Felix Hagan & The Family
YOU need only take one look at Felix Hagan & The Family to know…
they are going to be an enormous riot, once heard. The crew consist Felix Hagan – lead vocals, occasional instruments; Ellie Cowan – backing vocals, occasional violin; Tash Hodgson – backing vocals, percussion; Tom Webber – lead guitar; Chris Hunsley – bass guitar; Joe Davison – keyboards and Stuart Mann – drums. I was curious about the band’s sound, which has been compared with a cross between Scissor Sisters and Queen, and how it all came together. They (Felix fields most of the questions) discuss the new single, Delirium Tremendous, and what we can expect from their upcoming album – one they are, evidentially, quite confident about!
I learn about the group’s relationship with Frank Turner and whether they ever get a chance to down tools and chill. They tell me about the albums, artists and songs that mean the most to them; whether they have any tour dates coming up and how their amazing live shows all come together.
Hi guys, how are you? How have your weeks been?
Mixing, tweaking and polishing on the new album, and then, in a few weeks, we’re off to have fun at festivals.
For those new to your work, can you introduce yourself, please?
There are seven of us and we play super-high-energy Glam/Pop/Punk music. We wear fabulous clothes, play really loud and thrash ourselves into a sweaty, sparkly mess to make sure everyone has a good time at our shows.
Delirium Tremendous is your new single. What can you tell us about it?
It’s about the pretty horrid bit at the end of an addiction. I (Felix) had a very hard time getting away from booze when I was twenty-one and this song is all about the feeling of complete isolation, awkwardness and fear that you get when you suddenly realise that you’re totally fuc*ed – and then the physical and mental oddness that comes with cessation and withdrawal.
But it’s a fun song, I promise!
In terms of sound, it has embers of Queen and Scissor Sisters. Are these influences of Felix Hagan & the Family?
Well, I love those bands – as everyone with a heart and soul should.
But, when I was writing this song, in particular, I was thinking a lot about ABBA, the sparsity of the arrangement; the economy of melody and the balance of the rhythms, in particular. It’s all about everything having a place and a function and then being able to make it groove.
I also have a fascination with bringing elements of other styles into Pop music so you’ll notice the chorus melody is straight-up Flamenco, and if you mix that with Pop, Disco and sort-of-Rap, you get something pretty cool I think.
I know there is an album coming later this year? Has it got a title yet and what can you reveal about the titles and themes that will be explored?
You are correct.
We’ve been working on it for ages and we’re so excited about it. It’s fuc*ing brilliant. We’re going to keep the title a secret until it’s completely good to go but I think it’s the perfect expression of who we are and what we do.
With regards to the songs; a lot of them are borne out of the myriad curious emotions that plague you when you’re an artist in your late-twenties.
A lot of the work I’ve been doing in the name of self-improvement over the last couple of years has been to do with finding out what truly matters in life – and trying to let go of the nameless fear that comes when you feel like you’re going to die if people don’t love your music. It’s about a die-hard attention junkie growing up a bit, basically – but doing it loudly. There are songs about the past, songs about desperation; temptation, regret and embracing the feeling of being totally out of place in your own habitat.
(There’s also one big song about sex).
Kiss the Misfits is your 2015 E.P. How would you say your music has developed since then?
Well, this album is the first time we’ve truly been able to build the recordings from the ground-up in a proper, lovely big studio (WR Audio in Manchester). As a result, we were able to take real time over our choices on the arrangements, sounds and styles. This means the sound is far more refined; a lot tighter and more controlled – which allows the true greatness of the band on their instruments to shine through.
Our keys player, Joe, is also the producer and no-one on Earth is better at taking a crude idea and building it into something beautiful and enormous.
The songs are catchier; the production is more experimental and we know exactly what we are and what we want to do – which is a lovely place from which to make art.
Can you tell me how you guys got together in the first place? What was the moment you decided making music together was inevitable?
I met Ellie, Stu and Tom at Liverpool University where Tom and I were studying music. I met the other two in the Uni’s musical theatre club where all of life’s loveliest show-offs inevitably end up. Then I was blessed to meet Tash when a theatre producer put us together hoping we would either write a show or start going out. We did neither, in the end.
Tash brought in Joe and we found Chris through a long chain of friends-of-friends. We had our first proper gig all together under a railway arch at a costume party.
There were loads of other people in the band before we properly nailed this lineup.
But, when we finally got together, locked in and realised that not only did we love playing music together – but we also really loved each other – then we knew we had something special. Honestly, when you find seven people who all think wearing glitter and tights on stage is great fun – THEN you’ve got a fuc*ing band.
The Guardian raved about it whilst Frank Turner, who you toured with, fell for your sound, hard. What is it like having that kind of backing?
It feels completely correct; we’re the best.
Your stage show and live performances have been widely celebrated. Has it taken quite a while getting that good or did you find it easy translating your studio music to the stage?
Oh, it took a long time.
Everyone in the band is a big performer and everyone plays their instrument incredibly well – so that side was easy. But, gathering it all together into something cohesive and properly entertaining took a lot of work and Ellie and Tash were fuc*ing great with defining and building that. We did a lot of gigs with the band Tankus the Henge – whose live show is a seamless piece of entertainment, no break; no gaps, no boring bits.
That was the standard we set ourselves. Also, spending a lot of time with Frank and seeing how he smashes every show – hundreds of nights a year – was a big inspiration. So, we designed our live show for maximum impact; meticulously worked out the ebb and flow, transitions and extra bits to add to make it really fun (and then practised it ENDLESSLY).
With regards to getting the recorded songs onto the stage, it’s a real challenge. We all agree that the studio is a totally distinct arena from the stage, and therefore, we like to go mad in there: throwing everything we can at the songs to make them as massive as possible.
Then, we take the recordings and pick them apart to bring them to life when we’re live. I know a lot of musicians think that you should only record what you can recreate live, but I personally think that’s like using a Tardis to pop to the shops. I say remove all restrictions and go totally ape-sh*t with your creativity.
Are there any tour dates coming later this year?
Yes indeed. We’ll be announcing nearer the time.
Do you all get a chance to have any relaxing time? Is it quite hard detaching from the music?
Oh man, we never ever get to relax.
Everyone has full-time jobs as well. Stu is a doctor, Chris is a nurse; Tom teaches children, Tash works in the Crystal Maze and tours as an actor/writer; Joe works every single hour of the day as a producer; Ellie is a project manager for a big music institution and I write soundtracks, play the piano everywhere and spend all day in my studio coming up with music. That’s what makes the gigs so special as we get to take all this pent-up energy and blast it into the audience. It also means, for me, that every single hour of every day is about music – which is pretty marvellous. So, I think we’ve no real interest in detaching from the music.
We want to be attached to it. All the time.
In terms of your sound; who are the artists you grew up listening to and inspired by?
I started out with musical theatre, which to this day, is my biggest inspiration. It’s simply the idea every song has to entertain as much as possible; painted in extremes of emotion and feeling and never being afraid to go BIG for the hell of it. When I was about ten I got big into Rock thanks to my amazing guitarist big brother. I was all about Metallica, Guns N’ Roses; Green Day and all the bands that make you want to learn guitar.
At the same time, I was obsessed with Motown and the perfection of the songs and performances. My main instrument was always the drums and I had a magnificent teacher called Sasha who hammered home the idea of the groove; how to mess around with it and how to make people dance – as well as bringing in all kinds of Latin influences into my playing.
Then, I travelled around the world for a couple of years; mainly destroying myself and having a party but also soaking up lots of harmony and chord structures in places like Mexico and Cuba – and spending a lot of time in the Deep South of America listening to Jazz and Zydeco. So, it’s always been more about flavours, harmonies and rhythms with me more than individual artists. These tiny musical moments prod you towards a greater understanding.
Lyrically, my biggest inspirations are Cole Porter and Amanda Palmer. I love the idea of blending nakedly-emotional subject matter with tricksy lyrical flourishes.
I like my words to be tightly-wound. These days, I am mad about Soul, Hip-Hop; big sexy chords and the kind of obscene beauty that people like Cory Henry and Jacob Collier are creating.
Are there any new artists you recommend we check out?
I can’t stop listening to The Marcus King Band at the moment. He’s a staggeringly virtuosic Soul/Blues guy in America with a voice that sounds like every kind of heartbreak. Find some live footage on YouTube and get your face melted.
My mates Jack and Katie have a band called Jingo who we’ve gigged with a lot. They are doing some incredibly cool and interesting stuff.
When I was in America with Frank, we toured with the Arkells; who are like the fuc*ing Beatles in Canada but inexplicably unknown over here. They’re one of the best bands I’ve ever seen and their music is pure joy.
If you each had to select the one album that has meant the most to you; which would they be and why?
Felix: Who Killed Amanda Palmer.
It was the catalyst for me deciding to take all these mad songs I was writing; leave my old band and just have a go at this brand-new adventure.
The Point of It All is a beautiful, gentle song to a friend with an addiction – and it makes me cry every time.
Tom: Nick Cave – Abattoir Blues/Lyre of Orpheus
Because it fits violence, love; smut, beauty; black humour, sentimentality; snakes, apes; frappuccinos, and flesh into a collection of some – above all – fuc*ing cool songs and it changed my ears at eighteen.
Stuart: Everyone into Position by Oceansize
It’s underscored lots of different happy and sad points in my life; but every time I listen to it, it still takes me back to running across the mountain tops overlooking Osaka Bay.
Ellie: The Dresden Dolls by The Dresden Dolls.
I was sixteen and a bit weird – and the album is a bit weird, beautiful and a huge fu*k-you to the mainstream portrayal of women in music. That’s what it felt like to me: I had never heard or seen anything like it and I was hooked.
I wanted to express myself like Amanda Palmer and I adored the over-the-top theatrical, cabaret nature of their entire output.
Pre-Twitter, and in the days of MSN Messenger, the Dresden Dolls’ elaborate website, complete with a section for hate mail, was an absolute treasure. I am totally taking credit for introducing Felix to Amanda Palmer’s music.
Chris: Paul Simon‘s Graceland.
He sings as though he is involved in the most beautiful conversation.
Tash: Conspiracy of One – The Offspring.
More than any other album I ever listened to, I vividly remember being introduced to it under the table of an utterly crap Warringtonian pub by my pal Josh – as we waited for our parents to finish whatever boring parent thing they were banging on about. It was just such an explosion of raucousness, irreverence; fun and noise, kids making songs you wanted to know all the words to and howl – and I felt instantly, this was the music I had been waiting for.
At thirteen, my analysis probably didn’t really extend beyond that but, on that gravy-soaked northern carpet, I felt like I’d been transported.
Joe: Takk… by Sigur Rós. I saw them in Glasgow in 2005 – before the album was released – and they played Glósóli and it blew my mind. We named our dog Jónsi.
What advice would you give to any new artists starting out right now?
Take your time.
Remember that the audience’s enjoyment is the most important thing. Write songs all the time until you get really good at it. Never forget that it’s supposed to be fun; and then email Frank Turner and he’ll definitely take you on tour with him.
Finally, and for being good sports, you can each name a song and I’ll play it here (not one of yours as I’ll do that).
Felix: Rita Is Gone – The Marcus King Band
Tom: Nice Night – Mass Gothic
Stuart: The Room by The Twilight Sad
Joe: Shaolin Monk Motherfunk by Hiatus Kaiyote
Ellie: Do It With a Rockstar by Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra
It’s sweaty, it’s sexy and it’s glittery. Perfect.
Chris: Paul Simon – Graceland
Tash: Nothing by A
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