justin) Just Kidding. Thanks for asking. Mike has a very unique sense of humor. And when I saw what he had written after waiting for me to hand in my bio, well, I knew I was in the right band. I have been playing guitar for about 14 years now, and in December it will be 6 months for me playing bass. It was a fun transition. I was playing rhythm guitar in a progressive heavy metal band off and on for 7 or so years and then stopped playing entirely for a few years.

4. For that matter, now that Justin has introduced himself, why don’t you guys each take a turn in introducing yourself to my readers?

(Tim) I never know how to answer this question. I’m utterly fascinating and mysterious. I’m Aquaman in a kilt. I like power tools, hate doing laundry and believe that Monday should be abolished.

(Amber) I’m the lady, and level mind of the group 🙂 Or at least, I keep things rhythmically level. I picked up my first pair of drum sticks when I was ten … well actually, they were chop sticks because my parents didn’t want to invest in such an elaborate, expensive musical instrument collection until I could prove my dedication. Nineteen years later I’m still playing!

(Mike) I’m an artist. Whatever media I can get a hold of- music, paint, wood, clay, whatever. I’ve been Pagan for a long time now- I pretty much found some Wicca 101 book my freshman year of high school and just never looked back. I’m also thoroughly immersed in the western world, so I have a house and a dog, watch TV, work a job, and bitch about politics. Also, I really like jalapeño poppers.

5. On your website you talk about how at a festival the members of Featherscale and your associates did all of the following: performed, facilitated a Bardic Circle, did a storytelling performance, provided campfire entertainment on two nights in addition to the previous mentioned performances, brought three vendors and ran four workshops/classes on Kitchen Witchery, Magickal Tools, Initiatory Lodges, and Sacred Storytelling, provided sound equipment for other performers’ use and ran sound for those performances, and did Tarot and Rune readings! With your group bringing THAT MUCH to the table, have you considered hosting your own festival? Think about it, The Featherscale Festival sounds pretty good, right?

(Tim) OK. Yeah, we did that. Sort of by accident, in fact. It wasn’t until we got to talking after the fact and totaled up everything that we presented that we realized how much stuff we had done at that event, since we had only booked the Fs show with each other’s awareness.

(Justin) There has been some unofficial chatter about a Featherscale festival. Me personally, I would never run a festival. Not my cup of NyQuil. If it did happen, I would have to relegate myself to a helper role – like sound tech, or bouncer.

(Mike) [Tim’s wife] Kate and I have talked about it. Truthfully, Tim is running a fledgling ceremonial order, Amber has school and a 5 year old, and we all work day jobs- I myself do the band full time (which really is a lot of work), run my business full time, and work a mundane job to boot. I also have a short nap penciled in for March. I’m also on the Elder’s Council for A Sacred Place, so I sort of have a hand in running events there anyway. None of us has the inclination to take on yet another project of that magnitude. You know what- forget I said that. Sooner or later we’ll decide to go for broke, but not in the foreseeable future.

(Tim) Fs is sort of an emergent property of “we’re all there anyway”. Mike runs the Haunted Wood and makes all sorts of magickal tools, my wife, Kati runs Antika Nueva, makes jewelry and a line of soaps and salves, and Justin’s wife, Dawn, runs Cucina Aurora, and is a kitchen witch par excellence. Being a vendor sucks a bit, in that festivals are real work, so performing is the part that we look forward to. As for running our own festival, I wouldn’t want the headache. Me, I’ve got enough on my plate running a cult. Organizing a festival would make my head implode.

6. What’s the best thing about being a member of Featherscale?

(Mike) Well, we have a great health plan. Most bands just don’t offer dental and vision these days.

(Amber) Well there truly isn’t only one thing to mention; it’s the whole package that ties it all, brings us all together. We are not just a band, we are a group of very, very close friends. I think I can speak for us all in saying that we’ve found a support structure unlike anything any of us have had before. If the band stopped performing tomorrow, we’d all still be close and in each others lives in a very meaningful dimension.

(Mike) It doesn’t hurt that these are some of my favorite people in the world- When we do festivals, we all set up next to each other, and camp behind the vending booths. We do communal meals and keep an eye on each other like family. I can honestly say there’s nowhere in the world I’d rather be than sitting around the camp passing around the Guinness and Sex Potatoes, playing music and hanging out with these guys here.

(Justin) It’s the harmony. We all participate in writing and arranging the songs. A lot of the stuff we play is based around songs Mike has already written, but when we start to analyze a song in rehearsal, it takes on new life. We make it our own unique sound, whether it wants to or not. It’s quite nice to be able to do that, and be encouraged to do that. At my second practice I was basically told: “You are gonna’ have to be the balance between Mike and Tim, so speak up if you have an idea”. And strangely enough, I have ever since.

(Amber) I never had the opportunity to be so much a part of the music I was taking part in. Who I am as a person, so many of the ways in which I have grown in the last two years, has had a great deal to with being a part of this group of wonderfully talented musical souls!

(Tim) At the risk of waxing horribly bathetic, The best thing is being with friends. I love making music, but frankly, I love my band mates and their kith and kin more. We’re pack. We’re hands, and heads and hearts for each other. We make each other better, more human, more kind. Making music together is bone on bone intimate way below the skin. Being able to criticize without cutting, and fearless enough to call bullshit on each other, and to have love and trust enough in each other to work together to make it all happen is purely Tantric. And when it comes together, the payoff is that we know more about ourselves and each other.

(Mike) Really, spending time with people you care about, working hard at something meaningful and spiritual that you love doing, and being recognized for it- there’s nothing better in life.

7. Your new album is releasing very soon. How would you describe it?

(Mike) If you’ve heard us live, you’ve got some idea what to expect- But it will be a little more sophisticated. There are things we can do in the studio that we haven’t been doing live, so there’s going to be a few surprises. Samhain, for example, we’re looking at some Hammond organ. All in all, there are 10 songs that have never been released, and at least 3 of them, NOBODY’S heard before. We’re also recording the version of Invocation we’ve been doing live, because it’s so radically different than the version on Topaz Stars. Rob McClung from that first ASP show will be laying down some fiddle tracks and helping with the post-production at his studio. We’re also hoping to bring in Jenna Greene for some vocals, and maybe another special guest or two.

8. Does Featherscale have any live performances scheduled? Where can my readers go to see you perform live?

(Mike) The big priority right now is getting the album recorded and ready to drop, but there’s talk of playing a few shows around the NH seacoast over the winter. Mostly, we play festivals- so spring is busy for us. We usually play 2 or 3 Beltaine events, and we’re planning to return to Pagan Pride around New England in the fall. A Sacred Place is also planning a Pagan music festival for June, which should be a good time- I’m actually doing the bookings for that. Featherscale will be there, and we’re [ASP, not FS] also negotiating with some really good performers including a couple nationally touring acts. The best way to keep updated is to join the mailing list or friend us on Facebook. (Update: Featherscale will be performing at Landrock Studios in Rollinsford, NH on February 5, 2011.)

9. I’m a decent singer, any chance I can get a guest spot on the next album?

(Mike) We’ll talk. Have your people call my people and we’ll do lunch. Do people still “do lunch”? I’ve gotta’ quit learning my agent lingo from 80’s movies. What was the question?

(Justin) Absolutely. As long as you have the proper forms filled out in triplicate, and receive authorization from the home office in a timely fashion. And possibly a wet T-shirt contest.

10. Parting shot! Ask us here at The Magical Buffet any one question.

(Mike) Well, I’m clearly a man who knows buffet. If this were video that would have totally been a great sight gag, ’cause I’m a big guy… You know what? The jokes don’t always work. Just roll with it.

(Justin) I’ve been to Chinese buffets before. The after effects were. . . gastrointestinally pyrotechnic. If I frequent The Magical Buffet, my spirit won’t blow up like the Death Star will it?

(Mike) Parting question… How would you rather buy our album? We sell CDs both through our website and through retailers like Amazon.com, plus at live shows and a couple Pagan shops. At the same time, our music is available through iTunes, Napster, and the like. We also don’t get bent out of shape over file sharing- we just ask that the ID3 tags be complete and include our website url. We have a donation button on the site- if you download our music from a P2P network, we’d appreciate a couple bucks, but we’re not going to be jackasses and sue you or anything. So there’s the question- CD, download, or donation?

Justin, if you frequent The Magical Buffet I will turn your spirit inside out and then have it explode, just like that pig lizard in the movie “Galaxy Quest”.

Alas Mike, I am of a dying breed. I love buying actual, physical CDs. I love album cover art, I love liner notes, and I love printed lyrics. I love holding my favorite CD in my hand. Unfortunately our apartment has to bear the weight of my preference in the fact that it has to accommodate the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of CDs that I own. I’ve been trying to buy more music from iTunes and just have it on my iPod Touch, but I sleep better at night rolling over and seeing the CD there on the shelf.

Hey Buffet readers, let’s help Featherscale out with some informal market research! How do you prefer to buy music: CD, download, or donation? Post your answers in the comment section for Mike to review! And thanks for your help!

About Featherscale:
Featherscale blends acoustic and electric sounds to create their own brand of Pagan rock with undercurrents of blues, metal, and just a touch of the Irish drinking songs they grew up with. With influences as diverse as Leonard Cohen, the Pogues, Warren Zevon, and the Ramones, Featherscale will make you move, laugh, and think with their skillfully written tales and heartfelt performance.

Picture if you will – A cool summer night, an open clearing in an ancient wood, and a roaring campfire. Around the fire, people laugh, sing, dance, and share stories and songs. The drinking horn is passed around again and again, and never runs dry. Woodland spirits sneak glances from the wood and the night seems to go on forever. This is Featherscale. Learn more at www.featherscale.com.