We’re four really awkward guys, so to put us in pirate costumes is pretty ridiculous. Once again, not anywhere near cool.
story by Tim Slowikowski
95.5 miles east of Nashville lies Sparta, Tennessee: A living, breathing ode to the small-town way of life. If you happened to pick up a copy of The Sparta Expositor on May 15, 2005, you’d see a poll for the newspaper’s “Question of the Week,” which asked, “What is your favorite high school graduation night memory?”
It is in this Norman Rockwell setting that the Features were formed. Never content with normalcy, the band skipped the well-worn country/western route to Nashville. Instead, they developed a love for new wave and stood out from the crowd. Years later, the sound produced by these Kings of Leon buddies is less angular than Franz Ferdinand and tougher than the Killers, yet quite at home in today’s burgeoning rock scene. With one foot grounded in the earth of Sparta and one kicking towards the ether, the Features’ brand of schizophrenic influence is making people take notice.
Matt Pelham, lead singer-songwriter, embodies this “two sides to every coin” theme. In the arena of headphones, he commands attention above the fray of bluster on songs like “Blow it Out.” In the arena of telephones, he’s the friendly neighbor, more comfortable to hang out with his wife and kids than to let it all hang out on a stage near you. It is this push/pull dynamic of rocker and “average-Joe” that defines Matt Pelham.
Chicago Innerview: My favorite song off of [2004 debut] Exhibit A is ‘The Idea of Growing Old’ because of its sincerity. I found it pretty fearless to write a song like that in today’s ‘age of irony.’
Matt Pelham: I guess it’s just trying to be honest in my thoughts toward my wife. Just being truthful and not worrying about whether it came across as too campy or lovey-dovey.
Chicago Innerview: I liked the video for ‘Leave it All Behind,’ in which the band plays pirates who are sailing off to a better place but end up sinking before they get there. How do you feel about the whole video-making process in general?
Matt Pelham: That was the band’s idea along with some friends of ours that ended up making the video for us. We shot one video for a fairly high budget once and we would never want anyone to see it. As far as the whole video process, we’re not too partial to it. We don’t consider ourselves actors at all. We’re four really awkward guys, so to put us in pirate costumes is pretty ridiculous. Once again, not anywhere near cool.
CI: You guys seem to be part of a reverse phenomenon in which American bands are accepted with open arms in the U.K. before they break big in the U.S. Why do you think that is?
MP: From our experience being over there, it seems that rock music is more accessible. People can turn on the radio and hear rock music without having to be in a college town and hear a college radio station. It does give middle school and high school kids there more outlets to get involved in rock music. It was really hard growing up in Sparta, which is a small town, to hear any band unless they were on Top 40, mainstream radio. It’s just a different mentality in the U.K. Like I remember a year ago when the Neil Young reissues came out [On the Beach, American Stars & Bars] and you hardly heard a word about it in America, but when we were over there it was plastered all over the record stores – which was really cool. It does seem to be getting better over here though, where you’re starting to hear bands like Franz Ferdinand on the radio. Hopefully it keeps moving in that direction.
The Features :: with the 22-20s :: Double Door :: June 3.